How smart retailers are using social media to grow.

November 22, 20090 Comments
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Social media for many is a daunting concept.  Many e-commerce sites are confused as to where to start, and have been slow to adopt the changing online landscape – however as part of an overall  e-commerce strategy it is well and truly here to stay. Smart retailers are dipping their toes into the somewhat unfamiliar territory, and coming out with the rewards. Here are some of the ways smart retailers are using social media to grow their business online.

Embracing product reviews

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Social media  empowers consumers  to make product reviews on their own blogs, tumblelogs, or on third party review sites.  Smart retailers are embracing this trend and offering product reviews from happy (and unhappy) reviews from their customer base on their own website, as well as embracing and encouraging reviews elsewhere.

If you aren’t currently doing this you are missing out for a number of reasons. Firstly, customer reviews offer you an easy and cost effect way to grow organically by providing additional user generated content to the search engines.  Secondly, product reviews offer an additional feedback tool to learn why someone purchased, or perhaps why they wouldn’t again. If you are still not convinced -  Bazaarvoice has a large collection of stats on why product reviews matter.

Transparency is the key here- you have to be prepared to suck it up and take the rough with the smooth.

Larger companies like Asos are getting this right – just recently they have launched AsosReviews.com - which highlights the good and the bad comments coming directly from customers via Twitter, and provides a visual gauge to let potential customers to see how they are doing at a glance.

If there’s one thing you can be sure of with social media, it’s that you don’t control the conversation. The conversation controls you.

Be honest and allow negative feedback as well as positive. Address it on your own site when it occurs – or face your visitors taking the negative feedback elsewhere on the web, more often than not to higher profile social sites where a larger audience are likely to see and potentially share it. Lest we forget the Streisand effect.

If haven’t currently got a budget for supplying this review service on your own website, you should be asking your customer base for reviews on various other websites around the web. See point two on this post for some of the places Google are using for data purposes to work out who to list highest in Google product search.

Both map searches, and Google Base (shopping) – are now using reviews as a ranking factor within their algorithm to work out who should get the traffic.

Remember – Consumers are most attracted to a website that provides good advice and reassurance about their purchase, with outfit suggestions (43%), recommendations (46%) and customer reviews (40%) cited as features that consumers most like. [IMRG] – it is possible to tap into these trends through both social shopping sites and using reviews and recommendations.

Social media profiling

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As part of your overall marketing strategy you should be asking all of your existing customers the questions to find out how many of them have a social media profile or indeed a blog that you can update within your existing customer database.

This can easily be built in into your newsletter requests, or made an optional query as part of the checkout process. You may even want to reward customers that offer this data freely to you with a once off discount voucher to encourage participation.

For example – if 65% of your customers have a Facebook profile, and 10% have a Twitter profile – then running a Facebook campaign is clearly going to be more beneficial than using Twitter to reach out to them. It also gives you the data you need to run a more targeted email marketing campaign which will tie closely in with each of the audiences.

Data is your friend online, and you have to be smart about what you choose to collect, and how you can use it your advantage, and gain insight into your customer base.  Social media profiles are one metric that smart retailers are collecting as part of their overall marketing strategy.

Rewarding social sharing

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Ultimately one of your primary goals when using social media to grow your business, and website traffic, should be encouraging the sharing process. There has to be an underlying reason for someone to do so, and without motivation, it simply wont happen. For retailers, this means that the unusual products get the captivating responses – and if you have no quirk, you are just another website. In other words if you are selling just another blue t-shirt, you can’t expect any kind of excitement or buzz to build around your site. Enter reward schemes.

Smart retailers are offering discount and special offers to those customers who are tweeting their products, or sharing them with their friends, running promos directly from within each of these networks to spread their coverage that bit further.  Some are monitoring the social sphere and offering a points based reward system for those loyal customers who are referring other customers, via their blogs, or their social media profiles.

To me, its pointless to just put a “share this” button somewhere on each of your product pages and hope to get results – mainly for the reasons stated above. This is something I see retailers doing time after time – slapping a button on product pages because they hear its a good idea without thinking it through. Some even end up damaging conversion rates, depending on how intrusive the sharing implementation is.

Instead of this – offering some bait and reward scheme right at the checkout process which provides an instant discount prior to purchase is more likely to encourage sharing, particularly for items which wouldn’t have otherwise received natural shares.

Blogger outreach

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Linkbuilding is hard. However, its the single most important ranking factor in the major search engines’ algorithms. Retailers have one up on the rest of us.  Many of the smarter retailers are using their stock (both the difficult to shift, and best lines) to link build, giving it away free of charge in exchange for reviews of the product, or sponsorship of competitions. There are a variety of bloggers who have chosen to niche directly in honest product reviews.

If you hand pick who you give to, you can pretty much guarantee relevant contextual links back to your site – which google will end up paying you with traffic for. Sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate, and blogger outreach can position your brand in front of shoppers, who are often online, and with credit card ready to buy.


Overall social media offers new and creative ways to reach customers, you just have to take the leap, jump in and get going to realise the benefits.

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About the Author ()

Paul is a regular 30 year old web bloke / programmer with a penchant for online marketing. This blog is a personal outlet, with an eclectic mix of articles.

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