Running an e-commerce business often requires the use of many non-traditional forms of marketing. While social marketing has been used in the traditional brick and mortar retail model for many years, adding a social marketing strategy to an e-commerce business today means more than just filling product pages with “like” and “tweet” buttons.
But when you think about it, only the technologies have changed. Where local retailers once used coupons and business cards with discounts, today’s online merchants use Twitter and Facebook to build communities of followers. And that is really what it's all about — building a large following of fans that not only return to your store, but bring their friends with them. Chances are your customers are active on social networking and media sharing websites. Males and females almost equally use social sites according to statistics from the social media monitoring website, Pingdom.
The data also show that 61 percent of Facebook users are middle age or older — 37 is the average age. If you are an online merchant and you are not leveraging social media websites, you’re probably missing out on a larger number of new customers.
It Starts With The Hub
It may sound obvious, but the hub of any e-commerce business is its website. It would be a mistake to view it as just another sales channel but that’s what many online retailers have done. Look at the companies that have successfully integrated social marketing strategies and you will find that all roads lead to their website. And gone are the days of hiding behind a 1-800 phone number — companies and organizations today are embracing the idea of exposing their operations and people to their customers. Again, this really borrows on the idea from the retail business model that people buy from people, not companies. But today your employees can interact with an exponentially larger number of customers and potential customers through web-based tools and social media websites can be a big part of this interaction.
There are many social media websites, but for the purpose of this article, and for brevity’s sake, I will focus on the top two sites — Facebook and Twitter.
With more than 500 million active users, Facebook is the second most visited site on the web (#1 is Google in case you were wondering). To add a little perspective, if Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s third most populated behind only China and India. Facebook is continually upping its game, constantly adding new features that keep users returning and staying on their site longer. Businesses and organizations are using Facebook to reach this ever-growing audience through ads and the new store feature.
Facebook Store is a relatively new feature that is free to set up and use. You will need a Facebook fan page and a PayPal account to process transactions. Moreover, there are many companies that now offer store applications, many that can integrate with your existing website’s inventory and payment processor. Some sharing features on a few of the stores allow a user to actually share the store, instead of just a single product.
Facebook Ads work very much like Google AdWords, but are a little more feature rich. You can easily advertise a destination on Facebook like a Page, Event, Application, or your own website. The familiar “Like” button can also be added to an ad. But unlike the keyword targeting in AdWords, Facebook Ads can be targeted to traditional marketing demographics like age, gender, geographical location, and interests.
It is estimated that Twitter has more than 200 million users, generating over 65 million tweets a day. In July, 2010, Twitter added the @earlybird Exclusive Offers which will be time-sensitive deals on products and events that will appear on the @earlybird Twitter account. People can follow that account to get access to the deals. This works very much like deal websites such as Gilt, Groupon, and Woot. But even before this, computer maker Dell was using Twitter to post coupons and word of new products, generating more than $3 million a year just from Twitter sales.
But beyond e-commerce, Twitter has proven a valuable customer service tool. Companies like Zappos use Twitter to stay in touch with their customers and monitor mentions of their company for potential problems.
Successful in Social Circles
Using social media to sell is a balancing act just like any on other relationship. If your followers and fans feel like they are being pushed too many products, you’ll lose them. Two of the best brands that effectively use social media are Dell and Zappos.
Zappos, known for their service and culture, is arguably the most transparent company on the planet. Between blogs, videos, and tweets, it’s easy to see what goes on at Zappos. The interesting thing about Zappos is that the majority of their messages are about the people who work at Zappos. For example, the founder and CEO, Tony Hsieh, talks more about his personal passions and business philosophies than anything else — including his business. Everyone at Zappos is encouraged to tweet. But before they get a Twitter account, they get training on how to tweet. However, the company has a dedicated Twitter account to handle service issues.
Dell is a company that has benefited from social media. In 2005, negative mentions of Dell were at 48 percent and today it’s in the low 20s. Dell created a Conversations and Communities team of 40 people who have an active presence in just about every social media channel. Dell even created their own social website, IdeaStorm, to provide customers a place to offer suggestions and recommendations for new products and features. As of August 2008, nine new laptops had been designed, by the IdeaStorm community.
Effect on Search Engine Optimization
Only recently have Google and Bing begun factoring social media into search result pages. The effect that backlinks on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites is still small according to Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team. In a video from December, 2010, Matt indicated that Google is “…studying how much sense it makes to use it a little more widely within our web search rankings.”
Also in December, 2010, Danny Sullivan writing for SearchEngineLand.com lists responses from both Bing and Google as to what and how social signals help rank regular search results. It appears that tweets from authoritative Twitter users do have some impact, but neither search engine place a lot of emphasis at this point on those tweets. Social media may result in slightly better search engine rankings, but it doesn’t make sense to add social media as soley for the sake of SEO rankings.
As the online world continues to evolve, merging e-commerce with social media will be critical for retail success — both online and offline. Businesses and organizations gain loyal, repeat customers by building relationships with them through social media. And monitoring social media can provide helpful insights about what your customers are saying and what they really want. Bottom line: A good social media strategy can give you the opportunity to improve your store and your business.
Top 51 Facebook Storefronts
Top 50 Facebook Stores, Applications
What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count?