‘Tis the Season to Be Social: Five Ways to Tap Into Social Shopping

‘Tis the season for online shopping. Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday all had record traffic compared to similar days in prior years, according to Hitwise. As is usual for this time of year, marketers are scrambling to find new ways to make this their best holiday season ever. Along with traditional e-marketing efforts such as paid search, e-mail, and site optimization, e-tailers are looking for new approaches to increase revenue.

Marketers have ratcheted up their use of social media sites, which continue to garner increased traffic and attention. According to October 2007 comScore results, roughly one of every seven minutes spent online is in conversational media (social media and blogs); specifically, conversational media sites average 12.4 minutes per usage day out of the 86 minutes spent on the Internet in total.

Given the amount of time devoted and content consumed by potential shoppers on social media sites, they provide important vehicles for e-tailers to consider as part of their overall online marketing strategy. The challenge is these visitors tend to focus on what their friends and colleagues, who are trusted sources, are saying and doing rather than on third-party advertising messages. Marketers must carefully think through how they engage in consumer conversations to aid sales.

Five Ways to Tap Into Social Shopping

Social shopping leverages the “Wisdom of Crowds” by structuring word-of-mouth input around shopping. Wikipedia defines “social shopping” as “a method of e-commerce in which consumers shop in a social networking environment.” Among the options for socializing with your prospects and customers to provide increased interaction and sales are:

  • Participate in newer forms of social shopping, such as StyleFeeder, Stylehive, Kaboodle, and ThisNext. At a minimum, join and monitor the activity around your products. Consider advertising on these sites and evolving affiliate marketing plays, such as Lemonade.
  • Create or join fan groups on major social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.
  • Participate in the conversation through community boards or blogs to provide a conduit for customers to get product and related information and engagement. Examples include 1-800 Flowers’ Celebrations.com, Stacks and Stacks’ Clutter Control Freak Blog, and Sleep Number Beds’ community site.
  • Leverage customer comments and reviews on your site or through other sites and blogs, such as BizRate, Epinions, and Trusted Opinion.
  • Provide widgets to enable customers to get your information either on a social networking site or directly on their computer. Product data feeds can be leveraged to feed into widgets, and even if your firm’s data isn’t formatted for this type of execution, companies like Performics can help you convert it.

Three Social Shopping Factors to Get Right

While social shopping can help drive traffic and aid search optimization, there are three factors to assess, regardless of how you participate in social shopping. They are:

  • Optimize the user experience on your Web site and search marketing and e-mail communications to maximize new prospect conversion. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting the basics correct, because you don’t want to go through a lot of effort to get traffic that doesn’t convert.
  • Set aside a budget to start and maintain these initiatives. Consider marketing dollars, headcount, and organizational bandwidth.
  • Monitor the environment to determine how your offering and the competition’s are showing up in conversational media, regardless of your level of involvement.

Five Social Shopping Caveats

Social media and social shopping can either help or hurt your firm. So before you start, consider your company’s ability to:

  • Be transparent in dealings with the public.
  • Understand how customers feel about your product. Take off your rose-colored corporate glasses, and see your products as the public does.
  • Realize you can no longer have total control over your brand and the perception of your offering in the marketplace.
  • Know that customers and other influencers already communicate about your company. Check out Facebook and MySpace to see whether your firm’s product already has a fan group. Just because you aren’t an active participant in the conversation doesn’t mean that people aren’t talking behind your back.
  • Set corporate guidelines for employees and consultants.

Social Shopping Metrics

When measuring the impact of these marketing strategies, focus on metrics most in line with your goals. Among the most salient:

  • Traffic. Monitor traffic as an indicator of qualified prospects. Track separately by the site from which this traffic is derived. Consider unique visitors, since conversion may require multiple visits.
  • Engagement. Assess the amount of time spent on your site through the use of targeted customer-oriented content.
  • Customers. Track the number of new prospects and converted customers. Evaluate your ability and time required to convert new prospects. Also consider the fully loaded acquisition cost and lifetime value of a customer.
  • Sales. To the extent possible, calculate revenues driven by individual social-shopping efforts.
  • Buzz. Monitor what customers and others say about your firm.

While testing social media to drive sales, it’s critical to perform the basics of online marketing well. Sending prospects to a site that’s difficult to use or that doesn’t convert reflects poorly on your company and hurts your acquisition metrics. Whether the economy is good or bad, ’tis the season for customers to shop. Social shopping is just the newest way to get them to load up at your store.

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