Being ‘social’ helped brands win on Cyber Monday

Long synonymous with holiday shopping, the words “Black Friday” have come to be associated with e-commerce, as consumers increasingly choose to shop online, foregoing crowds, lines and mall brawls. A National Retail Federation survey from Sunday found that more people shopped online than in-store over the weekend. With a traditionally offline shopping day that has become so digital, it only makes sense for Cyber Monday to be the day when retailers really clean up.

Looking at 50 million visits to more than 4,500 U.S. retail seats, Adobe found that online shopping generated $11 billion in revenue between Thursday and Monday, a 15 percent increase over last year. More than three billion of those dollars (or 28 percent of them) were spent on Monday, making it a record-breaking shopping day (in the U.S., at least). Since Cyber Monday is a huge shopping day that lives entirely online, it makes sense for social media to be involved. But how important is it?

According to Joe Martin, marketing manager for Adobe’s Digital Index, social’s role in Cyber Monday’s success is indirect, but crucial. Social media is not the most reliable when it comes to conversions. But it is a great medium for branding and engagement, which smart retailers have picked up on.

“People are buying stuff online and then tagging Gap, Amazon, Target, Walmart on social media. [The brands] are responding to those people or saying, ‘Great pick-up’ or ‘I’m glad you found what you wanted,’” says Martin. “They’re making it human. Less than 2 percent of sales come from social, but it certainly shows up in brand awareness and brand loyalty, the higher part of the funnel.”

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In other words, by putting the “social” in social media, brands are able to generate more goodwill with consumers. Like any good contagious brand, Amazon made sure to engage with its fans, nearly all of whom liked and retweeted those Tweets, undoubtedly pleased that the biggest retailer on the planet noticed little old them.

Neiman Marcus is another retailer that used social to get on people’s good sides, sharing a special Cyber Monday gift card offer to make up for its website outages on Black Friday. Nearly 5,000 people liked that announcement on Facebook. Sure, 5,000 is less than 1 percent of the department store’s total Facebook following. But those are still 5,000 people with positive feelings toward the brand.

“Those people tell their friends about it, and Neiman Marcus may get new followers and certainly build its following,” says Martin.

According to Amobee Brand Intelligence – which measured digital content engagement based on what people saw, read, interacted and engaged with on more than 600,000 sites – Amazon and Neiman Marcus were two of the brands “most associated with Cyber Monday.” Others on the top 10 list include Walmart, Target, eBay and Macy’s. Something those brands have in common is the fact that they spread their own social activity across many platforms.

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“If you liken social to television, everything has different programs and a different audience, and I think social is similar,” says Bryan Segal, chief executive (CEO) of Engagement Labs. “Each channel has a different opportunity. Facebook is used for mass reach, Twitter is used for ongoing discussions, Pinterest and Instagram are used for visual and Snapchat might be used for instantaneous responses.”

As a platform for “ongoing discussions,” Twitter definitely factored heavily into Cyber Monday. There were more than 783,000 tweets around the day, with about half including the #CyberMonday hashtag.

Segal believes Instagram and Pinterest, which more people use to follow brands than their friends anyway, are also key because their imagery is able to appeal to consumers’ emotions.

“Think about the old travel days when you could see a picture of a hotel room or a picture of a boat,” says Segal. “Now, moving over to the visual world of Instagram and Pinterest, you’re seeing people having fun and drinking coffee in the sunset. It’s all about feelings and emotions. I think at the end of the day, that’s how retailers are using the heart to get to the wallet, and using emotion to build brand affinity.”

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The dog in the middle of the top row is the only one of these posts that isn’t marketing.

Like Martin, Segal believes that social is more of a marketing supplement than a real driver of ROI, though buy buttons have the power to shift that as they become bigger. It is a strong supplement in fact, as social drives nearly one-third of all referral traffic, according to Shareaholic research from earlier this year.

In addition, just about everyone with a smartphone uses it for social. Nearly half of Facebook’s 894 million monthly mobile users log into the platform exclusively from their mobile devices. Instagram doesn’t even have a desktop version. (Well, it does, but you can’t actually post). 

Holiday shopping is becoming just as mobile-centric. In last year’s Holiday Shopping Predictions report, Adobe estimated that mobile devices would account for 31 percent of sales on Thanksgiving, 26 percent on Black Friday and 19 percent on Cyber Monday.

This past Monday, mobile devices accounted for $799 million in sales, or 26 percent. Consumers already use their phones for social, and as retailer sites become more more-friendly and e-commerce becomes a more seamless experience, it’s natural for the two to conflate. I expect to write something similar next year, only with much bigger numbers and percentages.

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