Unlike a generalized social marketing strategy whose goal is to build brand notoriety, the end goal of a social commerce program is sales. Still, building customer engagement is important to a social commerce program. In fact, forming consumer engagement over the long term is the only way a social commerce program will result in delivering sales.
To build long-term engagement – not just flash-in-the-pan interest in a buzzy social marketing campaign – you must think in terms of building a “participation chain.” A participation chain cultivates consumer involvement over time, with each action building upon the one before to establish long-term customer loyalty. I wrote an in-depth white paper on this topic in conjunction with social media expert Ze Frank, but I thought it would be useful to give an overview of the concept to marketers, as well as provide a few practical tips for getting a participation chain started.
Each time a person participates in one of your brand’s social initiatives, that person also leaves behind a trail of content that draws in other customers – so each individual participation chain not only lengthens, but starts other chains. The truth is, without long-term and wide-spread participation in your social programs, it will be nearly impossible to generate lasting sales through the social channel. Everyone knows that time and money are two sides of the same coin. In general, the more time a customer spends with your brand – assuming a positive experience – the more likely they are to spend money on your products or services.
As a marketer, you’ll want your audience to engage in actions that require a bit of investment on their part, so they really connect with your brand. This is a bit like the “IKEA principle,” where the act of building the furniture yourself makes you feel more satisfied with the finished product. In a social commerce world, maybe that investment is playing a game, signing up to be a friend or fan, participating in a short survey, or leaving a product review. By inviting people to continue participating with your brand over time, participation chains create a ripple effect of value that drives affinity and loyalty – and, ultimately, sales.
Here are some practical steps to create a successful participation chain:
- Pinpoint customers’ motivation for participation: People’s original motivations for contributing are to help others (90 percent of people, according to a study by Keller Fay and our company) or to help the brand (80 percent). Their motivations for further participation can include these factors, as well as their need for self-expression, standing out, expressing their creativity, gaining “ego capital,” or simply looking good in front of their friends. Marketers who understand their customers’ real motivations can pinpoint and present new opportunities to fulfill these needs, building longer chains of participation.
- Identify the best links in the participation chain: After an initial act of participation (posting a picture, leaving a comment, writing a review, etc.), marketers should lead the person to another act, then to another, and so on. Some opportunities for participation are effectively private, or shared among a small group of people, such as building wishlists, creating gift registries, sending friends e-mail, or filling out a survey. Other links are more public, such as posting a publicly-viewable photo, writing a product review, or answering a question posted by another visitor to the Web site. Analyze which actions result in the most follow-up actions and focus on adding more links like these.
- Map the participation chain to measurable goals: With each invitation to participate on your site or social platforms, provide clear paths so that consumers can achieve specific goals, such as “Upload Your Photos Here” or “Tell us What You Think! Review a Product Now.” Once those goals are achieved, a new goal should always be presented, leading the consumer forward. Be aware of participation chain “dead ends.” For example, when a person uploads a picture, rather than a dead-end success notification, immediately suggest that he share the picture with his friends, post the picture to Facebook, or look at other people’s pictures.
In life, the most popular people at a party are the ones who effortlessly keep the conversation flowing. The most popular brands aren’t much different; by starting and keeping a conversation going with your customers, they begin to see your brand in a more favorable and sometimes entirely new light. Over time, this loyalty will be rewarded with more purchases. Social commerce, it seems, begins with a little participation.