Many small businesses are experimenting with social media to market their products. Based on my observations, however, most are doing it in piecemeal fashion, without a coordinated, overall strategy.
In this article, I present a practical, four-part social commerce strategy that minimizes the time required and that recognizes the overall purpose is to grow sales. Because I am a fan of alliteration and use it as a mnemonic device, each of the four elements begins with the letter “C.”
Think of social media as a form of content marketing, which is the creation of content for the purpose of engaging customers and prospects. The nexus for creating such content is a blog. I prefer to think of a blog as a social media “base of operations” from which content can be syndicated to digital outposts such as Facebook and Twitter.
One example of this approach is Ice.com, a leading online jewelry retailer, which publishes Sparkle Like the Stars, a blog focused on celebrities and their jewelry. Ice.com launched the blog several years ago and continues to leverage it to attract the attention and interest of consumers.
Two factors are helpful for creating a cogent content marketing strategy: developing an editorial calendar and determining the frequency of the posts.
- Editorial Calendar. An editorial calendar is a listing of upcoming topics and features. For publishers, it is a helpful planning device and, for readers, it helps explain a publication’s mission and content. For example, Practical Ecommerce has an editorial calendar that outlines articles to be produced on a weekly, bi-weekly and monthly basis. Similarly, merchants should consider what topics would be of most interest to customers and develop a calendar to address those.
- Posting Schedule. Once a merchant develops an editorial calendar, he or she should determine the frequency of the blog posts. For search engine optimization, daily posts are best, as search engines prefer frequently updated content. What’s important, however, is to be realistic in terms of the time available, and then set a schedule and stick with it.
Because content creation can help with SEO, use essential keywords and optimize posts around them, using one in every post, both in the post’s title as well as in the body.
I’m often asked whether a blog should reside inside the main ecommerce site or outside it. My answer is “it depends.” In the case of Sparkle Like the Stars, it lives as a separate entity from the ecommerce site, but points to it via links within the main navigation and the post content itself. But a blog can reside within the main ecommerce site, and there are advantages to doing so. SEO professionals will say that, by having a blog as a sub-folder (or, sub-directory) on the main site and committing to make frequent updates, it will help attract search engine attention.
I think the choice comes down to the blog’s purpose. If it has a unique topical direction, such as that represented by Sparkle Like the Stars, it should take up its own real estate. Otherwise, it could easily sit inside the ecommerce site.
To complete your content planning, determine which platform to use for the blog, and the personnel to write the posts. It’s best to create content in-house, versus outsourcing it to professional writers.
Once a merchant develops the content strategy, he or she should determine which social media sites to syndicate the content to. This could include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and others. Whenever possible, I automate that syndication process using a tool called Dlvr.it, which eliminates having to manually post updates to each of those sites. Read our review of Dlvr.it at “The PEC Review: Dlvr.it for Social Media Distribution.”
Not all syndication should be automated, however. The merchant should add his or her own personal touch through direct interaction with friends, fans and followers.
For Twitter, this means using replies (@username), retweets and being “real.” In Facebook, a merchant should respond to comments from fans and introduce attention-getting devices such as polls, trivia questions or games. Anything that will inspire engagement on the part of fans is useful to build brand-awareness, foster loyalty and encourage viral sharing.
To implement a conversation strategy, a merchant should determine who will be responsible for managing the conversations.
The purpose of any marketing plan, social media included, is to grow sales and otherwise get more business.
Social media marketing will help merchants grow sales by keeping their products in front of fans and followers. More direct conversion tools include the use of a Facebook-enabled shopping cart, or the use of discount coupons. We’ve addressed many of these direct tools in previous articles, including:
- “Six Facebook Applications to Sell Your Products;”
- “Social Commerce Spotlight: Payvment, a Facebook Storefront Provider;”
- “Social Commerce: Shopping Carts Extend Reach Into Facebook, Other Social Sites;”
- “Profile: Retailer Spends Little Money for Big Social Media Impact;”
- “6 Facebook Apps to Enhance Your Company’s Fan Page.”
Getting fans to subscribe to an email newsletter or blog RSS feed will help keep them connected, and will also drive traffic to the main ecommerce website, which should always be uppermost in the merchant’s mind.
A merchant should address the following questions to implement a successful social media strategy.
- What topics would most interest customers and prospects?
- How frequently can content be updated?
- On which channels in social media should a presence be maintained?
- What blog platform should be used?
- What syndication tool should be employed?
- Which third-party apps might be useful?
- What analytics or measurement tools should be place?
- Who can write the blog posts?
- Who can manage the social network interactions?
- Should a team or people assume these duties, or should a social media management position be created?
- Should outsourcing of these activities be considered?
Social commerce is most effective when merchants develop an overall strategy. To help with this development, I’ve broken it down into four Cs: Content, Communication, Conversation and Conversion. By addressing each of these, merchants will be engaging new prospects, staying in touch with existing customers, and, ultimately, growing sales and profits.