Practical Ecommerce

Too Much Social Media?

Social media can be an excellent way to forge relationships with customers. It can also fall short on expectations of greater traffic or increased sales to an ecommerce site.

I spoke with ecommerce marketing expert Michael Stearns about this topic. Stearns is a and CEO of HEROweb Marketing and Design, an Internet marketing company. His company also developed the MightyMerchant ecommerce platform. Stearns said he works with smaller ecommerce businesses and advises them to utilize social media wisely in order to get the most out of their time investment.

Michael Stearns

Michael Stearns

“I’m definitely not a social media naysayer, but a business owner needs to understand the time commitment before diving in and have a specific plan to get the most out of it,” Stearns said.

Two Requirements of Social Media

Stearns said there are two key parts of a successful social media strategy. First, merchants need to be able to devote enough time every day, in addition to the initial set-up time.

“If someone can allocate an hour a day to social media, it would be a good place to start,” Stearns said. “The nature of social media is not only that you’re responding to other users, it’s that you’re having a public conversation. If you think of it as a weekly thing, you’re not going to have that necessary conversation.”

The second key component is having a knack for communicating via social media channels. It’s a gift some have naturally, but it may take more practice for others.

“It’s a different kind of communication than in person,” Stearns said.

Stearns said he advises his clients not to barrage their audiences with product offers. Instead, merchants should post timely information and engage customers at the optimal buying time for their products. He mentioned an example of a merchant selling pond landscaping supplies. This merchant should put a heavier emphasis on social media during the spring months, utilizing photos, video and posting comments in order to help facilitate the sense of community unique to social media.

“You need to give some value to people,” Stearns said. “If all you’re doing is trying to promote your product, that’s not going to build an audience. That’s because of the informal nature of social media.”

The Social Media Mindset

Even those merchants who don’t have the time commitment for a full-time Twitter or Facebook presence should bring “social media mindset” to their website, posting humanizing content like photos of the merchant demonstrating the product or an intro video to help customers become familiar with the business.

“You don’t have to be a great writer—just keep your posts short, fun and interesting. I definitely encourage people to invest in a flip camera and put up videos,” Stearns said.

The product niches and categories that have to do with people’s hobbies and passions are naturals for social media. Other products may be important, and merchants might sell a great product line, but they do not generate the same kind of community enthusiasm. A merchant who sells electrical testing equipment might have the best product on the market, but should not be surprised to see a low return on social media.

“Anything where there is a community around those particular topics will work quite well,” Stearns said.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

Bio   •   RSS Feed


Sign up for our email newsletter

  1. Frugal1 May 26, 2010 Reply

    Not bad tips, although there’s a lot more to social networking than just staying in touch and I’m sure everyone is aware of the growing number of apps and tools available to merchants for social networking. The key is finding an app that doesn’t take TOO much of your time.

  2. Paul Chaney May 26, 2010 Reply

    Michael, I <3 your "social media mindset" comment. That’s a term I’ve been using for some time now (even included it in my book The Digital Handshake). I firmly believe that before an individual or company engages in the use of social media, they really need to adopt the mindset, which is characterized by authenticity, transparency, a spirit of generosity and willingness for the message to spread, and, as you suggest, humanity. More than anything else (and not taking away from the need to tie it to meaningful KPIs), social media is about people.

  3. Michael Stearns May 26, 2010 Reply


    I couldn’t agree with you more. One statement in the article I would like to qualify is about social media being a different type of communication than in-person. An online social-media communicator needs to be comfortable with tools like Facebook and Twitter and have some level of technical familiarity. But the underlying human factor and people skills spans across different mediums. The social media pro is often the same person who is going to shine in a face-to-face setting.

  4. Michael Stearns May 26, 2010 Reply

    Frugal1: I concur that a natural evolution of social media success involves using the apps and tools that will afford you maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

    But I do think job #1, for a newbie, is developing a strategy around how social media participation will lead to increased ecommerce revenue and richer relationships with your customers. Armando Roggio presented a great metaphor last year, likening your web store to the old-fashioned general store on Main Street USA. A key goal is to build an environment where everyone in town wants to come hang out on your front stoop and have a cool drink.

    Ok, maybe I butchered Armando’s point a little, but to the extent you can transform one-time shoppers on your site to people with whom you have a relationship and want to come back to visit you, you will be successful.

  5. HelpDesk June 24, 2010 Reply

    It is important to interact with the customers because they can see that we are able to do out job. Social Media is great to market the product and services. Show your creative side too.