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ECommerce has typically been a search engine play. Online stores target niche categories that have little competition and optimize their sites to rank for those keywords. This brings them customers and sales.
This has however seen a steady decline over the past decade. For one, recent Google algorithm updates have favored large and established sites over small, niche ones. Secondly, according to a study published by BloomReach, over 55% of consumers don’t rely on Google any more for their product searches..
Add to this the fact that Google could be launching its own eCommerce platform to take on the existing eCommerce players, chances are that if you are an eCommerce entrepreneur, you may feel like you are now caught between a rock and a hard place.
There are a couple of reasons why social selling is becoming popular. Firstly, social media has seen explosive growth in the past few years thanks to the popularity of smartphones. Instagram, a company that Facebook acquired for $1 billion in 2012 is now reportedly worth more than $100 billion. There are more than one billion people who log into this network each month. This presents a terrific opportunity to be seen. Not surprisingly, more than 70% of businesses today have a presence on networks like Instagram.
More importantly, eCommerce stores do not compete for limited visibility with competitors on the social media platforms. Unlike search engines where all traffic goes exclusively to the sites ranking on the front page of the results pages, social media is an endless pit where good quality content gets discovered and engaged with, regardless of how deep it is. Social media platforms reward content that is engaging and do not rely solely on the brand’s authority to determine ranking.
There is however a word of caution – social selling is not simply about posting links to your product page on Instagram and praying for a miracle. There are a few clear trends that have emerged in the past few years that will give you a better sense of what works and what doesn’t with respect to social selling.
One of the key trends that has emerged in recent times is influencer marketing. This is similar to celebrity endorsements, except that the narrative is defined by social media users with a large number of followers who belong to your target group.
Some studies show that Facebook is perhaps the most influential social media platform with more than 19% of consumer purchase decisions being influenced one way or the other by Facebook posts. Facebook is a holistic social media tools that allow users to rate and review businesses on its platform. This provides the perfect opportunity for consumers to read and be influenced.
Two other social media platforms that contributed massively to influencer marketing are Instagram and YouTube. Both these platforms provide users with the ability to contribute content on specific niches. This enables them to garner followers in specific niches (who may belong to your target group). A word of recommendation from such influencers go a long way in converting customers.
There are two ways influencer marketing can be profitable for eCommerce stores. A growing number of stores today own social media accounts on these platforms with the aim of becoming influencers themselves. Such stores create authoritative content that their target audience likes to consume. The idea is to create a loyal following who may then convert into paying customers.
Alternately, eCommerce stores may also partner with existing users with significant following and sponsor their content in exchange for a word of recommendation from them. Since such influencers have high credibility, their endorsements can help eCommerce stores convert their followers into customers.
Social media is essentially a repository of user generated content (UGC). Users like to post photos or videos of products they buy or places they check into. Also, customers who engage with you over social media are essentially ambassadors for your products and could influence your branding and positioning in their social circle.
ECommerce websites may deploy a number of different strategies to encourage UGC and peer-to-peer referrals among customers on social media. Here are a few ways this is done.
Referral commissions: This strategy is typically popular among horizontal eCommerce stores that sell products from dozens of different categories. The idea is to encourage get customers to spread the word about your business by financially incentivizing them for any sale that happens through their referral. Since social media users enjoy credibility among their own social circle, this strategy can help with a quick and effective method to reach hundreds of potential customers.
Contests: Contests are a way to nudge your customers into helping your eCommerce store in your marketing efforts. One way to do this is asking your users to post a photo of your product with a unique hashtag and rewarding customers who have gained the maximum likes or shares for their posts. The objective of the contest strategy is to create a nudge that can help with viral marketing of your products.
What’s In Store
As eCommerce businesses shift focus from search engines to social media, there is also an evolution in the product. With SEO, the focus was on providing functionally superior products. The idea is that functionally superior products garner higher reviews which is one of the several factors Google takes into account while ranking pages.
But with social media, the focus is on aesthetics. More and more businesses today want their products to be “Instagram-friendly”. Social media has already changed the food industry with restaurants now serving food that look great on social media. As eCommerce stores compete for space on these networks, we are likely to see more products that are aesthetically pleasing and can engage audiences better on social media. After all, what looks well, sells well on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.