Practical Ecommerce

Employing Social Media

This job posting arrived in my email inbox yesterday: “Responsibilities: Create and maintain MySpace, Live
ALTSpaces, Facebook, Bebo, MOG, Twitter, Loopt, Wikipedia, and other profiles; gather content for social profiles; and report on the effectiveness of social site placement.” Pay is up to $24 an hour, and it’s a six-month to one-year contract.

This assignment, posted by online music-download retailer WDR Records, represents a new breed of on-demand skills for ecommerce ventures. Marketing through social media isn’t just about promotion anymore. It’s actually turning sales.

“With our tool, we marketed it through social networks and it brought us 450,000 leads,” says Marketing VP Mike Volpe at HubSpot, maker of a $3,500-per-year “Social Media Analyzer” subscription tool. “Those leads are one of the most important channels for us as far as sales; 2 to 4 percent of the qualified leads convert to HubSpot customers.”

These days, e-merchants can quickly utilize the social media trend. (Volpe recommends allocating 30 minutes to an hour each day for social outreach online.) The challenge for many online marketers, including myself, is managing the outreach so it produces sales rather than bleeding valuable time. I spoke with several experts in the field of social engineering. Here are their tips for scaling back time, while boosting profitability:

  1. Check your web analytics software for incoming links from social media sites. “I guarantee people are already using social marketing to talk about your company,” Volpe says. “…The first step is showing up, and having a profile and starting to connect with those people.” Take a few minutes to create profiles at each of the sites with in-bound traffic. These are people already engaged in talking about and using your brand, which is half the marketer’s battle. Meanwhile, sign up for any alerts the site offers for tracking your company and product names on the site. Twitter sends cell phone alerts; others send emails.

  2. Make the content you already have shareable. Volpe’s firm hired an intern to post its software tutorial videos on YouTube, one of hundreds of content-sharing sites. After uploading a video, YouTube provides a code that anyone can use to add it to their blog or Webpage. “We didn’t promote them at all, and we started to get over 10,000 views a month of those videos up on YouTube,” Volpe says. “We’ve since discovered that in-bound marketing–a combination of social media, search-engine optimization and blogging–is by far the highest ROI of any marketing out there.” Those views turned into leads that generated sales, something Volpe now tracks using HubSpot’s social media analyzer (starts at $3,500 per year).

  3. Add a “blog tab” on your own site. Use one page in your website to add new content that’s straight from the horse’s mouth, and allow for comments directly from your readers. “The blogosphere is a huge element in search; it’s affecting how well you come up in searches, since many of the search engines are now favoring blogs or content that’s constantly updated,” says Linda Zimmer, CEO of MarCom:Interactive, a digital media consultant and instructor for CommuNitelligence’s Sept. 10 Five Best Principles of Social Media Relations teleseminar. “And it’s so easy to update a blog. That’s the advantage.”

    Any e-marketer can tell you that clicks generated by natural search are a much easier sale. “That’s why so many ecommerce sites today have a blog tab,” Zimmer says. “They’re doing it both to engage with their customers directly and for the search engine optimization directly.”

  4. Search for specialty groups in your industry, and provide expert advice. “Do a Google search for ‘social network’ or ‘forum’ and your industry,” Volpe say. “Ask questions, make recommendations and then trust the user’s advice.” With this step, you’ll gain an ‘expert’ following in no time, says Volpe. “A lot of people think only about the big social networks, like MySpace or Facebook, but an industry-specific network of only a couple thousand users could be even more powerful for reaching the customers you serve.”

  5. Sign up for blog alerts on competitors. “Small companies benefit by monitoring their competitors online,” says Jen Zingsheim, vp of products and services for CustomScoop, an automated online news clipping service. “Tweak your own marketing saying ‘We don’t have long-term sales contracts’ or whatever your competitor’s pressure points are.”

  6. Offer special deals to blog readers. Use to scan blogs for content that uses your keyword terms, or use Technorati’s RSS feeds for keyword terms. Then contact the bloggers directly, rather than through a comment, with your pitch: “Thank you for covering our company. As a special thank you to those who have supported us over the years, I wanted to offer your readers an additional percentage off…” Those leads, say insiders, often translate into direct sales.

For WDR Records, their social media push is paying off as well. “They wouldn’t be spending money on a contract position if there wasn’t money to be made out there on a social networking push,” says Ken Williams, senior technical recruiter for Volt Computer Services, the temporary service agency handling WDR’s search. “And it’s not the first company to go this route. This is definitely a growing trend.”

Additional Resources

CustomScoop’s free online news clipping service (alerts sent to your inbox daily)

48 Social News Websites: DoshDosh’s List of General and Niche Social Media Communities

Sites creatively using blog formats to generate sales (list supplied by Linda Zimmer at MarCom:Interactive):

Quick tip

Make a “favorites” folder for the social media sites your buyers use. Each one of the above sites should be placed in a Social Media “favorites’” folder in your Internet browser. (Make life easy by using the same branded log-in name and secret password for each one.) Check each site regularly, and vote for any content that mentions your brand. Each vote brings your content closer to being seen, and acted upon, by interested consumers. “There’s a lot of opportunity there for ecommerce companies to use social networking to build their brand,” says Zingsheim.

Jennifer D. Meacham

Jennifer D. Meacham

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Comment ( 1 )

  1. Casey September 4, 2008 Reply

    Great article!