To assess which social media platforms are the right fit for your target audience and loyal customers, start by collecting the following information:
Mine analytics data
Add source code tags to all your inbound social links to track what is driving existing traffic to your website.
Survey existing customers and email subscribers
Ask 1,000 of your best customers about their social media habits.
Tap demographic information
Since Facebook accounts for 90 percent of social media usage, you absolutely need to build strategies for this. The demographic profiles of other social networks can help you identify the best matches. For example, 79 percent of Pinterest users are female and 60 percent of Twitter users are female, while Google+ is 71 percent male.
Secondary to your own customer data, the following grid suggests which social networks are the best fits for each stage of the customer lifecycle.
For each stage, the most successful brands do more than simply post website links and promotional codes; they fully integrate social activity into the shopping experience. Social media opens up many more opportunities to interact with your customers. Your goal should not be to control the message but to participate in it.
Using social media throughout the customer lifecycle
Here's how to "socialize" activities throughout the customer lifecycle using the most suitable social media tools currently available.
Researching products: Engage beyond the "like"
Best bets: Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, brand blog
Engage your followers with shopping tools that blend the rich product discovery and description experience of your e-commerce site with social features such as sharing and commenting.
Present a curated collection, not just a product list
Showcase a variety of items in ways that start social conversations. Housewares and furniture merchant Design Within Reach presents products arranged by room on its Pinterest profile, such as this collection of "Modern Workspace" favorites.
Display customer reviews and social commentary
Beyond simply displaying ratings, incorporate snippets of review text, comments from social media, or emailed feedback.
Address common shopping challenges
Provide detailed information to help guide your customer's purchase decisions such as fitting information for apparel or how-to instructions for gear. Outdoor outfitter REI provides a YouTube playlist titled "expert advice" that features product demonstrations by staff members.
Incorporate the shopper's personal preferences
Take advantage of the social environment to design individualized experiences. Cull information from shopper profiles, solicit participation from their friends, or engage them with interactive activities that guide them to appropriate products.
Buying Products: Enable seamless transactions
Best bets: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest
You don't necessarily need to launch a Facebook store, but don't simply link from your Facebook page to your e-commerce home page either. Instead, create a streamlined, custom experience to make the seamless transition from socializing to purchasing. How?
Put the focus on deals -- but don't set up an expectation
According to Lab24 and Monetate, more than half of consumers who follow brands on social media expect discounts and promotions. To satisfy social shoppers without "training" them to wait for discounts, seek balance of promotions and everyday deals. Below is an example of how lighting purveyor Bulbs.com tweeted a 15 percent off coupon and free shipping offer along with a post about EcoSmart CFL bulbs -- "only $1.39 each!" -- that links directly to the e-commerce site product page.
Devise exclusive discounts to reward deeper engagement with your brand, such as "liking" your Facebook page, sharing products or content with friends, or participating in contests.
Enable sharing to drive "ripple effect" sales
Friends' activities on social networking sites do influence shopping activity: 18 percent of U.S. consumers -- and 23 percent of those under age 35 -- purchase products based on brands their friends follow. Give shoppers the means to share both single products and entire shopping experiences. When Babies "R" Us debuted its Heidi Klum "Truly Scrumptious" collection, brand followers could view, click to buy, or share individual items as well as save and share outfits with friends.
Go the extra mile to earn trust
According to Forrester, more than 10 percent of consumers abandon purchases because of privacy concerns, even on social sites where sharing information is the norm. Use tried-and-true trust techniques, such as third-party security badges and prominent placement of your return policy and product guarantees. Give social shoppers control over how much information they share.
Getting customer service help: Respond wherever shoppers gather
Best bets: Facebook, Twitter, Google+
Social media posts have become de facto customer service channels by giving power to consumers and amplifying their plaudits and complaints. Nearly half of social media users have relied on "social care" and 30 percent of consumers prefer to access customer service via social media as opposed to the phone. A positive social customer service experience can make consumers three times as likely to recommend a brand but their expectations for fast and effective response are very high. Here's how to deliver satisfying customer service on social outposts:
Communicate contacts clearly and prominently across touch-points
Give your followers multiple options for accessing customer care and list contact information and hours of operation clearly for all available means of customer service. Technology-accessory company ThinkGeek prominently posts its 800 number on Twitter along with other social outposts to indicate access to instant service.
Employ "listening" tools to capture stray remarks
Tools include HootSuite, TweetDeck, SocialMention, and Google Alerts. Track comments by keywords as well as any profile name that may not be posted directly to your Facebook page or prefaced by @brandname on Twitter.
Proactively address key customer service questions
Post information about return policies, delivery timelines, and product guarantees so your followers don't have to hunt for these on your e-commerce site.
Supporting your social media strategies
Building content and programs for deployment on social networking sites is only part of the equation for a well-rounded social media strategy. You must make a business wide commitment to support, evaluate, and update your social strategies to take full advantage. You can't just "set it and forget it." Designate someone to be in charge of this. Only by constantly adapting your social strategies to the changing needs of consumers -- and the changing social media landscape -- can you build a sustainable audience of followers and reap new sales.
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