Business > Merchant Voice

Are you using social media all wrong?

Social media is probably the worst advertising vehicle for small ecommerce merchants I’ve found. Well, perhaps advertising on a park bench would be worse, but social media is pretty darned awful.

Despite this fact, everyone tells you to have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Google+ page, an Instagram account, and on and on. Have you stopped to ask yourself, “Why?”

I’m not arguing that there is no value in social media. Actually, I believe there is tremendous value. I simply believe that you must determine where this value lies and then use your social media channels accordingly.

For me, social media is terrible for driving new customers. I have the stats (albeit only from my website), but I think they’re fairly representative of other ecommerce stores.

We have a survey on our site that asks paying customers how they heard about us. Here are their rankings.

1. YouTube (38.0%)
2. Search Engines (24.5%)
3. Friend/relative (18.5%)
4. Other (10.1%)
5. An existing customer (5.0%)
6. Magazine (1.4%)
7. Facebook (1.3%)
8. TV (0.7%)
9. Twitter (0.5%)

Hopefully that data gives you pause before using social media as a new customer acquisition medium. Please note that we do not run any television or magazine advertising. We are rarely featured on TV or in magazines. However, we are extremely active on Twitter and Facebook.

Simply put, you’ll be hard-pressed to bootstrap your site’s traffic via social media. People really don’t want to leave social media sites when they arrive. They’re there to be entertained and connect with friends. Unless your store deals in pure entertainment, you’ll have a hard time competing. You simply don’t have the pull to rip them away from social media’s powerful magnets.

The bottom line is that I’ve never heard of any store having positive ROI with a direct sales approach to advertising on social media.

So, how should you use social media?

Social media is the best platform for running a fan club. Social media should be used to engage with your most fervent fans. These are your best and most ardent repeat customers. These are the people who buy almost every time you send out an email. They’re the ones telling their friends about your site. These are your apex customers. Engage them in order to enjoy the multiplying network effects of word-of-mouth advertising.

You should only cater to your apex customers on social media. Your best customers have decided to follow you because they like your store, your policies, and your overall approach. You don’t need to sell them. They’re already sold! Instead, you need to peel back the curtain a bit and let them know even more about you, your philosophy, your employees, your culture, etc. These people are interested. So, give ‘em the goods!

Don’t just regurgitate everything that’s on your website. Your best customers already know your website. They’ve come to your social media presence to find out more. Give it to them! This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t announce new products, but that you should go above and beyond. Your social media presence shouldn’t simply be a facsimile of your website catalog.

Go ahead, post inside jokes! Again, this is a fan club. If visitors are here, they are fans and they should “get” the joke. If they don’t, even better. That means they’re new and eager to learn. It’ll be a mystery for them to solve.

Share special deals and coupons. Only your best fans are going to check out your social media pages, so you should reward them. Always remember that repeat customers are the lifeline of a small business. I think this is a far better policy than trying to sucker new customers with absurdly low deals. This simply trains them to only buy when there’s a special.

Get personal. The bottom line is that people buy from the person they like the most. All things being equal (price, service, etc.), you’re going to buy from the site you like best. You can’t like a site if you don’t know anything about them. Use social media to really put yourself out there. Be personable. Make it clear that there are really people running your business. Make connections with your fans. It’s called a social “network” for a reason.

Jamie Salvatori

Jamie Salvatori

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