A decade ago, we thought of social media as a way for hipsters to connect with each other, and ecommerce as a nice side-line for established brands to make a little extra on their margins. Today, things are radically different – social media and business are deeply intertwined, and ecommerce stores generated $3.5 trillion in revenue in 2019.
Given the success of both types of platforms, it’s no surprise that they are slowly merging to become a dominant force in the retail space. In 2010, ecommerce sales made up only 4.2% of total UK retail sales. One decade later, the number is now 11.8%, and was steadily climbing even before the pandemic.
Early evidence shows that, if any business sector can be said to have had a “good” pandemic, it’s ecommerce stores. Research indicates that 85,000 online businesses were launched during the lockdown, and that ecommerce revenue in the UK is spiking.
For many of these new stores, the idea of using social media to promote an ecommerce business – or even to sell goods directly to customers – might be a new one. In this article, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about marketing through social media.
Why use social media?
First, let’s answer the most obvious question: why would you use social media to advertise your ecommerce business when there are so many other channels available?
Well, for a number of very good reasons. The most obvious is simply that social media platforms offer massive international audiences. At least 72% of US adults use some type of social media on a daily basis. As a retailer, it pays to go where your customers are, and today that means on social media.
For ecommerce retailers, marketing via social media also has a number of other advantages. One is that many of these platforms – and particularly Facebook – offer quite sophisticated advertising strategies and technical tools to shops that might not otherwise have the expertise to design and deploy ads themselves. In a world where 1 in 4 dollars of ecommerce spending comes from mobile devices, for instance, the mobile optimization offered as standard by many social media platforms is invaluable.
Third, the connection between social media and ecommerce stores is not just about marketing anymore. As we’ll explain a little later, today many social media platforms, particularly Instagram, offer users the chance to buy your products directly from the app. This results in a more seamless shopping experience, and ultimately more sales.
Finally, many of the most innovative, exciting, and effective new forms of marketing are best achieved through social media. These platforms have been designed to facilitate building communities, after all, so it’s no surprise that community marketing has been such a success in the last few years.
How to use social media for your ecommerce store
Even if you’re now convinced that your ecommerce store needs a little social media marketing, it can be difficult to work out where to start. Fear not – here is our five step guide to doing just that.
1. Organic vs. paid
The first and most fundamental thing to understand about marketing via social media is that you should take a hybrid approach. Social media platforms are great at getting your target ads seen by your target audience, but they are also powerful tools for building organic brand awareness and traffic.
This is seen in the research on how customers find new brands. Recent findings by SproutSocial show that 40% of consumers find new brands from their personal network, 35% from influencers they follow, and 32% from word-of-mouth. And as we’ve recently reported, Puma’s business is growing rapidly during the Covid-19 pandemic, largely because the brand has managed to build a strong organic following.
There are plenty of ways to increase organic traffic alongside your paid ads:
- Make sure that you are actually interacting with your customers on social media, rather than just bombarding them with ads.
- Encourage customers to interact with your paid content by making it easy to find and share (i.e. by including a hashtag).
- Use user-generated content (with the proper consent, of course) to show off the strong community built around your brand.
- Use social listening to monitor social media channels for mentions of your brand, and respond to changes in the market or media landscape quickly.
2. Running your store on social
Once you’ve taken the plunge and established your brand on social media, it doesn’t take that much extra work to begin selling directly through these same platforms. In recent years, many social media platforms have put a lot of work into making it easier than ever to use their apps as a storefront, with impressive results.
For most ecommerce stores, there will be three social platforms that are suitable for setting up an online social media store: Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
The first two of these platforms – Instagram and Facebook – use the same backend, and so can be integrated with your ecommerce store quite easily. The process here is to add your products to an ecommerce platform that offers integration with these social media platforms (such as Shopify or WooCommerce). Once you’ve done this, you can start tagging individual products within social media posts.
Tagging products in this way offers customers a seamless, smooth shopping experience, particularly on Instagram. When you mention a product in a post, customers see a button that links to its page on your ecommerce site. They can purchase right from a browser window, and then go back to whatever scintillating activity they were engaged in on Instagram.
Pinterest’s ecommerce system, while not as advanced as that of Instagram, is nevertheless useful for luring customers looking for new brands. By enabling your website’s product pins, users of Pinterest will be able to see the prices of your products and access more detailed information on your Pinterest store page.
3. Social proof
Perhaps the most confusing element of entering the social media environment for ecommerce store owners is the concept of social proof. This is because it can seem like social media platforms offer social proof by default – surely customers interacting with your Facebook page by leaving likes is proof that they like your brand?
Well, yes and no.
While a popular social media page is definitely an effective way to drive sales, you should recognise that many customers are skeptical about follower counts to the number of times a post has been liked. Instead, they will look to customer reviews as their primary guide when choosing whether or not to buy your products. BrightLocal has found that 82% of consumers read online reviews of local businesses, 91% of these same consumers say positive reviews make them more likely to use a business, and 76% trust online reviews as much as recommendations from family and friends.
The key point here is simple: encourage customers to leave a review. Ask them to do you a favour and leave reviews regularly, and you’ll soon build up an impressive arsenal of social proof.
Next, make sure to continually monitor how well your social media campaigns perform. This is important for two reasons – short and long term success.
When you first begin marketing on social media, don’t expect to create a killer campaign right out of the gate. Slow and steady wins the game here. It’s important to assess the level of engagement every quarter in order to make the most of your marketing dollars. Conversely, it’s also important to respond to short-term trends. If you see one of your posts start to go viral, give it that extra push of promotion needed to really explode.
This assessment should ideally be done through a fully developed social listening system, in which you monitor multiple social media channels for mentions of your brand. Initially, however, it is often enough to just track the success (or otherwise) of each post in order to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Finally, don’t be scared about all this stuff. The brands that do best on social media are those that are brave and take risks in order to build a genuinely unique voice. Research has found that 86% of buyers are willing to pay more to buy from a brand that they have an emotional connection with. Social media is the most powerful tool available for creating that kind of connection.
Being authentic means developing a unique brand voice, particularly through the careful use of humour. Equally, it can involve an unusual but instantly recognisable visual style. The important thing is to know who your customers are and what resonates with them.
6. Building for success
Ultimately, using social media for ecommerce marketing should be thought of as more of a process than an event. As you get deeper into the world of social media marketing, you’ll learn what works best for your brand and audience, and what doesn’t. Just remember that you’re in it for the long haul, not instant success. All this effort will be rewarded down the road: investment in ecommerce tools was crucial for those brands that did well during the lockdown, and will be critical for brands to survive the difficult next few years.
Brian Skewes is a technologist into deconstruction. Over two decades of self-employment, he has accumulated a wealth of inadvertent real-world lessons related to building, running, and preserving a small company