There’s a lot of talk about using social media to harvest consumer conversations and feedback about their shopping experiences. Most companies are already having one strand of these conversations via their own channels. But what if merchants had access to an overview of all social media conversations, not only on their own Facebook page, say, but across the landscape of social media sites, including ones run by competitors? After all, to fully seize the opportunities that social commerce represents all the separate strands of social media must be brought together to provide a much bigger picture.
A platform that ensures insights gleaned from virtual conversations find their way back to merchants is clearly the next frontier in merchant marketing. This article looks at why such a platform must be built upon consent.
The typical company already engages in a limited form of social commerce through a combination of in-house and outsourced resources to complement their sales and branding efforts. They might, for example, create a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a company blog. They may even start a YouTube channel. This approach usually involves one technology or tool (Facebook, YouTube) within four social commerce categories – social networks, multimedia, micro-blogs and blogs.
Unfortunately, all this serves just one business function – sales and branding. And that is a waste of the adaptability and versatility of social media. Ideally, every business should use every applicable tool in every category for every business function, to connect to more customers than ever before, to communicate faster than ever before, to create deeper consumer loyalty and to create more trust than ever before. Much of this involves making the right connections with online consumers, which can be done much more cheaply than ever before.
Some service companies have already reinvented themselves to serve up the big picture to clients. For example, Canada-based Marketwire, a press release distribution company, recast itself as Marketwired. Now it does as much listening as pushing out and it is able to analyze two years’ worth of historical data, grabbing all searchable social media database information that indexes millions of new conversations every day. This can provide clients with useful knowledge such as the best hour of the day to tweet to followers. Another example, Toronto-based Turnstyle Solutions, uses passive technology to sniff out the radio signals that are constantly broadcast by your mobile phone. This enables a merchant to pinpoint a customer’s physical location. The knowledge of where the customer spends time, other than in the store – say, at the gym or down the street – is another powerful marketing tool.
When looking at what’s out there in terms of social media, most of what you read generalizes the landscape, leaving you with the impression that everything basically serves one function. But different social media outlets perform different and definable functions.
Some sites such as eBay, Etsy, and Amazon Marketplace enable peer-to-peer sales, where, in a community-based marketplace, individuals communicate and sell directly to one another. These sites are like the personal ads in newspapers. They connect buyers and sellers, and stay out of the way of the transaction.
If you move up a rung on the technology ladder, you find sites that enable social network-driven sales, where sales are driven by referrals from established social networks or in some cases take place on the networks themselves. Examples of this type of site are Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial operate on a group buying premise. If enough buyers agree to purchase, products and services on these sites are offered at a reduced rate. This is somewhat like car-sharing or a building co-op, where a consortium of people get together to reduce everyone’s cost of a normally high-ticket item.
Moving further toward the consumer’s voice, there are sites that offer peer recommendations exclusively. These sites aggregate customers’ reviews of products or services. In some cases, they recommend products based on other customers’ purchasing history and/or reward individuals for sharing product and purchase information with friends through social networks. Examples of this type of social media include Amazon, Yelp, JustBoughtIt and TripAdvisor.
Finally, there’s the virtual girls’-weekend-in-the-city experience offered by social shopping sites such as Motilo, and Rent the Runway. These sites attempt to replicate the experience of shopping with friends in physical stores offline by including chat and forum features for exchanging photos, advice and opinions.
As you can see, there’s a deep well of information available on consumer preferences and behaviors. By aggregating the sum of the conversations on these sites, merchants and marketers can come a long way toward understanding the customer and their needs, their interests and what makes them tick. Looking along a single, isolated social media channel, on the other hand, is dangerous because seeing only a narrow band of consumer-related information can lead to the wrong conclusions. To enable social media to really evolve into social commerce, you must use the Internet in a collective way.
In the last decade, the most forward-looking brands have started to adopt data analytics. By examining customer transaction behavior, they can tell if a customer segment bought W, X and Y, then they’re likely to want Z as well. Similar data models can be built using social media conversations.