How to focus social media efforts for 2014

For many merchants, social media continues to be a tricky proposition when it comes to achieving ROI. Direct sales from social networks amount to just 1-2% of all revenues, according to the MarketLive Performance Index, which means that merchants must dig deep to justify their investment. And that investment needs to be significant if merchants are to adequately staff social media for responsive service and innovative content — making the value proposition even more potentially lopsided.

For those reasons, many merchants are striving to focus social media efforts. With an ever-expanding array of social networks to consider, that task may seem impossible — but recent data suggests the opposite may be true. With more options than ever, consumers increasingly being selective and gravitating toward individual social networks that cater best to their needs, making it easier for brands to reach their intended audiences.

For merchants to successfully reach their target audience, they should:

Consider the demographics. December 2013 data from the Pew Internet & American Life project gives merchants insight into the leading social networks — both in terms of numbers of users by factors such as age and ethnicity as well as frequency of usage. This combined information can help merchants not only select appropriate social networks, but also throttle resource allocation. For example, while Pinterest has replaced Twitter as the third most popular social network, Twitter users log in far more frequently, with double the number of Twitter users reporting they check the site at least daily.

Data on social media from Pew Data on social media from Pew

Dig deeper into Facebook engagement for younger audiences. As the Pew report shows, Facebook dominates both in terms of frequency and popularity, with 71% of all Internet users reporting they use the site. But while 84% of 18-to-29-year-olds report using Facebook, and 94% of teenagers aged 13 to 19 report doing so, survey responses suggest they consider the social network the purview of adults and assume their posts are monitored by parents and potential employers — prompting them to prefer other platforms for unfettered social interaction.  Research firm NextAdvisor found that Tumblr ranked highest among social networks, with 66% of teens reporting usage, while 9% fewer teens in 2013 versus 2012 named Facebook as the most important social site. In addition to Tumblr, the photo-sharing site Instagram ranked high in NextAdvisor’s survey, with SnapChat — which delivers photos, then deletes them after 10 seconds — becoming popular as a means of sharing images without the fear of leaving a permanent online record.

Data on social media

Incorporate mobile into social strategy. Regardless of demographic segment, merchants should assume their audience will access brand social outposts via mobile devices. Fully two in three smartphone owners say they use their devices to connect with social media, according to eMarketer — slightly higher than the 65% who visit social media sites on their laptop or desktop browser. More than half of tablet owners use them for social media.   All in all, eMarketer forecasts that more than one in three consumers will access social media via smartphone this year.

Data on mobile/social use from eMarketer

To adapt to this usage, merchants should design social strategies with mobile in mind, from posting links to mobile-friendly landing pages to featuring mobile-friendly content such as store locators within Facebook.

Go beyond the numbers. While demographics and industry-wide statistics can serve as a guide, ultimately merchants must rely on in-depth knowledge of their audience in order to develop effective social strategies. To understand the preference of their existing and potential customers, merchants should use:

  • Surveys. Ask existing customers about social media usage and what social content would be helpful.

  • Analytics. Study traffic logs to identify social sources — both mobile and desktop — of existing traffic.

  • Competitive data. Examine what social offerings exist for brands that cater to relevant audiences.

  • Product shares. Merchants can enable sharing of products from the eCommerce or mobile site even to those social networks where they haven’t established official brand profiles. Destinations where items are frequently shared merit further exploration.

  • Social “listening”. Monitoring social sites for brand mentions and unofficial pages or profiles enables merchants to both identify social opportunities and provide responsive customer service.

How are you fine-tuning and focusing social strategy for 2014?

Webinar recap: the top priority for building community

This week’s webinar on building community, part of our Competing with Amazon series, covered a wide swath of best practices for merchants to consider as they attempt to engage shoppers and build lasting brand relationships. While the format and functionality of communities depend in some part on the merchant’s product offering and target audience, MarketLive founder Ken Burke said there’s one strategy in particular that most merchants should prioritize in the next six months: social integration using Facebook’s Open Graph. As Burke said in the webinar, this single technology implementation opens up a world of options for engaging community throughout the shopping experience.

 

Part of the power of the tool lies in Facebook’s continuing domination of the social landscape. Two thirds of online Americans use Facebook, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project; that’s more than half of the population as a whole. By contrast, the next biggest social network, Twitter, attracts just 16% of online adults, Pew found. That usage translates into huge potential shopping synergy: half of shoppers are logged in to Facebook as they browse eCommerce sites, according to social marketing firm Monetate.

But it’s not just Facebook’s critical mass that makes Open Graph integration so potentially effective. It’s also the variety of ways that social sharing can be woven into the shopping experience, from consideration to post-purchase.  As we’ve written previously, merchants must adopt privacy best practices for Facebook integration, and ask for only the information they can use to power a more intelligent shopping experience. But given that caveat, the tactics Open Graph enables include:

Gifting with confidence. With holiday season and other gift-giving forming a significant portion of eCommerce sales, facilitating gift purchases should be a priority for merchants. Open Graph informs gifting for both givers and receivers. Shoppers can opt to actively share their wish lists with their Facebook networks, increasing wish list visibility and encouraging purchases; in addition, shoppers can receive gift recommendations based not just on friends’ wish lists, but on past product “likes” or other products popular on social media. Merchants should use available data to populate gift recommendations even when shoppers’ friends haven’t supplied wish lists or product picks to mine, as CafePress does with its educated guesses based on Facebook interests, using “like” or “may like” to indicate the level of confidence in the suggestions.

Social integration example from Cafepress

Shared consideration.  Using Open Graph integration, merchants can let consumers collaborate with others in their network to make purchasing decisions – empowering shoppers to solicit feedback from those they trust most. Macy’s gives shoppers the means to create a product poll to gather input about several items under consideration. Shoppers pick the items to feature and post the poll to their Facebook timeline; the poll is open for 48 hours, after which the results are shared with the shopper. Not only does the shopper get valuable feedback to spur a purchase decision, but friends are exposed to the brand and to individual products.

 Social shopping example from Macy'sSocial shopping example from Macy's

 

 

Post-purchase connections. Often, social media is considered an acquisition tool — but it can also help drive retention and loyalty, providing a crucial link to the brand in the post-purchase phase and thereby transforming a one-way “funnel” into a self-sustaining customer lifecycle.  Open Graph integration enables customers to share their purchase experiences with friends, potentially creating powerful word-of-mouth tools. Merchants should give shoppers the opportunity to share:

  • Purchases. When shoppers complete a transaction on Amazon, they’re invited to share the items they’ve just bought with their social networks – a tactic that seems simple but has not been widely adopted.

Social sharing example from Amazon

  • Reviews. Amazon’s email notification letting customers know their review has been published includes a link for sharing the review on social networks — another way to let customers pass along their endorsement of the brand.

Many other strategies and tactics were shared in the webinar; download the related whitepaper to learn more. Have you used Open Graph to enhance the shopping experience? If so, how?

Webinar preview: Building community to compete with Amazon

If you caught the first webinar in our series about competing with Amazon, then you know that the online giant dominates U.S. eCommerce like no other brand, with year-over-year revenues growing at an average of 36% annually– more than double the rate of U.S. eCommerce sales overall for the same time period. Amazon is the biggest of the mega-brands attracting the lion’s share of online sales revenues, even as the number of small- and mid-sized merchants continues to grow.

But specialty merchants have some distinct advantages when compared with the mega-merchant — and one of them is the capacity to forge strong ties with shoppers through a brand community. Because Amazon warehouses so many disparate product categories, the brand is largely impersonal; there’s little opportunity for its customers to unite around a common lifestyle or passion.  Whether via social media or on the Amazon site itself, interactions among shoppers are limited. The only trait many Amazon customers share is the desire to earn free shipping. By contrast, small- to mid-sized merchants who focus on a particular product category or audience have the opportunity to provide their customers a platform for meaningful interaction and a shopping experience that connects them with other like-minded consumers.

In tomorrow’s webinar, we’ll examine key strategies for building community — and not just via social networks. While social networking sites provide broad exposure and the opportunity to entice new shoppers to follow brands, brand followers tend to be passive; just 6% of social network users actively engage the brands they follow, according to marketer ComBlu. By contrast, branded community experiences provide a platform for committed brand advocates to shine, and for customers to contribute meaningful input on products and promotions.

Among the methods for creating on-site community the webinar will address:

  • “Socializing” the path to purchase with integration tools. One increasingly popular way to marry community and commerce is to use tools available from social networking sites to integrate consumers’ social networking data with the shopping experience. Taking advantage of these tools gives merchants a means to create a community hybrid that incorporates the best of both worlds – the critical mass represented on Facebook and other social sites combined with the ownership control of their own eCommerce sites. Shoppers on the Macy’s site can poll their network of Facebook friends about which products to buy — giving the shopper a recommendation from trusted friends as well as introducing the shopper’s friends to products on the Macy’s site.

Social shopping example from Macy's Social shopping example from Macy's

  • Deepening the conversation via branded communities. Merchants should tap their deep knowledge of the customer lifestyle to find unique ways to build community around specific activities and passions. That community can take many forms, from customer reviews that spawn in-depth discussions to mobile apps that encourage members to engage with the brand, as Nike’s Nike Plus running community tools do. Runners download an app that tracks their runs via GPS and enables sharing with the main community site, where the fastest times for popular runs are spotlighted via “leaderboards”.

Community example from Nike

Tune in tomorrow at 10 a.m. Pacific for more strategies for building one-of-a-kind communities. Meantime, how do you encourage shoppers to engage with the brand and each other?

Best practices for social login

As noted in our last post on 2013 trends, using social login can help merchants individualize the shopping experience for brand followers. And research shows that consumers appreciate the option: according to marketing firm Monetate, 40% of shoppers prefer using social login to creating an account on the eCommerce site.

But despite the potential upside, few of the largest U.S. merchants have taken the opportunity to implement social login — just 30 of the merchants in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 have done so, according to marketing firm Sociable Labs. The threat of brand dilution posed by displaying other sites’ logos on the eCommerce site, and the fact that merchants don’t own the data shared by social login users, are perhaps among the reasons driving this reluctance. As a recent analysis by email service provider MailChimp demonstrated, the key is to avoid assuming social logins can solve all a site’s conversion and engagement challenges. Merchants need to assess the potential upside of social logins for their own unique brands and act accordingly.

Despite the caveats, we believe social logins have the potential to drive significant brand engagement, and worth pursuing. But doing so is more than a matter of simply putting a button on the first page of checkout. To maximize the effectiveness of social login, merchants should consider the following strategies:

Know which logins matter to your audience. By far the most popular social login is Facebook’s, according to the Monetate study; fully 60% of shoppers use it, while other social networks’ logins each have less than 15% share. Given that 66% of U.S. online adults use Facebook, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, most merchants considering social login should plan to implement Facebook Login. But depending on their audience, merchants should also consider adding logins from other social networks, from Twitter to LinkedIn. Careful study of analytics and an assessment of which social networks have the largest audience of brand followers can help merchants assess which logins to use. The key is to offer the right mix for the audience without presenting an overwhelming array of options for shoppers.

Integrate fully. Too many merchants who use social login go on to ask shoppers to set up a separate account password for the eCommerce site — but the aim of using social login should be to smooth the path to purchase, not erect more barriers. Of course merchants should strive to establish their own direct relationship with shoppers; but they should implement a phased approach that encourages existing social login users to deepen their relationship, rather than forcing the issue up front. 1-800-Flowers gives Facebook Login users full access to the eCommerce site’s account tools, such as reminder services and address book creation, without creating an additional password.

Facebook login example from 1-800-Flowers

Develop true social shopping opportunities. As a corollary to the above, merchants should make it worthwhile for shoppers to connect via social login by doing more than pre-populating a few checkout fields. Easily-shareable wish lists are a good starting point, but merchants should also develop shopping experiences that draw on shoppers’ social profiles to bring their network of friends and their personal preferences into play. Apparel merchant Charlotte Russe enables social login users to view a real-time stream of what items are being liked and commented on. Shoppers can filter the stream to view only their friends’ picks, and control whether their own selections are shared or not.

Facebook login example from Charlotte Russe

Merchants should also consider reminder services that incorporate social login users’ friend feeds. Amazon.com not only lets shoppers know which Facebook friends have birthdays coming up soon, but also makes gift recommendations based on friends’ prior purchases and history of product “likes” on Facebook.

Facebook login example from Amazon

Give users privacy controls — and message prominently. With Facebook and other social networks often grabbing headlines for privacy gaffes, it’s crucial for merchants to clearly outline how social login functionality will work, what user data will be culled from their social profiles, and what information will be shared with users’ friends by the merchant — and social login users should be able to exercise privacy control at multiple points along the engagement path. When designing their social login experiences, merchants should pay special attention to:

  • Signup messaging. Shoppers offered the option of a social login should understand the benefits and what information will be shared before beginning the process. Then, once they’ve opted to use the social login, they should be able to exercise control over how their information will be shared. On the first page of checkout, Wine.com gives shoppers an extensive explanation in a pop-up window of how Facebook Login works. Those who opt to use the social login are then notified of which data the tool will use and given the option to control how information is shared on the social network.

Social login example from Wine.com

  • Social login example from Wine.comSharing “likes.” When social login users add products to their list of favorites or “like” the items, they should be alerted to how that information will be shared — and given the option to edit the settings. Department store Barney’s launches a pop-up window when a shopper first uses the “Favorites” tool and lets shoppers select whether or not to share their picks.

Social login example from Barney's

  • Global control. From any page of the site, shoppers should be able to access their account and turn social sharing on or off; they should also be able to log out completely. Accessory retailer Claire’s offers a drop-down menu in the global navigation that enables shoppers to switch sharing on or off without leaving the browsing experience; users can also opt to log out completely. A fly-out help menu clearly delineates how sharing works and offers the further option of disconnecting from Facebook altogether.

Social login example from Claire's

Are you using or considering social logins for your site? Why or why not?

Webinar recap: Shopping without borders

If there’s one theme that emerged from last week’s webinar on trends for 2013, it’s that this year will see shopping escape the confines of the eCommerce site.

MarketLive founder Ken Burke explained how often-discussed but rarely-implemented concepts such as social commerce and multi-channel execution are due to come to fruition, resulting in an experience where shopping seamlessly blends with a consumer’s individual lifestyle. Rather than having to seek out products nested within eCommerce site categories, shoppers will be able to access items in new formats, presented with their individual devices, locations and situations in mind.

Finding new ways to marry shoppers’ preferences with products is an essential means of brand differentiation, which — as discussed in our preview of the webinar – will be merchants’ core challenge for 2013. By attuning technology to match shoppers’ priorities and the core identity of their brands, merchants can stand out in the crowd. A few top strategies the webinar covered:

Designing tablet-specific experiences. Burke estimated that 25% of all online shopping now takes place on tablets — and there’s growing evidence that tablet shoppers are more likely to buy, and buy more, than mobile and perhaps even desktop shoppers. So it behooves merchants to take advantage of the devices’s unique properties — not only its screen size and swipe-and-tap navigation, but the environment in which shoppers use tablets. Tablet owners use them at home 74% of the time, according to eMarketer, while just over a third use them in stores. By contrast, the vast majority of smartphone owners go online on their devices from on-the-go locations, with 75% using them in stores, industry researcher Forrester found. Merchants should optimize the shopping experience for tablets with display-driven formats that enable swiping to browse, as Staples has done with a  tablet-specific site that includes an array of “hot deals” and best sellers for shoppers to swipe through.

Tablet example from Staples

Connecting on-the-go browsing to buying. Smartphone shoppers are 14% more likely to convert and make a purchase in the store than non-smartphone users, according to data from Deloitte — the trick is to provide deep, location-relevant content that encourages purchasing. As a corollary benefit, developing mobile content intended for in-store use helps merchants quantify and track consumers’ movement across touchpoints – enabling them to tighten the mobile-to-purchase connection and justify further investment in mobile efforts. QR codes are increasingly prevalent, with one in five U.S. consumers having scanned one in the past month, so merchants would do well to experiment with this format for physical stores. As an extreme example, Burke showed how eBay has transformed its Inspiration Shop window at 404 Park Avenue South in New York into a buying opportunity using QR codes to link passersby to products and transactions.

eBay physical store with QR codes

 

Embedding products in pictures. Merchants have long known that multiple images and product videos help increase conversion; now, it’s possible to make the transition from image to transaction even more seamless, with product links and displays built into rich media that can be syndicated far beyond the eCommerce site. Barney’s New York used a behind-the-scenes video to showcase products with a product popup display that allowed shoppers to add items to the cart without disrupting their viewing experience. A timeline across the bottom of the display lets shoppers scroll back to items of interest.

Shoppable video example from Barney's

Redefining social shopping. At first, merchants who wanted to monetize social media focused on Facebook stores as a way to enable shoppers to buy within the social environment. Those efforts have seen mixed success, largely because merely adding a “buy” button fails to take advantage of the unique properties of the medium. Rather, by integrating social data with products merchants can create an engaging experience for brand followers. On social networks, that means building interactive social media experiences that allow shoppers to share and tailor product arrays. But perhaps even more exciting is the prospect of bringing social data back onto the eCommerce site, where merchants can blend shoppers’ personal preferences and social data with relevant products using Facebook login and other social connector tools. When shoppers use Facebook in conjunction with accessory retailer Claire’s, they can access a “Fashion Feed” showing which items other shoppers — everyone or just friends — are tagging as favorites, and they can opt whether to add their product picks to the mix.

Facebook integration example from Claire's

Using social login is so important that we’re planning a post dedicated to best practices for implementation — watch for it in the coming week. Meantime, to access more key strategies for 2013, replay the webinar — and tell us: what are your priorities for the year?

Are you ready for the new Facebook format?

It’s said that change is the only constant, and the maxim is especially true when it comes to Facebook. Known for its continually-changing interfaces, layouts and policies, Facebook on February 29 announced a new iteration of business Pages that will incorporate the Timeline feature already introduced on individual profile pages back in December.

The new format, which features bold visuals and a host of other changes, will be mandatory for Pages come March 30 – giving merchants just over two weeks to put the finishing touches on their new presentations.

While it’s tempting simply to port over existing Facebook content, with maybe a few extra photos thrown in, merchant brands are better off fully embracing the new format, which requires an adjustment in fundamental strategy. Among the important mindset changes to make:

Find new ways to engage followers. The most disconcerting change for merchants is the elimination of the landing-page tabs, or “fan gates”, that enticed new visitors to “like” a page, often with offers of benefits such as exclusive discounts. Now all visitors will land on the same page, which includes recent posts like the Wall tab of old as well as a bold billboard-style image at the top and information on which friends “like” and have mentioned the page. But with the loss of the tabs, merchants gain new features that can help drive engagement and “likes”:

  • A prominent brand statement. Replacing the “Info” link which languished in the left-hand column, the “About” summary is now anchored front and center beneath the main photo, and should sum up the brand’s identity. Consider including customer service contact information or, at a minimum, a link to your eCommerce site.
  • Showcasing apps. To the right of the “About” statement and the “Photos” link is space for links to three more links of the merchant’s choosing — a layout that favors merchants with custom features and apps that drive “likes”. Macy’s uses one of its slots for a dance contest promotion that requires participants to “like” the page to enter — helping boost followers.

Example of new Facebook page layout from Macys
Example of new Facebook page layout from Macys

  • Featured content. Merchants can now “pin” posts to the top of the page for a week — giving them the opportunity to spotlight promotions to encourage visitors to “like” the page. Luxury brand Louis Vuitton has pinned a post about live coverage of a fashion event to the top of its page, with information about following the event on Twitter and a video — signaling to first-time visitors that the brand has plenty of up-to-the-minute news to share.

Example of new Facebook page from Louis Vuitton

Think visual. The new Facebook page places a heavy emphasis on visuals. It’s not just the billboard-style image at the top of the page and the icons for apps; with the new column layout, there’s more room for photos, videos and graphics in posts. That means merchants should attach an image to almost every update — even if extra time and effort is required to find the right picture. The picture in Walmart’s post about sports gear for Little League not only depicts the subject, but contributes to the brand’s all-American image.

Example of new Facebook page from Walmart

Build a brand scrapbook. The new timeline format places a chronological navigation tool prominently at the top right of the page, giving consumers a chance to browse through years of posts and giving merchants an opportunity to share more of their brand stories. Outline key milestone dates for the brand and mine the archives for ways to convey them with images and text.

The jury is still out on whether these changes will help brands drive engagement and sales on Facebook — but by maximizing the opportunity, merchants can give it their best shot. For more information about the new format:

Have you made the transition to the new Timeline-focused pages? What challenges and opportunities does the new format bring?

3 Tactics for Boosting Facebook Page “Likes”

With the total number of users surpassing 800 million, Facebook is now an essential component of merchants’ sales and marketing arsenal. More and more brands are setting up outposts on Facebook pages; by one estimate, fully 80% of Internet Retailer’s Top 500 merchants use the site to reach customers and potential shoppers.

Of course, just having a Facebook page is only the first step. To truly integrate with shoppers’ Facebook browsing habits, merchants must convince shoppers not only to visit their pages, but to “Like” them – thereby enabling merchant updates to flow onto the shopper’s Facebook home page.

With so many individuals, brands and organizations hopping on the Facebook bandwagon, it’s crucial to offer a compelling “Like” proposition so your brand stands out above the fray. Consider these three tactics for attracting more “Likes” for your Facebook page:

1)    Offer exclusive savings, immediately. While plenty of Facebook promotions promise shoppers that if they “like” a page, they’ll receive the latest news and up-to-the-minute notices of sales that are also promoted elsewhere, fewer brands promise exclusive savings solely for Facebook fans – and fewer still reward a “like” on the spot with a targeted offer. Beauty outlet Sephora messages its Facebook exclusives with a landing page touting “Fan Fridays,” when followers receive an exclusive discount code. After clicking “like,” the latest discount code is revealed on the same page.

Example of Facebook  "like" campaign from SephoraInstant-redemption promo code for Facebook followers of Sephora

2)    Put a spotlight on fans with community. Give potential brand followers incentive to “like” the page by putting them front and center. In addition to broadcasted messages about new products and upcoming events, use status updates to ask followers questions and institute polls to encourage feedback. Mega-merchant Zappos.com instantly communicates the central role brand followers play on the page with its “Fan of the Week” promotion, whereby each week a photo of a follower with a Zappos box is featured as the brand’s main profile picture. Visitors to the landing page see the profile picture featuring the latest spotlighted fan, as well as an invitation to engage in a “like-like relationship” – verbiage that puts followers on an equal footing with the brand.

Zappos.com Facebook "like" campaignCloseup of Zappos.com "fan of the week" Facebook promotion

Followers that view the Zappos Wall see a bevy of posts inviting participation. A challenge to pair shoes with a dress is followed a few hours later by the name of the winning entrant, who received both products for free as the prize; while a third post invites followers to fill in the blank – a post that drew 226 responses.

Example of compelling Facebook status updates from Zappos.com

3)    Promote the page to brand followers in other channels. When it comes to building a Facebook following, you don’t have to start from scratch. Chances are your brand had a cohort of engaged shoppers before Facebook even existed – in the form of email subscribers, repeat customers and longtime catalog browsers. Reach out to them now if you haven’t already with an invitation to join the community on Facebook, too.

eBags sent a Facebook invitation to email subscribers promising an instant discount for “liking” the page. The urgent timeline of a one-day opportunity for savings prompts shoppers to act immediately on the message. Clicking the email delivers shoppers to a coupon, also good for just one day, for 25% off and free shipping – a powerful incentive to purchase.

compelling email calpaign promoting Facebook "likes from eBags

 

Email campaign to promote Facebook "likes" from eBags

 

What tactics have you found successful to drive Facebook page “likes”?