Social Spotlight: Making Social a Sales Outlet1 Aug, 2012 By: Kirsten Saladow Response
Marketers and vendors alike seek out the secrets of turning fans and followers into buyers.
By now, it should be obvious that social media channels are not a passing fad, and that social media is continuing to grow at an exponential rate. This is not really news, considering everybody from Fortune 500 companies to small mom-and-pop shops use social media in one form or another.
However, many businesses still struggle with determining how to leverage social media to directly impact their bottom lines. While some companies see social networks as merely another channel for building awareness, there are many direct response marketing companies seeing social media having incredible impact on their online sales.
According to polls conducted by Mashable, companies are increasing their social media budgets — slowly but steadily. Most large companies are increasing their social media budgets by at least 5 percent every year. But, is growing your company’s social media budget every year going to produce sales results? Unfortunately, this seems to be the question of the decade, and there seems to be plenty of gray area when executives try to come up with a solution for their companies.
How to Engage With Consumers
Consumers have gotten more social media savvy. It’s clear when a company is spamming them on Twitter with nothing but advertisements; it’s also clear when a company does nothing but self-promote on their social media channels.
“Many people speak about the 80/20 rule when describing the way to grow your social media networks. Meaning, 80 percent of what you do on social media should be interacting with your customers and 20 percent of what you do should be about your business. People want to feel like they are part of the conversation. I see many companies make the mistake of constantly self-promoting,” says Becky Sarwate, social media marketing manager for Hearthware Inc.
Hearthware (the 2011 Direct Response Marketing Alliance Marketer of the Year) has two different Facebook pages — one for its NuWave Oven and another for its NuWave Precision Induction Cooktop — and it has earned 1,000-percent growth in the past year. Hearthware treats its Facebook pages as an extension of its infomercials, brand, customer service and community.
“Many times, when a new customer has a question about our product before we can answer it for them internally, one of our brand loyalists will answer the question for us — and most of the time, they are right. That’s what social media is about for us: it allows our customers to form a community over their shared love of our product,” says Sarwate.
Taking the time to figure out who is following you on Twitter, liking you on Facebook, watching your YouTube videos and repinning your pins on Pinterest is key to learning how to engage and grow your networks. Just like in traditional sales methods, a little market research goes a long way in social media.
“The very best programs start with an understanding of the needs of the community members or people and seek to provide unique value to those members in each channel,” says Michael Della Penna, senior vice president of emerging channels for Responsys. “We subscribe to the Forrester POST methodology that requires brands to do a bit of work upfront and understand the P (People), O (Objectives), S (Strategy), and T (Technologies) best suited to support the social media program. If a program is not yielding engagement, it’s likely the brand needs to spend more time understanding its audience. Channel audits that look at the community demographics and interest, as well as competitive audits and listening programs that understand what conversations are taking place across the industry as well as around the brand and its competitors across social and Web are helpful.”
Arguably, the best part of social media is positive word-of-mouth. A positive review, a great Tweet or an engaging conversation on social media is more impactful than an advertisement from a company singing its own praises.
“When consumers talk about a product such as PajamaJeans online, it often sparks threads that can impact product sales. Several celebrities tweeted about PajamaJeans and spoke about the brand on other social channels, generating endorsements that generated an upward tick in online sales,” says Steve Heroux, founder and CEO of Hampton Direct Inc., and a member of the Response Advisory Board.
If all else fails, social media can be the perfect place to conduct a very large market research experiment.
“Ask your communities outright what they want to see from you on social media. They’ll respond. It’s easy. If you aren’t thinking about the customer first, you are bound to fail,” says Chad Warren, senior manager of product marketing for Adobe.
What About Shy Customers?
Companies like Dell and Amazon have seen a huge ROI as they have grown their social media networks, but not all companies have products that people want to broadcast their love for — which creates a trickier social media landscape.
“We use social media to drive conversation about women’s health; it’s not a direct line for sales for us,” says Rachel Braun Scherl, president of Semprae Laboratories Inc. “Women that use Zestra for female sexual enhancement love our product, but they want to be anonymous. We use our social channels to be a voice in female sexual health that is comfortable and while customers may not engage with us on social media, we know they are following and listening.”
Other popular direct response products fall into the same category as Zestra. Bosley, a hair restoration practice, has been in business for 38 years, has performed 230,000 procedures, and continues to perform 11,000 procedures per year.
“We are still experimenting with social media. Honestly, we have yet to figure out the best way for us to use it. Men that have hair restoration procedures are extremely private about this and they don’t exactly want the world or all of Twitter to know. So our approach is different: Bosley tries to be a resource on social media, fully knowing that people aren’t going to engage with us openly, but they are paying attention to what we are saying,” says Steven Aquavia, marketing manager for Bosley.
Bosley and Zestra both rely heavily on understanding their customers when it comes to social media. “Our approach to social media is successful if we understand how the consumer wants to engage with the brand and engage with each other about the brand. If Bosley plays by the consumers’ rules, then our social media campaign is successful,” says Aquavia.
The Latest and — Maybe — Greatest
Pinterest is the newcomer on the social media landscape and is already garnering a lot of attention for how quickly its numbers are growing and catching up to Facebook and Twitter. The numbers tell the tale around users’ appetites for these new interest-based social networks. Pinterest, an increasingly popular virtual pinboard, crossed 10 million monthly unique users in the United States in January 2012, achieving 8 digits worth of monthly uniques faster than any site ever according to TechCrunch. If that isn’t compelling enough, according to Silicon Valley investor Ron Conway, Pinterest is growing like Facebook was growing five years ago.
“Pinterest is a powerful and visual platform that should be part of every retailer’s community efforts. In fact, in just a short period of time, Pinterest has become the No. 1 driver of traffic to websites and therefore should be part of the fabric of the conversation around the brand and its products,” says Della Penna.
Companies don’t have to do anything to be a part of Pinterest. As soon as a consumer pins your product and other consumers start repinning, you are part of the landscape. However, there is more opportunity with Pinterest than just being passively involved.
“Pinterest is also layered on top of Facebook. So, if people are pinning your stuff, they are driving more traffic to your Facebook page. Considering Pinterest drives more traffic to your website than any other social media channel, this is a substantial opportunity for businesses,” says Warren.
Sarwate agrees, adding, “We created a Pinterest profile and our engagement and sales exploded. People started repinning and having conversations based around different ways to use our product, different things you could do in the NuWave Oven. Food and healthy recipes are huge on Pinterest, we found it to be a really natural fit for us.”
Measuring Your Impact
If you’ve invested money, time and energy into your social media channels, it’s important to measure your impact on these networks as well as find ways to continue to grow and connect with your customers. With how quickly social media is growing, there are now experts that watch trends and are able to pinpoint if a social media campaign is going to be successful. In addition, it’s helpful to be able to anticipate social media trends before they take off.
“The No. 1 trend is around data,” Della Penna contends. “We are moving beyond likes and comments, and increasingly brands are looking to leverage the data from interactions across the social medium to build more relevant and powerful relationships. An apps’ acceptance from a social sign-up or from a brand’s app allows that brand to gain access to robust social profile information like interests, and social graph data via a permission-based acceptance that can now be used to power highly personalized and targeted communications.”
Adobe conducted a recent study that shows that social media impact is undervalued by nearly 100 percent. Adobe Social Suite combines social publishing and engagement with monitoring, social ad buying and analytics that can attribute social activity to business results. Adobe is giving those with social marketing responsibilities — digital marketers, community managers, customer service, public relations, ad buyers, analysts and others — a single platform to align and collaborate around the management, measurement and optimization of their social media strategies, and does so in the context of all other digital marketing efforts.
“If you aren’t measuring and taking your social media impact and analytics seriously, you are already behind the trend. Companies need to understand that social media data can tell you so much more about your customers than ever before. Companies can segment their customers into different categories now,” says Warren.
Combining Traditional and Social Media
As popular as social media has become, it still needs help from traditional advertising and marketing channels to have a significant impact on sales.
“Some of the more successful social media programs are sequences and coordinated with other marketing efforts such as E-mail and/or display. This orchestration of messaging often leads to an incremental lift in overall performance and conversion or sales for online marketers. It is critical these individual initiatives be tagged and tracked so marketers begin to understand individual channel contributions, as well as the impact of their orchestration,” says Della Penna.
Advertising on Facebook is no longer seen as a poor use of budget. In fact, a Facebook ad could reach more consumers than posting a status update or link to your community of fans.
“There is a natural marriage between paid media and social media. While at one time, it was considered blasphemous to have paid ads on Facebook because it was bastardizing the integrity of social media, now, paid media is helpful to social media when used properly and in conjunction with grassroots efforts. For example, on Facebook, only 16 percent of status update posts actually reach a fan — but a sponsored post or advertisement is like rocket fuel since it goes to your fan base and beyond to reach a broader audience,” says Warren.