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Social commerce is gaining steam. According to Adweek, the top 500 retailers brought in nearly $6.5 billion from social shopping in 2017 and research from Technavio estimates that annual social commerce revenues will exceed $165 billion by 2021.

While only 18% of online consumers in the United States have purchased products directly via social media as of May 2018, forward-thinking businesses should learn how to develop their fan base, activate their audience and convert followers into sales.

The future of ecommerce has at least one foot in 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. Millennials and Gen Z are already showing trends in this direction.

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’re 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’ll 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.

Source: Shopify

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 of total visits, followed by Pinterest (13%), then Twitter (10.5%), YouTube (8%), and Reddit (4.5%).
  • In social commerce, Facebook reigns. Eighty-five percent 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%).

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.

3. Build a content calendar.

After you select the social media platform(s) to focus on, you need to decide which sorts of content you’ll 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’s 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’ll 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 don’t 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. Paying to engage a social audience is arguably more rewarding than actively maintaining an earned audience.

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 creative 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 quickly, 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 like 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, don’t forget that the only number you should focus on is sales.

Wrap up

Though social commerce is still a burgeoning tactic for marketers and consumers, it’s something that you should anticipate becoming a bigger and bigger part of your strategy. And while there are plenty of recommendations out there for which platforms to use and what kind of content to share, it all comes down to your brand and your audience—now’s the time to start testing and optimizing to see what works for you.

What’s your most successful tactic for selling on social media?

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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