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How to win at social commerce: 7 strategies for success

illustration of a red shoe product page on a tablet

If you read our last post on the growth of social commerce, you’ll know it’s the channel that all brands should be paying attention to (if you haven’t yet, you can check it out here). 

But it’s one thing to talk about what social commerce is and why it matters; it’s another to know how to use it effectively. So, consider this post part two of our initial discussion about social commerce. We’re covering everything that brands need to know to create a winning social commerce strategy – and the pitfalls they should be aware of.

The history of social commerce

As we covered in our previous post, this method of online shopping isn’t exactly new. China was by far the earliest pioneer of social commerce, with its sales projected to reach $363 billion in 2021 – or 13% of total ecommerce sales. By comparison, social commerce pulled in a much more conservative $26 billion in the United States during 2020. 

Yet signs are showing that social commerce is building into a serious force in the U.S. With mobile shopping and smartphone penetration on the rise, brands with strong social media followings are well-positioned to reap the rewards of in-platform purchasing. Best of all, functionalities such as product tagging and in-app checkout still belong to the early adopters; by getting a headstart now, your brand can gain valuable traction before social commerce becomes too saturated.

So, what does your brand need to think about when taking the plunge into social commerce? 

7 Strategies for succeeding at social commerce

1. Know your customers

It’s impossible to be successful at selling a product or service on any channel unless you have a rock-solid understanding of your audience and how you can resolve their pain points. Before you get started with social commerce, you need to pin down these fundamentals.

If you already have an online store, this will provide a wealth of information on who your current customers are and the offerings they are most interested in. While your social media demographics are going to differ slightly, this provides a great starting point for the content you want to focus on. Social listening is another great technique to give you better insight into what your customers care about (more on this in a bit).

Your audience should always be your starting point for your social commerce strategy. It provides the basis for other important decisions, such as the next point:

2. Identify which social media channels are best for your brand

As a brand, it’s incredibly tempting to build a presence on every platform to extend your reach. But more social commerce channels doesn’t necessarily mean more sales.

Why? Because every social media platform has its own value proposition, demographics, and culture. Your brand will be a great fit with some, but not with others.

For example, plenty of brands have struggled to create content that resonates with TikTok’s irreverent, predominantly Gen Z audience. Just a few months ago, the video-sharing platform released a blog post reiterating the mantra ‘Don’t Make Ads. Make TikToks’, with the warning that highly polished, aspirational content doesn’t play well on a platform that prides itself on authenticity. 

This is why you should never copy-paste your content strategy across platforms. It might be quick and easy, but consumers will pick up on these kinds of shortcuts a mile away. Moreover, it can make your brand look superficial, which definitely isn’t going to increase sales.

Instead, take stock of your current social media presence by asking yourself these questions:

  • What age/gender demographic is my audience?
  • Where is the bulk of my audience located?
  • What engagement rates am I receiving for product-related content?
  • What social commerce presence do my competitors have?

This will help you zero in on the social commerce platforms that are most appropriate for your brand and audience.

3. Ensuring consistency across channels

If you’re using multiple platforms for social commerce in addition to your ecommerce store, it’s vital that your brand identity is cohesive and familiar between channels. Today’s consumers expect to navigate between channels with ease. 69% of U.S. consumers say they’re more likely to shop with a brand that offers consistent experiences online, which drives home the importance of a seamless, unified social commerce strategy.

If your selling channels are siloed off from each other by disjointed branding, this adds a lot of friction to the customer experience. Consumers will get confused and frustrated if product collections are arranged differently between in-app stores or haven’t been updated with the latest offerings available on your website. The more channels you have, the more challenging it is to keep them up to date.

Put simply: If your social commerce strategy doesn’t maximize convenience, your customers are unlikely to use it. Ensure that your channels carry the latest product information so there isn’t the need to keep switching channels. This keeps disruptions to a minimum and minimizes friction during the shopping journey 

4. Build a brand community

Successful direct-to-consumer brands all have one thing in common; they’ve built an online community of brand advocates who are highly engaged with their content.

In a social commerce context, emotionally invested brand communities are immensely valuable because your in-platform store is right at the center of this hub; it’s easy for followers to go straight from browsing your feed to shopping for a product they admire – all in one seamless journey.

Building a brand community takes a lot of time and patience, not to mention having a strong understanding of who your audience is and how your brand can provide value. It’s not enough for your feed to be a polished product catalog; it needs to delight and inspire followers to want to become more immersed in your brand’s culture.

fabletics instagram feed

Fabletics is a great example of a brand that’s built a community about far more than just activewear. Inspirational quotes, funny memes, and user-generated content alongside fresh products have created a feed that celebrates self-love and the importance of being physically and mentally healthy. Their #myfabletics hashtag gives customers the opportunity to be featured, which encourages participation in the brand community.

5. Focus on acquiring social proof

Word of Mouth (WoM) marketing has long been a powerful force in retail. With conventional advertising less trusted, reviews and recommendations from other consumers have become a key source of information on whether or not to support a brand. A whopping 90% of customers will consult reviews before making a purchase, with 79% saying that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

One of the biggest reasons why selling and social media are so compatible is because social proof is the mechanism that powers these platforms. Social media is a place that empowers consumers to share their opinions and ideas on trends, social issues, and most importantly, brands. Behaviors such as liking, sharing, and commenting on content are a form of validation that signals to other users that they should be paying attention. 

Brands can leverage this activity in their favor by posting content that encourages people to share their thoughts about different products. E.l.f Cosmetics illustrates this with their post on a new lipgloss that encourages followers to share their favorite shades in the comments, thus giving customers the space to share their love for the product:

elf cosmetics lip-gloss post on instagram

6. Listen to what your customers have to say

This is closely tied to our previous point; if your followers are sharing their love for your brand on social commerce channels, you should absolutely be engaging with them to prolong their interaction with your content. It also demonstrates that your brand is genuinely invested in what your customers have to say, and who doesn’t love a brand that cares about its customer’s opinions?

But this also goes both ways; if a customer or follower is unhappy about something, you never ignore it – or worse, delete the comment. When comments can be seen by thousands of other people, this kind of activity can seriously damage your brand’s reputation. Instead, be prompt in your replies and reassure customers that you’re going to look into their issue – a great opportunity to salvage the relationship.

However, it’s important to pay close attention to comments, even when you aren’t tagged specifically. So-called ‘social listening’ is a great exercise to take the temperature of how your customers are feeling towards your brand. What do they like/dislike? Do they have feedback about specific products? Are there any pain points during the shopping journey? This helps to drive your overall brand direction and keep you in the loop with what your customers want.

7. Invest in customer service tools

As with your regular ecommerce store, customers will want to contact you quickly and easily if they have any questions or concerns. If this is too difficult, they’re going to abandon the idea of purchasing altogether.

Customers have a low tolerance for friction when it comes to online shopping, so you need to make the information search seamless. Naturally, it’s not possible to have representatives monitoring your DMS every second of the day or night, so it’s worth investing in a bit of extra help.

For example, adopting a Facebook Messenger Chatbot allows you to answer basic inquiries, highlight product promotions, and even send personalized discounts to followers. Tools like this are a fantastic addition to your customer care strategy as they help push customers further down the sales funnel toward purchasing.

Things to be aware of when using social commerce

Not having control of your platform

While social media can be a real goldmine for direct-to-consumer brands, there’s a risk of relying on these platforms too much for sales and reach. Because, unlike your ecommerce website, you have limited control over how your platform-based store operates. 

It’s important to remember that consumers are social media’s biggest stakeholders, meaning that platforms have a vested interest in trying to keep content feeds fresh and interesting, notorious algorithms can change with little notice and seriously hamper your brand’s visibility. 

For example, Instagram’s shift away from reverse-chronological feeds to curated ones back in 2016 was designed to “show the moments we believe you will care about the most.” But it also had the result of drastically reducing organic reach on the platform – much to the dismay of influencers and brands alike. 

Moreover, global outages or hacking could even cause you to lose control over your account. The trend of hacking and holding social media accounts for ransom is increasing as businesses grow more reliant on social media, which can be devastating for sales and your brand’s reputation.

The moral of the story? It’s never wise to put all your eggs in one basket. While being able to sell through social media is a major advantage, this shouldn’t come at the expense of directing people to your online store. Social media is a fantastic acquisition ground, but sustainable growth comes from building a loyal customer base who enjoy shopping with you directly. 

Social commerce works best for low-cost items

While social commerce is a great tool, it doesn’t benefit all brands equally. Data from  Shopify has shown that a $70 price tag is the optimum value for products purchased through social media. This tells us that social commerce is predominantly used as a shopping tool for low-priced items. 

Why? Because purchasing something online without testing it is always risky. Many consumers prefer to stick to products that are lower risk, such as home decor or fast fashion and accessories. If it doesn’t work out, it’s not a major problem. But the same can’t be said of a $2000 handbag.

We can argue that ecommerce as a whole grapples with the same problem, yet many online shoppers are more than happy to splurge on high-end items. In fact, the share of ecommerce sales made up of luxury goods is forecast to reach 25% by 2025 – up from just 9% in 2017. So, why is social commerce not trending in this direction?

While there’s no literature on this yet, we have a few suggestions:

  • Social commerce customers are predominantly Gen Z and young Millennials, who have generally have less spending power than older generations. (43% of Gen Z have purchased natively through a social media platform).
  • Social media is a very favorable climate for impulse purchasing and distracted buys, especially with 27% of consumers stating that they’ve made a purchase on social media while watching TV. Impulse purchases are less common for higher-priced goods.
  • Physical stores are an important part of the luxury experience. Customers have much higher expectations for attentive service and value-added extras that are greatly diluted when shopping online.

While this low-value, low-risk model could change as social commerce matures, it’s not going to be suited to every brand. It’s important to think carefully about whether some products should be left off your platform store, or whether certain platforms may be better suited to your brand. 

Top examples of social commerce strategy

Urban outfitters: Driving traffic using Highlights

urban outfitters instagram story

Urban Outfitters has cleverly made use of other Instagram features to draw attention to its in-platform shopping. They’ve used the Highlights feature to save videos of simulated shopping journeys at the top of their profile, showing how easy it is for followers to browse and buy items without having to leave the app.

Zara: Great product curation

zara collections on instagram

Curated product selections are a really important part of social commerce, as shoppers are unlikely to want to spend hours scrolling through your product catalog. Zara makes the in-app shopping experience much less overwhelming by curating lots of small collections that are easy for followers to browse through, such as new products and beauty, making the store easy and enjoyable to navigate.

Adidas: Comprehensive product information

adidas instagram product page

You don’t want to force shoppers to navigate to your main ecommerce site because your social commerce channel is light on product details or delivery details. There’s a high chance of losing customers during this transition, as consumers dislike having to constantly switch channels to make a purchase. Adidas has done a good job of including detailed product descriptions and shipping information within its listings.

Social commerce is a rising force within retail and is only set to become more influential as the consumer preference for online shopping methods continues. With a winning social commerce strategy on your side, social commerce can become a powerful tool in your arsenal to drive conversions and create more consistent online shopping experiences across channels.

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