5 Pillars for Your Social Shopping Plan

Opinion: We all need to be where today’s consumer congregates

A real-time social media strategy is a necessary ingredient in your marketing plan - Credit by MokJinYoung/iStock

We continue to experience ongoing real-time shifts in the way consumers engage with content and commerce. From a business opportunities perspective, none of these patterns is more electrifying than the amazing evolution of e-commerce.

While it is true that there was a time when, “If you built a website … they (customers) would come,” this is no longer the case. Websites are necessary and vital, and they are often the first impression of your organization, but your website is just one ingredient that today’s savvy consumer makes a purchase decision on.

The other significant and growing area is social media, which is exploding as the newest congregation point for consumers. According to HubSpot, 71 percent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals. Global social commerce revenue reached more than $40 billion last year.

It is irrefutable that your prospects and customers are spending more time today on a wide array of social media platforms, and as it evolves, they are doing much more than exchanging posts with friends and followers. Amid all this personal interactivity, they are very open and receptive to learning about new products and services. It appears that within the social community they are more interested in messages that inform and excite. In fact, Gartner reports that 84 percent of millennials say that user generated content from strangers has at least “some” influence on what they buy.

A real-time social media strategy is no longer an option, but a necessary ingredient in your marketing plan. These plans have become mission-critical to brands seeking ongoing engagement with customers today and in the years ahead.

It is also clear that this channel operates by an entirely different set of rules and methods. Those who carry legacy logic and performance metrics need to fully understand this medium in order to avoid missing a great opportunity. Do not apply “long-standing” strategies to this new medium, but approach it with a fresh, outside-the-box perspective in order to optimize the channel and ensure that the ideas and tactics that are implemented represent the best use of time and resources.

Here are five points to consider in mapping out your social shopping plan:

  1. Observe: You first need to know the social media patterns of your customers and prospects. Start with a survey or poll to find out where they are spending time within the social sphere. Look to your competition and understand where they are spending their budget within social media. These two observations will yield clues as to where your customers and prospects are spending time and money. Your first step to a viable social media strategy needs these guideposts. Observe, learn, and then plan.
  2. Conversation: Once you have identified the venues where the bulk of your customers and prospects are spending time, you will need to understand the conversations that are unfolding within those venues around your product offering. This is a social community. Those who participate are sharing ideas, thoughts, preferences and needs. Success will happen when you are part of this conversation. Any discussion and/or intrusion within the conversation needs to be contextually relevant. Without that understanding and sensitivity, your messaging will be an “outlier” and discarded. Social media community members are all about relevance.
  3. Relevant content rules: A PricewaterhouseCoopers study recently asked digital buyers how they make online purchasing decisions. Nearly 50 percent indicated that reviews, comments and feedback on social media impacted their shopping choices. Social media is a visual platform. Members are posting images and video content as a way to bring to life the quality of their conversations and engagement with like-minded members. Your messages need to be relevant, visually exciting and contextual in terms of information being provided. Here are consumers that respond well to reviews. Use their mindset to do more than “billboard” your product. Showcase content that digs deeper into the benefits of your product and/or service. With some work, this could be your winning formula.
  4. Enlist social advocates: Among your customers today, you have many loyal evangelists of your brand and products. It is paramount that you enlist and incent them to help you extend your reach to their “friends, colleagues and members” in their respective social communities. Since members of social media communities value the opinion of those within the community, you must do all you can to tap into the power of these advocates in spreading the word about your product or service (in their own words) to others in the community. It is critically important that this messaging be sincere and credible. Members of social media communities are open to a dialog, and it is essential that the messaging be honest, sincere and open. There are a number of platforms that can enable the delivery of these messages efficiently.
  5. Real-time social marketing: In order to be effective on an ongoing basis within social media, rethink your approach compared with the typical “campaign” methodology that has been a core component used in other media. Success in social media is based on much more than a “programmatic” strategy and/or methodology. Marketers should respond and act in real-time to take advantage of opportunities within the social strategy. It requires real-time monitoring and a well-thought-out strategy on how your company will respond based on the direction of the conversation and/or competitive landscape within each social media channel. It is vital that you deploy resources that craft this strategy and/or manage the effort daily. Time is ticking, so the best first step is to start … now.

Success will be measured in the months and years ahead by those who have been able to shift their marketing strategies and tactics to take advantage of the shifting media consumption and purchasing patterns of today’s consumers. As marketers, we all need to be where today’s consumer congregates to make their purchasing decisions. Urgency is critical. Today’s marketing efforts must rise to the challenge to compete and win. The time is now.

Jim Fosina is founder and CEO of full-service subscription-marketing agency Fosina Marketing Group.