Social media is one trend that is here to stay. But business owners also need to ask themselves an important question: can social media boost sales and generate real return on investment? And if so, how?
Social media certainly ticks all the right boxes in terms of what it promises:
- Increased brand awareness
- A larger community of loyal followers and brand advocates
- More website traffic
- Happier, more engaged customers
- ‘Free’ publicity and marketing
- Faster publicity
Companies are spending increasing amounts of time and money on social media strategy, content and development, with some choosing to outsource their social media work to external companies and others investing in in-house departments and individual roles.
Here’s how it can work:
What social media is really great for is generating buzz and increased word-of-mouth.
Because it can take a matter of seconds or minutes for content to be shared, liked and retweeted (viral videos, for example, tend to ‘go viral’ within the first hour of the first day), getting your brand known on the main platforms is a critical first part of your sales-boosting strategy. But what type of content should you share?
The answer to this question lies in looking at what people actually want from their social media platforms. And the bottom line is that people don’t want to be sold to – they want to engage in genuine, interesting and useful discussions. If those discussions can also be entertaining and compelling, so much the better.
For your company, this means that sharing thoughts, knowledge, useful information and expertise is far more valuable than posting advertisements and pleas to ‘buy now’.
The 80/20 rule applies as well as any other here – 80% of your content should be non-promotional, and only 20% directed at generating sales. It’s not about selling harder, but about selling smarter.
Building relationships and communities
To build any kind of relationship, you need both trust and a sense of connection, and social media is no exception. If people feel as though they already know you and your brand, they will be more likely to buy from you.
But building and maintaining an online community of loyal followers doesn’t happen overnight, so part two of your strategy (after sharing the right type of content with the right people) is to be consistent.
Whether you choose to write a blog post once a week or send out a tweet every hour, your community will start to anticipate your content and be disappointed if it doesn’t appear when they expect.
Planning is therefore essential. Make sure you consider:
- Which platforms you will focus on
- How often you will post
- What types of post you will create
- Who will be responsible for the different aspects of the strategy
- What will happen if things go wrong
- How you will monitor the effects of your strategy
To make sure that your social media efforts are translated into sales, your strategy will need to be well planned, well executed and adjusted according to market trends and changes.
It’s all about timing
Of course, giving the customer what they want is only one part of the puzzle. You also need to give them what they want when they want it, and this is where keeping track of those analytics really pays dividends. This works in three ways:
- By carrying out website and social media analysis alongside market research, customer surveys and so on, you will have plenty of information about your customers themselves, who they are, what they want and how they behave.You will know which platforms they like to use and what types of things they talk about. If you have live data, you will be able to see what they’re talking about right now, which means that you can give them what they want at the right time and respond immediately to any concerns, problems or opportunities.
- You will also be able to use data to measure the impact of your own social media activity, and there are various tools (free and paid versions) that will enable you to do this to varying degrees. This ongoing monitoring and adjusting is vital to the success of your social media campaigns, but can often be overlooked.
- Social media analytics will also let you see what your competitors are doing and what is happening in the world and in your industry in particular. Because this is such a fast-moving environment, it pays to be at the front of what’s going on.
For many companies, social media marketing is seen as a funnelling tool to drive traffic to their website, and it works very well in this capacity.
But if you want to convert those visitors to sales, downloads, subscriptions or sign-ups, you’ll need to focus on what happens on the site itself. If your message, your products and your services are what your visitors want, and they are conveyed in their best light with compelling copy and beautiful web design, you are onto a winner.
If not, all your social media efforts may have been wasted and your visitors disappointed. So make sure that if you’re using social media to drive traffic to your website, that they’re visiting something that’s worth their while.
Make it measurable
Finally, if you want your social media activity to impact sales, you’ll need to make your sales (or conversion) targets tangible and directly measurable from the outset. So do look at data from previous months, and do compare data if you can by benchmarking against other competitors.
Set yourself realistic yet achievable goals, with milestones built in along the way so that you can see how you’re progressing.
Keeping track of things in a systematic way will mean that you can focus on the platforms that are bringing in the most sales, see which pages or products are generating the most interest via social media streams and learn which types of posts are driving the most user engagement.
To summarise, social media can be a great way to boost sales, but only when carried out as part of a longer-term, cohesive strategy, and when it can be directly measured.
Social media forms just one part of a company’s sales toolkit, along with other forms of marketing, quality content creation and web design. But it certainly shouldn’t be overlooked; when done correctly, it can be a hugely powerful method of sales generation.