The role of social marketing has evolved. Instead of just focusing on brand awareness and conversation, marketers are now starting to use social to build real product momentum.
This has been enabled, in large part, by the rich, visual content that social channels now support. Look no further than Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook gallery posts to see how visual content is taking hold and changing the landscape. Marketers and merchandisers are excited as they see these visual social networks as a source to a more direct social return on investment (ROI), as they can influence actual product sales through a direct path of:
Discovery –> Engagement –> Purchase
Whether the eventual purchase may happen online, in a store, or even within social, the need for a path to purchase is clearer than ever. While this evolution in social opens up powerful new opportunities, it has also brought to light an important “gap” in today’s social path to purchase; an “engagement gap.”
There’s a hole in the funnel, dear marketer, dear marketer…
If brands were to map their social product promotion efforts today, most would look something like this:
Step 1: Discovery: post about the product on Facebook Timeline, Pinterest, and Twitter
Step 2: Engagement: nothing
Step 3: Purchase: hope the posts led to some increased sales online or in-store
Put in terms of the social path to purchase outlined above, the “engagement” step is often skipped entirely. This creates a problem for two reasons:
First, brands are missing out on key product amplification opportunities. A customer’s point of discovery about a product is a great time to invite them to participate with – and amplify – that product. Let them explore the product in detail, vote on their favorite features, offer feedback and insight, tell their friends about it, etc. The potential for valuable social product amplification goes far beyond just a like or a re-pin.
To illustrate this point, I visited dozens of Facebook pages looking for an example of a brand or retailer successfully promoting products through social. What I found were dozens of companies with post after post and few, if any, product engagement opportunities for customers, which brings us to the second problem:
Social purchase influence and conversion rates are going to be low without an engagement experience to “connects the dots” between discovery and purchase. In some cases – especially for high consideration products – this may be an experience that aggregates the social momentum for that product and invites a customer to explore it in a social context. In other cases, such as a new product launch or an impulse buy, the experience may present a social offer or incentive that creates a compelling reason to purchase.
As the effects of the gap between discovery and purchase are felt in an organization, the importance of social product promotion will continue to grow. However, the good news is that there are a number of ways brands can improve the effectiveness of their social product promotion efforts, and ultimately improve their impact on downstream sales:
- Liberally employ the emerging rich product post types in social streams. Facebook Timeline “gallery” posts and the new “Twitter Cards” are good examples. Expect more of these to come.
- Tailor engagement experiences to the specific product and audience. For example, don’t attempt to get customers to buy a car from a Facebook post click-through. And don’t treat your most loyal fans like coupon-clippers. When fans or followers do click through from your post, tweet, or pin, offer them the “next step” in that product’s path to purchase through a thoughtful and authentic experience.
- Find ways to capture purchase intent. While checkout can be cumbersome in social and mobile contexts, it is easy to add products to a wish list or a shopping cart that can be “forwarded” to your .com site.
While still early, the direction of social marketing toward product promotion and impact on sales is critical and promises to bring meaningful ROI to those brands that design effective paths to purchase. It’s up to us, as social marketing strategists and practitioners, to make sure we create compelling product experiences that lay all the stepping stones necessary for customers to effortlessly walk the path from product discovery to purchase.