Social networking has introduced, in its short reign, a new retail ecosystem. This ecosystem is built on conversation, back-and-forth relationships, and, unsurprisingly, social activity. E-commerce is no longer a one-way conversation, and your site must adapt to stay abreast of customer needs. Whether you sell shoes or serpentine belts, the time to integrate your site with social media, is now.
What is Social Integration?
Social integration is exactly what it sounds like: the integration of social activity into your regular site activities. In the realm of e-commerce, this means building sharing activity, capabilities of social networks, and promotion of engagement on social media into browsing, researching, purchasing, and reviewing.
What this means for each business depends on the products being sold, the audience being engaged, and the resources available. For an online clothing retailer, this could mean including a Pinterest button in order to share photographs of new pieces and solicit feedback. For an electronics retailer, this could mean Facebook sharing buttons to spread the word about great deals and new hardware purchases with others.
What are the benefits?
The difference between this approach and solicitation methods of marketing is that social integration is a form of “inbound marketing”; an activity or feature so compelling that it causes users to engage out of shear interest and perceived benefit.
In the aforementioned example of a clothing retailer, sharing new clothing is an oft-practiced activity, particularly for style conscious millennials. For this reason, the opportunity to open up conversation about potential purchases is akin to shopping at the mall with friends: the group views the piece, weigh their reactions, and build a conversation around your product. Passing customers see the opportunity to start a conversation, observe that your site has the capability to do so, and are compelled to interact.
Furthermore, statistics show that, whatever the reason, social integration simply works. Research shows that customers who use social sign-in (the ability to comment on products and build a site profile via an existing social media profile) spend more time on sites and make more purchases than those engaging through traditional sign-ins. Simply adding the Facebook “like” button to Levi’s product pages increased referral traffic by 40%.
How to do it?
If new opportunities for robust engagement and a statistically validated track record aren’t enough to convince you to add social integration to your e-commerce site, then it’s likely that nothing will. But for those of you swayed by the evidence, here are a few examples of how to make your purchases more social, and bolster traffic, conversation, and revenue in doing so.
Perhaps the simplest way to make your online store more social is the inclusion of sharing buttons. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, sharing buttons are simply the small icons that appear near media and online articles that allow users to share the associated item on a social network. Their implementation is simple, their size barely influences the current design of your website, and their impact is measurable.
The key to implementing them correctly lies in identifying which buttons to include and where to put them. Generally, the social options you offer should reflect the habits of your audience. If your customer base is found primarily on Twitter, add Twitter. If the nature of your business is best showcased on Pinterest, add it.
These buttons should be featured close to product images, as the eye is drawn to photography first. This design will highlight sharing features, without soliciting them, leading to organic engagement and social penetration.
As mentioned previously, social sign-in is a potent way to increase engagement for a number of reasons. First of all, signing up for online accounts requires an investment of time that can derail purchases. Offering a Facebook sign-in option is not only quicker, it offers a trustworthy solution that customers recognize and respect. Furthermore, social sign-ins have a tendency to cut down on “trolls” (individuals looking to grab attention for themselves by making controversial statements) by tying their comments to a real-life identity.
In order to enhance feedback, consider employing social sign-ins for comment systems in order to facilitate discussion. Facebook Comments and Disqus both allow users to sign in through existing social media accounts, and feature a voting system that allows other users to promote or demote comments based on their inherent value. This approach encourages engagement, fosters conversation, and builds social activity around your pages, leading to better awareness of your products and better traffic on your site.
While a scathing review can damage your company’s reputation, brand evangelists can take it to new heights. Those enthusiastic about products can be tapped to solicit positive feedback to others and create a positive image in their community that bolsters your brand in real ways.
The problem with this approach is that it involves a great deal of “outbound” work. The “inbound” equivalent to this method is the “trending products” box, which features items based on their sharing activity and discussion on social networks. In this way, the success of your most popular product begets more success, gaining exposure, extolling the benefits of your brand, and automating advertising, all in one fell swoop.
Highlighting User Activity
It’s easy to let your marketing department do the heavy lifting. The experts on your staff have put you in the current position, so professional driven insight is clearly the go-to when making critical advertising decisions.
However, the crowd has a lot to offer when it comes to marketing your products. Reviews, artwork, photography, and video are all products of a customer base satisfied with your product and happy to spread that information to others. This resource, when tapped properly, is a gold mine for you and yours.
Lighten your load and build a movement around your products by highlighting community feedback and creations to demonstrate quality and build conversation. A photo shoot featuring your clothing tells other customers how and when to wear certain items. A cooking show featuring your pots and pans is a testament to their value. Furthermore, this spotlighting gives everyday users a chance to shine; a chance they’ll gladly reward with loyalty and further purchases.
The one-way nature of retail is a thing of the past and in its place, a new movement built on engagement and involvement is enhancing customer relationships and lifting brands to new heights. Does your site offer opportunities to share, discuss, engage, and enlighten? If not, then its time to get socially integrated. Your customers and accountants will thank you.