Customers are more cross channel than merchants
The PwC study showed how important the brand experience is, and social media is a key part of today's brand experience. That means that brands need to be ready to respond to questions, accept criticism, and interact with customers via social media irrespective of the channel. Social media is inherently cross-channel, at least in the eyes of the customer.
Customers expect service to be channel neutral, and in many cases social media will flush out problems that would never have been raised in stores. How you respond to these problems will define your brand experience and are often moments of truth for customers. Unfortunately, many customer service responses on Facebook today are lame platitudes, rather than real service.
Favored status is granted to those retailers that can deliver consistent reliable service across channels. Nail this, and you will win loyal fans that will concentrate their spend with your brand.
Engagement counts, not fans
Having a million fans or "likes" doesn't count for much if ultimately they joined just to get access to a special piece of content or a special promotion. While membership promotions seem to be in fashion at the moment, let's take a step back and question their value beyond boosting the number of "likes."
For example, checkout this promotion by McAfee: A 20 percent discount on my antivirus subscription is an attractive offer, and "liking" McAfee on Facebook is so easy to do that many will take the offer.
But with this kind of promotion, you need to ask yourself what is really being achieved. A fan secured through an incentive-driven "like" isn't a real fan -- there's no commitment to the brand. It's just a meaningless mouse click given in return for a discount. The company's new fan is unlikely to engage with McAfee on Facebook or even visit the page.
The second question is whether this leads to an increase in sales. There is some evidence that when a consumer follows a brand, they are more likely to purchase brand products. However, where the "like" has been incentive-driven, this is significantly different than a spontaneous follow. In fact, the follow may be considered a signal of intent, but the key is that the consumer drives it, not the brand.
Of course, in the McAfee example, offering a 20 percent discount will boost sales, but in this case, there is a real cost. McAfee is effectively giving an $8 discount for each "like." Is each "like" worth $8? Maybe McAfee was planning a 20 percent promotion anyway and decided to boost "likes" at the same time -- that makes more sense than buying "likes."
Social commerce has proven to be a tougher nut to crack than many people imagined. In reality, it is in its infancy, and we are experimenting with ways that we can leverage the intersection between shopping and social. Facebook has become an incredibly important place to interact with customers, win fans, extend the brand, and drive buzz and excitement. However, despite a few exceptions, Facebook is not a channel to market in its own right.
Thinking about how you can leverage social across all channels is undoubtedly the right route. Consider how you can make shopping inherently more social, rather than cannibalizing sales from other channels by merely promoting a different storefront.
Charles Nicholls is CEO and founder of SeeWhy Software .
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