This year, U.S. social commerce sales are expected to reach $14 billion, up from $3 billion in 2012. By 2018, Statista predicts 2.44 billion people will be active users on social media. Now that Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter each have buy buttons built into users' feeds and timelines, store owners can imagine a world in which social media platforms are a leading driver of retail sales.
While social networking sites are only responsible for 5% of overall online retail revenue in 2015, forward-thinking businesses should learn how to develop their fan base, activate their audience and convert followers into sales. The future of commerce is social; brands that want to stay ahead of the innovation curve should begin selling through social media now in order to develop a strong competitive advantage later, when shoppers complete a majority of their purchases through their favorite social sites.
To get started with social selling, here are five important steps.
1. Set short-term goals that complement long-term business strategy
Start by setting goals. Before investing a single dollar or hour in social media sales, take a step back. Think about what you want to accomplish in the next two weeks or 90 days through social media. Most people might be happy gaining a few new followers or increasing average engagement rates on their social media posts. Instead, they should focus on growing a single number: social sales.
Your first deliberate sale through social media is an important milestone. Understand the different inputs that went into that sale, such as the cost of labor and creative materials. Then, measure that against the gross profit margin of your customer's order. After doing the math, nearly every store owner may find they are hemorrhaging money with every minute they waste selling their wares on social media. But knowing how many resources are spent on social media maintenance alone can help ecommerce entrepreneurs figure out a sensible sales target that might bring them to break even on their social selling efforts. Then, use that number as your 90- or 180-day goal. If, somehow, you can turn social media into a profitable customer acquisition channel in three to six months, you'll be able to leverage your favorite social platforms as leading drivers of growth for your business.
But three to six months is a long time. To get there while staying motivated, ecommerce store managers need to create smaller, more achievable goals. Set deadlines for converting your first five or dozen customers through social media. Then, 25, 50 or 100. In no time, you will figure out the perfect strategy for promoting your brand and products to shoppers who are ready to buy.
2. Choose your platforms wisely
A common mistake business owners and marketers make is managing five different social media accounts at once without actually mastering the art of fan or follower engagement on any single one. For any social sales strategy to be successful, brand managers need to focus their energy on no more than two social media platforms to start. Otherwise, they risk spreading themselves too thin and sharing half-hearted posts to users' timelines.
To help you prioritize social networks that may drive the most customers and sales, Shopify analyzed data from 37 million social media visits across stores that use its platform, which converted 529,000 customer orders. Here are some of their findings:
- Facebook drives a majority (63%) of total visits, followed by Pinterest (13%), then Twitter (10.5%), YouTube (8%), and Reddit (4.5%).
- In social commerce, Facebook reigns. 85% of all social media sales were the result of Facebook traffic.
- On average, Polyvore shoppers spent more per order ($66.75) than their peers on Instagram ($65.00), Pinterest ($58.95), and Facebook ($55.00).
- But, Facebook visitors converted at a higher rate (1.85%) than all other social media users, including Vimeo (1.16%), YouTube (1.16%), Instagram (1.08%), and Google Plus (0.96%).
The report also shares insights into which platforms perform best for companies in different industries.
- For Antiques & Collectibles, Pinterest is responsible for nearly three-fourths (74%) of total social media sales.
- Among Automotive products, YouTube takes the largest share (26%) of social orders.
- In the Gifts & Specialty category, Twitter converts more visitors to sales than all of the other most popular social networks (13%).
3. Build a content calendar
After you select the social media platform(s) to focus on, you will need to decide which sorts of content you will share with your audience and when you plan to publish each social media post. Although the topics you cover and your content calendar will be subject to change as you grow and optimize your social sales strategy, it is important to have guidelines to turn to from the very start. Your "style guide" should outline:
- Different industry-related topics to cover.
- Language you should always use and tone of voice. Plus brands, words or phrases that you want to avoid mentioning on social media.
- Procedures for creating or sourcing visual assets.
- Resources you will reference that either live in an internal repository or are from reputable third-parties in your industry.
- Times to schedule posts throughout the week, and which type of content to share during each time slot.
To occasionally shake things up, make sure your content calendar syncs with your product development timeline. Use social media to promote new product launches and upgrades to existing products. Other tactics to keep in mind are:
- Drive newsletter signups. Since organic reach has continued to decline for brands on social media, many make an effort to actually own their audience. Share links that allow audiences to directly sign up for product promotions. This also gives you an excuse to have more regular contact with customers and stay top-of-mind.
- Host giveaways. Offer customers a shopping spree or an all-expenses paid trip to generate massive brand awareness and user signups, which you can later convert into paying customers.
- Join groups, chats and conversations. Participate in weekly Twitter chats or connect with customers in different Facebook groups. Get involved in bigger conversations about your industry.
- Partner with influencers. Create co-branded products with social media influencers or sponsor a few of their posts or videos to promote your brand and product.
- Use flash sales, but sparingly. As a pleasant and welcome surprise, share time-sensitive coupons and offers on social media. The main reason why Millennials follow brands on social media is to receive discounts (62%). Just make sure you do not spoil them and avoid conditioning them to wait until a flash sale occurs before they complete their next order.
4. Apply paid advertising
As you begin searching for the winning formula for social commerce, use paid advertising to boost some of your more effective posts on social media. Sadly for most brands, organic traffic is dwindling as audiences tune out promotional messages from advertisers and platforms like Facebook, which prioritizes brand messages less within its News Feed algorithm. That said, paying to engage a social audience is arguably more rewarding than actively maintaining an earned audience.
Of course, to get the most out of your marketing dollar, segment your audiences and apply targeting filters to touch different users at each stage of their decision making process. Using retargeting, you may also place ads in front of shoppers who have visited your store in the past but have yet to complete a purchase, have only purchased products from you once, or are loyal customers who regularly shop at your store.
5. Persistently optimize your creatives and social media strategy
As consumer behaviors and needs change, so should your creatives and social media strategy. For example, as more shoppers conduct research and complete purchases on their smartphones, brands should build content that looks good on desktop computers but looks stunning on mobile devices.
On a weekly or monthly basis, brands ought to prune underperforming creatives and test new content formats. On social media, things get old quick, and store owners will need to be agile in order to stay relevant.
For Sprout Social, blogger Dominique Jackson recommends that brands:
- Update their profiles
- Use a mix of original and curated content
- Republish posts with unique headlines
- Test different images
- Apply a variety of #hashtags
- Test posting schedules
Using tools such as Google Analytics, store owners can measure the ROI of each pin, share or tweet they post. While you may be tempted by vanity metrics such as traffic, time-on-site, and pageviews-per-visit, do not forget that the only number you should focus on is sales.
What is your most successful tactic for selling on social media?
Danny Wong is the co-founder of Blank Label, an award-winning luxury menswear company. He is also a digital marketing consultant and freelance writer. To connect, tweet him @dannywong1190 or message him on LinkedIn.