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The Importance of Social Media For Online Retail Businesses

As an online retail business, you’re likely to be aware of the importance of social media. 

It’s one of the many digital touchpoints that can be used for driving website traffic, generating sales and building engagement and having conversations with your customer base.

What’s more, an active social media presence has been proven to enhance brand awareness, trust and reputation. These elements help to increase your sales and enable you to develop a community of online advocates for your business. 

But how exactly do you go about setting yourself up for success on social media? What does it take to achieve a sustainable social media strategy? How can you be sure people will engage and interact with your brand? 

In this article, we take a look at the following:

  • How to get customers to connect with your business on social media
  • A list of tools to help you start collecting insights about your customer base
  • Tips to help you create your first social media strategy

How has social media impacted the customer journey?

Our consumption of multimedia is growing every day.

Around 92% of British adults now consume two or more media within the same half an hour and spend an average of three hours on social media every single day. 

At the same time, British adults now spend more time on social media networks than they do on the actual internet. The platforms have become so ingrained into our culture that it can seem questionable if a business doesn’t make use of these networks. 

Social media has taken the customer journey and flipped it on its head 

Marketers once believed the customer journey resembled a simple and straight path-to-purchase. They focused their attention on four key stages of the journey:

  • Awareness
  • Evaluation
  • Purchase
  • Retention (i.e. loyalty or advocacy) 

While these stages continue to play an important role today, social media has strengthened two important elements for brands: awareness and advocacy. 

In turn, this has started to “close the loop” for the customer’s path-to-purchase. 

In a study spanning three continents and 20,000 regular customers, researchers found that people follow numerous different paths as they move from unaware of a brand to becoming real advocates. 

For better or for worse, the global study found people will voluntarily take to social media to share their experiences with others. The results show the networks give customers a much more active role in their path to awareness and advocacy of a brand. 

These findings aren’t just evident in one study: 

In fact, multiple others have confirmed the importance of social media to influence a person’s journey to purchasing a product. 

A TrustPilot survey of 2,000 UK customers has found one in five people will now check out a brand’s social media presence before completing their purchase, while 75% of B2B decision-makers are influenced by information they find on their social networks.

One in five people check out a brand’s social media before purchasing

Before adding to their baskets, your customers will check out your platforms to verify your credibility, read online reviews and suss your business out.

In the UK, one in five people check out a brand’s social media before completing a purchase.

An active social media presence is important as it can have a big impact on your customer’s decision-making process and whether or not they choose to indulge in repeat purchasing and advocate for your brand on social media afterwards. 

How do you get customers to connect with you on social media? 

Social media is unlike any other marketing platform in the sense that it puts the power firmly in the hands of your customers, not your business. 

By taking the time to understand your audience, how they use social media as well as their needs and problems early on, your social media efforts are much more likely to be effective and achieve your business goals. 

What motivates people to engage with brands online?

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it and why your product or service will in some way enhance their lives. It’s not your why they care about, it’s theirs. 

Effective social media marketing is about socialising, engaging and showing true value to your customers, not simply talking about your products or push-based advertising tactics. 

Social media is a two-way communication platform that is fuelled by conversation by real people – people that inspire, connect and engage with one another on a regular basis. 

Having an understanding of what motivates people to share and engage online is important as it helps to plan your social media strategy more effectively.

A way to help you understand the motivation behind a person sharing online content is to consider The Six STEPPS Framework. Created by author and marketer Jonah Berger, these six steps stand for social currency, triggers, emotions, public, practical value and stories. 

These elements help to determine why something goes viral on social media; in other words, why people would want to share certain posts far more than others. 

  • Social currency
    People care about how they look to others. They will share content that reflects values they want the world to know they align with.
  • Triggers
    Triggers are the hooks in content that keeps an idea “tip of the tongue” and “top of mind.” Creating content that is memorable is essential.
  • Emotions
    Emotions play a big factor in getting content shared. Think about the emotions you want your customers to associate with your business.
  • Public
    Successful content is “built to show, built to grow.” Design content built for sharing; make it accessible, engaging and relevant to your audience.
  • Practical value
    Content that adds practical value into a person’s life affects its shareability. How can you address your customers’ challenges?
  • Stories
    Content that tells a story is far more likely to be shared. What story do you want to tell with your business? How can you create content to reflect it?

How can you gain insights about your audience?

Every person on social media will have slightly different expectations of your brand. Social networking goes beyond traditional marketing in the sense that the customer is control of your online reputation. 

In order to pinpoint your ideal followers and engage with their needs, you’ll need to dig deep and go beyond standard demographics. You need to know your platforms inside out and how your audience interacts differently on each network. 

For example, Twitter users are clear and concise in communication and like to talk to one another, often expecting replies within four hours, according to a recent Twitter study.

In contrast, a platform like Pinterest is centred on pinning striking visuals, rather than engaging in direct regular conversations with other users.

One thing’s for sure, your audience on social media is unlikely to fit into one neat segment.

Instead, it’s much more likely that it will be made up of several groups of different people.

Knowing who you’re targeting and on which platform is the key to the underpinning of your success on social media. Make good use of customer personas and tailor your content as you see fit.

Here are some questions to consider with your team:

  • What information can you find out about your target audience already?
  • Where do they like to hang out?
  • How do they interact and engage with brands?
  • What kind of content do they share?
  • What inspires and engages them?
  • Is there certain language that they avoid?
  • What sources of information do they respect?

Tools and methods to find out about your audience 

Your current customer base

Look towards your current customer base and start collecting data about the type of people consuming your products and services. You could hold phone interviews, send out an email campaign or perform social media polls.

Social listening

Social listening can be a key element in gaining a deep understanding of your audience. Where do they like to hang out? How do they interact with brands? What content resonates? You can search for your audience using keywords on platforms.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a great starting point to gain basic demographic data about who visits your website. Not only can you find out ages, incomes and locations easily, the free analytics software also gives you a rundown of the key interests of your visitors.

Statista

Statista offers a small range of free statistics, research and facts in pretty much every industry and most countries. It’s a simple way to gather a little more data about your audience and the way they interact on social media platforms.

Google Surveys

Yet another great tool to gain valuable insight about your current customers is by asking them to fill out a survey for your business. This can help you to identify pain points, how your audience prefers to interact with brands and more.

Google Trends

By analysing keyword trends, you can quickly see if there are particular times of the year that your search terms peak. This can help you to plan your social media and content calendars and tap into keyword opportunities.

A/B Testing via social ads

A/B testing should form an important part of your social media strategy, especially at the beginning. A/B testing allows you to send out two types of different ads to different audiences so that you can work out which ones are most effective.

Monitor your competition

If you have a few competitors on social media already, it can be a great starting point to gain valuable insight as to what works and what doesn’t. What does your shared audience like? You can leapfrog past the bad and create content that will resonate.

Tips to help you create your social media strategy 

Match your goals to your metrics

Your business goals need to be aligned to relevant social media metrics so that you have a measurable basis for your strategy, allowing you to monitor, adapt and evolve accordingly.

Don’t panic. This isn’t as technical as it may sound.

Social metrics are simply the values assigned to a social media campaign in order to measure, evaluate and optimise your campaign’s success.

If one thing needs to be made perfectly clear from the outset, it’s that there’s a huge difference between vanity metrics and actionable metrics.

Vanity metrics are the ones that make you feel good about yourself the digital likes and follows – the nice-to-haves.

While vanity metrics can signal social media success, they can’t actually help you in making decisions regarding your social media marketing. Having thousands of followers means nothing if these followers aren’t taking any further action with your business.

A much more effective type of measurement to focus on is actionable metrics.

These are the metrics that contribute to your online growth. Website traffic, sales and conversions, the number of leads generated, and the number of clicks and shares are all good examples.

Actionable metrics help you to monitor, adapt and evolve your social media marketing efforts accordingly. They provide important insight into what is working what is not.

Videos not resonating? Cut them.

Sharing blog posts on Twitter heling to generate leads for your business? Write more, play around with the placement of your blog article’s calls-to-action and really optimise on your successes.

Determine your posting frequency

Your social media success depends on the right people seeing and engaging with your posts. Maximising the number of people who see your posts depends on your ability to determine when your audience is most active and likely to engage.

This doesn’t mean posting all the time will maximise your results.

In actual fact, it can have quite the opposite effect.

Posting too much can result in your brand being seen as a big annoyance in a person’s newsfeed and being unfollowed, ‘unliked’ or, worse still, blocked.

Think about it.

You need to remember the reason why people use social media: to connect with friends and family and to share ideas.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you post too infrequently, your audience is going to forget that you exist. Your efforts will be wasted, and you may as well have not bothered in the first place.

How exactly do you find a happy medium?

Consider your goals and platforms

Knowing what you want to achieve, and the nuances of each platform, goes a long way in determining your posting frequency.

For example, on Twitter the average lifespan of a tweet is 20 minutes and users tweet regularly to friends and strangers throughout the day.

On Facebook, however, users predominantly want to see posts from their friends and family, so posting is likely to be less frequent.

You’ll also want to consider how newsfeed algorithms are impacting factors such as organic reach, especially on Facebook, where unpaid reach is declining rapidly.

Benchmark against your industry

Every industry uses social media marketing differently and frequency of posting is often one element that changes quite drastically.

Look towards the top leaders in your industry and use it as a benchmark.

If your competitors are already on social media, take a look to see if they post out at regular times and if they see much engagement.

You will be restricted to vanity metrics here, but it can sometimes give valuable insight and help you to determine what your audience expects from you.

Embrace trial and error, consistently

There are lots of studies to do with post timing and frequency, all claiming to have found the perfect answer.

While there may be ideal times to post, there is no ‘perfect’ solution. What works for one business may not work for another.

Every audience behaves differently and will have different expectations. The real trick to remember here is consistency.

Whatever you commit to needs to be consistent and high value for your audience to create a memorable and impactful experience that drives a customer to take further action.

No matter how many times you decide to post a week, unless you are consistent there is no basis for measuring the effectiveness of your social media efforts.

Create an editorial calendar

Your social media is only as good as its distribution strategy, so how can you plan for success? An editorial calendar is a simple tool to keep your posts aligned, easy to understand and on track.

Your social media calendar plays a key role in making sure all of your efforts are aligned to drive results. It helps you to plan your posts in advance and decide when and where they will be distributed.

In other words, it helps to create an effective workflow.

If you don’t take the time to plan your editorial calendar in advance, you may find yourself struggling to find quality content.

This creates a big problem, as sharing a mix of curated and personal content across your social media channels is one of the most important elements to attract and engage your audience on social media.

As you can probably guess, high quality and audience-focused content takes more than a few minutes to curate or create. An effective social media strategy doesn’t just happen overnight – it can take months of planning and tweaking.

Planning your social media in advance ensures that you will always have relevant, timely and high quality content to share on a consistent basis.

Sporadic or unplanned posting isn’t likely to get you very far.

What exactly goes into a social media calendar?

There are five core elements that make up a social media calendar:

- Date
- Time
- Text of post
- Platform for distribution
- Accompanying visual or video

You could also highlight the objective of each post; whether that’s to drive people to your website, highlight your company’s culture or demonstrate thought leadership.

It’s important to remember that you’ll want to have pre-considered the frequency and timing of your posts before creating your calendar, as this determines how many posts you need to be planning for.

Start the process by filling out the posts that are aligned to your top social goals.

For example a new product launch or generating website traffic.

Then, add in any other personal or branded content relevant to your secondary social media goals. You can then fill in the gaps with your curated content.

By filling the calendar with a wide variety of posts, you will provide your audience with smart, useful content that gives them a reason to follow and engage with your business.

Make sure you can prove your return on investment

The only way that you can ensure your social media strategy is heading in the right direction is to measure your return on investment. But how exactly are you supposed to go about that?

Measuring your return on investment (ROI) through social media can be tricky.

If you’re struggling to work out how to do it then don’t worry – you’re not alone.

In fact, a recent study has found 65% of UK small businesses do not measure their return on social media.

Unlike paid advertising, success with social media is not a simple calculation. While your financial return needs to be proven, effective social media marketing can accumulate a number of benefits over time that are not easily quantifiable.

For example:

The level of customer engagement your social media receives is normally quite a good indicator of a successful marketing strategy; however, no matter how many social shares you get, no direct income is generated from sharing a post.

For a smaller retail business, being able to measure your return on social media is really important. This is because you’re dependent on achieving sales to cover the costs of your marketing efforts and to thrive in a highly competitive market.

A simple calculation

Broken into its most simple form, your return on investment should calculate whether the amount of sales you receive outweighs the cost of all your management, maintenance and marketing budget you spend on social media.

Here’s the basic formula for measuring your financial ROI:

Social media ROI (percentage) = Profit / Total investment x 100

Learn, optimise and evolve

When executed correctly, your social media strategy can accumulate many long-term benefits for your business over an extended period of time.

A key takeaway here is to know that you are unlikely to see substantial sales growth or customer engagement until you’re past the initial 3-6 month period of set-up and testing to find out what resonates with your audience and what doesn’t.

This is often what makes investing in social media so scary for business owners.

By focusing your efforts on a mix of short-term and long-term qualitative and quantitative objectives and setting out your strategy intentions from the very beginning, you can alleviate some of the fear of the unknown.

Similarly, no online community or audience is the same as another.

Completing a substantial amount of research on your target audience beforehand and carefully monitoring your audience throughout can go a big way in seeing a return on investment much sooner.

The most important factor to remember when measuring your return on investment is your ability to learn, optimise and evolve your strategy accordingly. 

So many business owners mistakenly think that a social media campaign has failed if no one interacts with it or it doesn’t achieve your goals. The truth is, one single failure can often tell you more about your audience than a successful campaign ever could.

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Topics: Social Media, Online Business