Practical Ecommerce

For Ecommerce, 12 Social Media Essentials for 2014

The onset of a new year is a good time to step back and analyze what worked and what didn’t with social media. Here are 12 practices that can start your ecommerce business on the right foot.

1. Build a Content Base

Google’s algorithm changes emphasize original content. Because of that, blogging has made a comeback.

Blogs are ideal for building a content base. They can help improve search engine rankings, establish thought leadership, generate greater brand awareness, and strengthen existing bonds with your customers.

If you have yet to use a blog either within or alongside your ecommerce site, it’s time to do so. WordPress is good for this purpose, but applications like Tumblr or RebelMouse may better suit your tastes.

Regardless of which platform you choose, start the new year with a determination to create original content on a routine basis.

“The 4-Step Social Media Content Strategy,” a previous article, walks you through the steps involved in creating a strategic content plan.

2. Provide Utility

In his book Youtility, author and marketing expert Jay Baer says, “There are only two ways for companies to break through in an environment that is unprecedented in its competitiveness and cacophony. They can be amazing or they can be useful.”

By “useful,” Baer means brands should focus on the needs and interests of customers and prospects rather than their own, and produce content that reflects that mindset.

You can spend lots of money in advertising to gain attention, but it’s less expensive and potentially more effective to build awareness by providing content that adds value.

3. Syndicate to Social Networks

Social network syndication is the next step in executing your content plan. Think of social media as a distribution channel through which many people can see your content. The following steps go into greater detail about how to do this to achieve the greatest effect.

4. Think Beyond Facebook

When we think of social media, often the first site that comes to mind is Facebook. It’s the largest and most talked about, and has shown to have some social commerce value.

Don’t limit your thinking to that one outlet, however. Sites like Pinterest, Twitter, and Google+ should also make up part of your brand’s social identity. If you sell to other businesses, add LinkedIn to the mix, as well.

In addition, expand your presence to social content networks like YouTube, Instagram, SlideShare and Vine. The larger your footprint in social media, the better your chances of filling the top of the purchase funnel with prospects.

5. Become a Community Manager

Another important aspect of marketing via social media is to interact with fans and followers. Managing online communities (and that’s what social networks are) demands a two-pronged approach:

  • Respond to customers who engage with you. When customers and others leave comments or ask questions, it’s vital that you respond in a timely manner (less that 24 hours is preferable). Compliment those who like or share content you’ve posted.

When a customer voices a complaint or criticism, respond quickly and courteously. Take the conversation offline if need be to keep others from “piling on.”

  • Amplify engagement with supplemental content. Effective social media engagement demands that you provide content daily. Due to its ephemeral nature, you can update Twitter several times per day.

Even if you blog as often as two or three times per week, that is not enough to keep consumers hungry for more information satisfied. Supplement your posts with “micro” content in the form of status updates, questions, polls, photos, videos, and more.

6. Curate Content

Content doesn’t have to be original to your own site. One increasingly popular form of content marketing is curation, the practice of sourcing third-party information that you share with your networks.

This can come in the form of status updates from other Facebook Pages that you’ve liked, retweets, repins, or links to articles gleaned from RSS feeds and Google News alerts.

A number of platforms have been developed just for this purpose. Some of the more popular and affordable are RebelMouse, Scoop.it and Meddle. Buffer is another, more “on the fly” curation tool that many find useful. Feedly, ContentGems, and Trap.it are good for gathering content based on topically-relevant keywords.

7. Use a Social Media Management Application

All this content creation, social network syndication, and interaction can seem overwhelming. One way to minimize your time investment and increase efficiency is by using a social media management application.

HootSuite is popular due to the fact it enables syndication to the most channels, and it is free to use at the base level. However, the user interface can be confusing, especially if you have several tabs and columns open at the same time.

Another management tool used by smaller merchants is Sprout Social. Others in this class include SocialBro and SocialOomph.

8. Join the Hashtag Revolution

Hashtags are now so popular that nearly every social network recognizes them. They don’t work as well on Facebook but are woven into the fabric of sites like Twitter, Instagram, and Vine.

When posting to Twitter, use no more than one or two hashtags. That’s a best practice that can increase traffic and retweets.

9. Consider Using Third-party Applications

Sites like Offerpop and North Social provide affordable promotional tools that can enhance and enrich your social media engagement efforts.

Offerpop, for example, offers hashtag and user-generated content campaigns for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine. North Social has a suite of nearly 20 applications including mobile apps, sweepstakes, coupons, and custom Facebook pages.

10. Advertise

Spending money on social network advertising has become, for many companies, a necessary evil, especially where Facebook is concerned. Recently, the site reiterated the fact that, to gain exposure in News Feeds, businesses will need to advertise.

While advertising is less of an issue where Twitter is concerned, promoting tweets can help to extend their life and gain more attention.

11. Don’t Ignore Mobile

The growth in mobile device use has been accompanied by a transition toward the use of smartphones and tablets for social media engagement. Studies show that as many as 73 percent of Facebook users and 60 percent of Twitter users now engage via a smartphone or tablet. Other networks such as Instagram, Vine, and Path rely almost exclusively on mobile use.

12. Analyze and Measure

Regardless of how much useful content you create or the number of social channels through which you syndicate, nothing will matter if few users read or respond to it.

In the past couple of years, social network platforms and third-party providers have come a long way toward making sure such user metrics have real business value.

Take Facebook for instance. Its development staff has revised both Page Insights and ads to more accurately reflect the types of information merchants need to ensure their efforts are rewarded.

Insights is now more actionable, simpler to use and understand. It contains data around post content, engagement activity, and number of people reached.

Social media management tools like those referenced earlier also contain analytics dashboards that can be tied to Google Analytics.

Conclusion

You don’t have to commit to each of these activities all at once. Start by building your content base, then syndicate to social networks using a social media management application.

As you improve your presence on one network, add another. Challenge yourself to move beyond Facebook and use mobile-enabled channels such as Instagram and Vine.

Most of all, start strategically with the needs of your customers clearly in mind and, early on, establish metrics that you can track.