Seven Ways To Tap Social Shopping

Last year’s weak holiday results provide e-tailers with a relatively low hurdle to meet, or exceed, past performance. Doing more than just beating last year’ s performance will be hard, especially in a year of restrained shopping, when consumers are looking franticly for “free shipping and handling” offers, sales, and coupons to keep their holiday spending costs down. One strategy marketers are using to support their merchandising efforts is social shopping, because it can have a powerful impact for a relatively low cost. It should be noted that social networks influenced 37 percent of shoppers in 2009, up from 24 percent in 2008, according to e-tailing group research.

As a form of marketing interaction, social shopping continues to evolve. Social shopping has expanded from dedicated social shopping sites like Kaboodle, StyleHive, and ThisNext (where less than 10 percent of U.S. online retailers have a presence) to broader social media sites, like Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and Twitter (where consumers’ various networks connect). Savvy marketers are just following their prospects and customers based on eMarketer’s April 2009 assessment of the social networking sites used by U.S. online retailers; roughly three in five U.S. online retailers have a presence on Facebook.

Seven Ways to Exploit Social Shopping

Marketers must understand that customers use social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to communicate with and gather information from their friends and colleagues. As a result, your presence on these sites must be integrated into the multi-directional communication when consumers want to interact with your firm. Here are seven ways to maximize social shopping results:

  • Build relationships with prospects and customers. Enable consumers to reconnect with you later in the purchase process by providing a variety of options including Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, e-mail, and chat.

  • Add social tools that encourage your content to travel, so as to cost effectively extend relationships and attract new prospects. Provide consumers with tools such as social booking for the major sites your target audience uses, as well as e-mail and IM where appropriate.
  • Make your message consistent across platforms. This is particularly important for building your brand. In the process, ensure that it’s integrated with the rest of your marketing, both online and off, at every touch point.
  • Listen to and participate in the conversation. Unlike other media environments, you can’t deliver your message on your timing. While marketers worry about negative feedback, negative comments occur roughly half as often as positive ones, according to Anderson Analytics’ “Social Network Service A&U Profiler” research. Respond to negative comments to show that you’re listening to and care about your customers.
  • Ensure your Web site efficiently closes sales. Regardless of how well-received your offering is on social networks, your Web site must be able to process the sale quickly. While this sounds obvious, last year, a surprising percentage of sales were lost due to e-tailer inefficiencies. Also, consider allowing sales to be closed offline via phone or retail.
  • Maintain your competitive positioning. It’s critical to be present in media environments where your direct and indirect competitors are, to ensure that you’re part of the purchase discussion and decision.
  • Make attractive offers to social shoppers. Since social shopping often translates to efficient transmission of buying information for customers, offer these prospects attractive promotions where you can leverage the strength of your customers’ networks to cost-efficiently distribute them.

Measuring Social Shopping’s Impact

The inability to effectively measure the impact of social media on branding and sales can hinder its use as a marketing strategy in some organizations. Some online retailers find it difficult to move beyond the direct response mentality of tracking advertising effectiveness only through improved response and sales. Still, it’s important not to wait to implement a social shopping strategy because you don’t have the appropriate metrics. Here are some metrics to monitor to help assess the effectiveness of your social shopping tactics.

  • Track your traffic — particularly your upstream traffic — from the sites that visitors use before coming to your Web site. Are social media sites accounting for more of this traffic than they have in prior periods? Does the traffic from social media sites have any special characteristics that set it apart and can play a role in your marketing? Is this traffic directly translating into sales? Also, monitor your downstream traffic that shows where visitors go after they leave your Web site. Do many of them visit social media sites? If so, which sites? Are there any special trends?

  • Monitor the conversation to assess brand mentions. Analyze whether the mentions are positive or negative. Are these comments building a positive image of your firm? Make sure that someone is present on each of the major social media sites to respond to direct queries and negative comments.
  • Assess your competition to determine how they’re using social shopping and the size of their presence on major social media sites. Where possible, estimate the size and impact of their efforts. Consider how their brand is being perceived versus yours, and why.

Given the recent growth of social media sites, marketers must engage with prospects and customers in the place where they’re spending their time, if they want to become part of the purchase decision process. As social media sites evolve, more tools will be developed to facilitate sales, and along with them, better tools to more directly track those sales.

Meet Heidi at Search Engine Strategies, Chicago, Dec. 7-9, 2009. She’s participating on the panel, “Social Media Marketing Checklist.”

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