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Retail Experts Provide Top Tips To Jumpstart Social Commerce

Debates surrounding the efficacy of social commerce have been building, especially at retail events such as eTail West and the National Retail Federation’s BIG Show. Moreover, analysts and retailers are struggling to pinpoint the characteristics of an effective engagement strategy via Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. This subject has been embraced by A.T. Kearney research, which revealed that most top consumer brands are still not “getting” social media.

A.T. Kearney’s second annual “Social Media Study” found that 27 out of 48 companies did not respond to a single customer comment/reply made online. Moreover, a vast majority of companies (94%) land visitors on a one-way communication page that doesn’t allow customer commenting and feedback, indicating a contradiction of what social media sites promote, according to Christina Heggie, Senior Analyst at A.T. Kearney.

“Facebook as a network — and social media in general — is not a channel for marketers and brands to push messages out to customers,” Heggie said. “It’s a place where both the consumer and company have equal weight, equal voice and ability to speak. Companies are not communicating with consumers successfully [through Facebook]. This includes listening to, replying to, and talking with consumers.”

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Results from the study revealed that 38 of the 48 companies with a Facebook page have either filtered their wall to publish company-only posts. A.T. Kearney’s research also pointed to a need for more personalized messaging: only 13% of messages were geared towards consumer response, while 61% of posts were promotional and external.

“Social media is a very daunting area to tackle, regardless of industry,” Heggie said. “However, retailers in particular have a very unique opportunity to engage customers with intimate conversations via social networking sites, and tying messaging and calls-to-action to e-Commerce storefronts, and promoting brand loyalty, as well as optimal customer service.”

Top Tips for Optimizing Social Media Presence

Michelle Crames, Founder and CEO of SkuLoop, a solution provider that offers digital promotion tools, shared top tips to optimize social media presence and build an effective strategy. These tips include:

  • Balance content with promotional offers;
  • Focus on compelling visuals and being relevant;
  • Combine engagement and commerce driven initiatives;
  • Measure and iterate social initiatives to determine which types of promotions drive ROI; and
  • Test initiatives consistently to determine their efficacy.

Heggie also noted that although diving into social media is a short-term struggle, it is important for retailers to be prepared to test social strategies consistently, and be willing to try new tactics. “Overall, it goes back to what your consumers want and what your brand represents,” she noted. “Speak your consumers’ language on a platform where they can listen to you, and it will be heard. Just listen back, because that’s what this channel is about: it’s about a two-way conversation where you can actually learn about and from your consumers.”

Pinterest And Facebook Timeline Provide Resources To Boost Social Revenue

Mobile and social media have altered the ways shoppers communicate with brands, obtain deals and learn about new items, and in turn, are contributing to the growth of omnichannel retail. If leveraged correctly, mobile tools and social media sites allow merchants to obtain more in-depth insights into consumer preferences and behaviors, leading to more relevant communications and offers.

“We hear a lot of conversation around mobile and social, and we believe the two are inseparable,” Crames explained. “Savvy retailers realize the tremendous shift and opportunity mobile and social represent, and are working to make the consumer experience exciting across all touch points.”

S-commerce_imageHigh-profile retailers, such as GameStop and Nordstrom, recently have shut down their Facebook storefronts, leaving analysts and merchants to ponder the future of social commerce. However, new tools and technologies, such as Pinterest and Facebook Timeline, are providing brands with key resources to engage shoppers and connect content to commerce more effectively.

Pinterest specifically is generating the greatest buzz among consumers. The site drew 11.7 million unique monthly visitors in January 2012, making it the third-fastest-growing web site since December 2011, according to comScore. Moreover, recent research from Experian reveals that Pinterest is now the third most popular social network, with traffic surging 50% between January and February 2012.

To boost engagement via Pinterest, merchants can add images and paste a URL to a specific item on their e-Commerce sites. Retailers also can include “Pin it” buttons on web pages, allowing shoppers to share their favorite items easily with their Pinterest followers. Facebook’s Timeline for brands also allows retailers to tell more compelling and memorable stories to consumers.

S-commerce_image_2“Pinterest shows the power of combining strong like-minded communities with SKU-level products and content,” Crames explained. “Similarly, Timeline provides an opportunity for retailers to tell a rich story, especially thanks to stronger visuals and longer histories. With Timeline applications, retailers and brands have a new opportunity to connect with consumers in a lasting way.”

With these new interactive applications coming to the forefront, social media and commerce won’t be separating any time soon; especially as platforms and trends begin to proliferate at a more rapid pace, according to Heggie.

“Trends are happening a lot faster now; we’ll start to see a few star performers that are trialing initiatives, then we’ll start to really press to figure out how optimal social commerce strategies really work,” Heggie said. “Once retailers figure out a few best practices or we begin to see companies that are increasing their sales and winning, that’s going to get the [social commerce] trend to start moving forward.”

However, just rolling out a Facebook storefront does not lead to a long-lasting social commerce strategy. Other tactics, such as social sharing, polls and coupon-redemption codes, can help merchants drive increased revenue and awareness across multiple channels.

“I believe there is low purchase intent on Facebook,” Crames reported. “Consumers aren’t using Facebook as a shopping destination, but rather a discovery platform that can drive commerce. The most effective social commerce is when you make the commerce experience social, rather than replicating your e-Commerce experience within a social network and expecting the same results.”

The Future Of Social Commerce: 2012 And Beyond

To maximize social media exposure and buzz, retailers must look past the appeal of Facebook storefronts and focus on building relevant, memorable communication with consumers, according to Crames.

 “Social media should be used to amplify a message and bring in new customers while engaging existing ones,” Crames said. “It needs to support and be integrated into other online and mobile promotions. Most importantly, the tools need to be easy to use and the content needs to be compelling.”  

As consumers begin to tap into social sites more frequently to interact with peers and receive news updates from their favorite brands, retailers will have a greater opportunity to engage with shoppers and increase likelihood of purchases. Sharing information, desired items and offers across Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest is becoming an easier task for shoppers, which in turn, is driving them to gravitate to social media more to interact with retailers.

“The future of social commerce relies on whatever route is most integrated and most convenient for customers — because that’s how they’ll choose to shop,” Heggie said. “We’ve seen this incredible rise in the past year in online sales, which shows that as consumers shift online, they’re going to start spending online, as well. If you link that with consumers spending more online time on social web sites, then that’s a natural avenue for them to make those online purchases. As long as consumers begin to live more socially, companies are wise to mimic the habit.”

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