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Beyond Search: Social Customer, Social Commerce, Social Media

Online Marketing

Beyond Search: Social Customer, Social Commerce, Social Media image beyond search

It seems as if all the talk in web marketing these days center on algorithm updates, social signals, mobile and display opportunities. Marketers and brands are eager to make adjustments trying new strategies to drive sales and increase profits.

I think it’s important to know the difference between a sales channel and how sales are made.  Search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO) and social media are all channels to engage and carry out your message with prospects and customers.

Simply put, the medium is not the message. It’s a venue for you to generate demand and drive qualified visitors to your conversion funnel.

And we all know what conversion funnel is all about – getting those sale!

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This is why it’s important to figure out how these channels work together (and independently) to help drive qualified traffic to your web properties.

Not only will this increase the chance of converting that traffic into sales (higher conversion rate), it will also bring clarity to your marketing investments.

The key is to realize that social media is turning customers social as a result transitioning eCommerce to social commerce.

The Social Customer: More Research, Less Impulsive

Today, if you want to find a restaurant or buy a product you can start by getting opinions from your social circle on Facebook and Twitter or read reviews on public venues such as Yelp and Amazon. In addition, you get to compare prices across multiple deal aggregators and coupon sites.

It’s indicative that consumers are no longer buying based on impulse but cold hard facts.

According to a recent survey conducted by Yahoo! and Universal McCann to help marketers understand the new dynamics in the path to purchase, “The abundance of online tools has evolved shopping, empowered consumers and ultimately renewed passion and excitement within the path to purchase…Consumers have learned what information sources to filter and what sources they can rely on. And when it comes to media, Internet comes out on top as 2 in 3 people stated they trust the Internet for researching their purchases.”

Beyond Search: Social Customer, Social Commerce, Social Media image The Long Winding Road on Social Shopping

I particularly like the recommendations under “Implications for Marketers”:

  • Marketers should contribute to the social ecosystem by becoming part of the conversation. Leverage your brand as a contributing member of 3rd party communities (e.g., fan page, micro-site, etc.) to create a more personal and authentic relationship with your customers.
  • Create reward systems that deliver the “consumer win” by making the consumer feel special — such as tailoring deals to their expressed interests and encouraging viral sharing.
  • Marketers don’t necessarily need to be considered a consumer’s “friend,” but should leverage the right media to aid consumers — like expert reviews. Trusted sites perform better.
  • Online sources influence purchases just as much as, if not more than, offline sources so it’s important to make sure your brand is integrated in the online experience.
  • As shoppers use digital tools to gather info and narrow down options, your presence doesn’t need to be purely rational. It can and should delight emotionally.

If we can identify the potential “decision path” and buying landscape of our prospects then we can build better campaigns to truly engage in a relationship that brings value to both sides.

Social Commerce: Why Consumers Connect with Brands

Whether it’s through social media, organic search or paid search, it helps to understand why certain types of consumers elect to go down a specific path that ultimately led to a purchase.

Once you figured out the complex scenarios of a purchase funnel, then it’s time to craft a campaign that can effective in gaining your prospect’s attention.

Why attention?

Because more attention means higher chance of clicking, and more clicks brings in more traffic. You may want to read the post on Why Attention is the New Currency Online.

The important thing about traffic is that we want convertible traffic not media with strenuous acquisition costs.

Social media is a complicated media where customers are willing to interact with brands but it’s difficult to track and measure.

According to a joint research project by Shop.org, comScore and Social Shopping Labs, “42% of online consumers have “followed” a retailer proactively through Facebook, Twitter or a retailer’s blog, and the average person follows about 6 retailers.

Here are the top reasons shoppers follow a retailer:

Beyond Search: Social Customer, Social Commerce, Social Media image social commerce study

As you can see from the data above, most people connect with brands with some level of transactional intent in nature.

The key is to realize that this type of digital relationship is built on mutual benefits.

For brands, this means being creative with incentivized-advertising that leads to trial, trial to purchase, and purchase to become a regular customer.

And it’s very likely that some if not the entire process take place online.  Each contact point may be discoverable by search forming a contributing factor to influence the purchase experience.

This is a high level way of viewing social commerce. And it requires careful planning beyond marketing.

This is why for example, customer service, sales and marketing needs to stay connected. It’s about linking different part of your business to help optimize the social commerce experience.

And to do making each department social is a great place to start.

Social Media: Turning Search Social

In order to combat Facebook, Google decided to counter with Google +, a social network that mimics many social features of Facebook. (I’ve just started using this and will keep an eye on it as it grows.)

The value of SEO and the success of Google is undeniable but the fact is Facebook has become the central hub of the increasingly social web.

Accordingly to ComScore, time spent on Facebook nearly doubled compare to Google even though Google continues to attract the greatest number of unique visitors in general.

Beyond Search: Social Customer, Social Commerce, Social Media image Time Spend Google vs Facebook

What this tells me is that there is a fundamental shift in how we fit the Internet into our lives.

This also means that search is evolving from a utility-focused function (of finding information) towards a more connected engagement environment.

The initiate discovery builds meaningful relationship that’s based on the human network.  This is the reason why all social networks are gaining traction, not just Facebook.

For example Twitter is also becoming a force to be reckoned with according to Compete:

  • Twitter is the preferred platform for learning about new product updates. While those who follow a brand on Twitter and “Like” a brand on Facebook do so to learn about discounts and available “free stuff” to a similar degree, the Twitter followers are much more likely to use the platform for “updates on future products” (84% to 60%). Clearly Twitter is viewed as a medium in which consumers can directly communicate with the stewards of the brands they are most interested in. See chart below for details on why consumers choose to follow or Like a brand.

Beyond Search: Social Customer, Social Commerce, Social Media image reasons for follow like a brand

And the next interesting insight was shows that Twitter has the potential to drive sales.

  • Twitter is more effective at driving purchase activity than Facebook. 56% of those who follow a brand on Twitter indicated they are “more likely” to make a purchase of that brand’s products compared to a 47% lift for those who “Like” a brand on Facebook. This is further evidence that marketers can drive ROI with Twitter by engaging followers through compelling content. See the chart below for more details on usage outcomes across Twitter and Facebook.

Beyond Search: Social Customer, Social Commerce, Social Media image social media usage outcomes

Of course, not all engagements are created equal and this is where online marketing is changing.

Consumers will decide which channel to use for their own benefits so as marketers, you need a approach these venues with meaningful engagement in mind aggregating valuable conversations over time.

It only make sense to start your engagement strategy by understand today’s consumers. Once you gain an understanding of the larger trend, then it all comes down to narrowing your target audience and tailor your message to fit the medium.

The Take Away

You can now purchase or bid on highly targeted media to carry out your ads that gets distributed instantly.

The result can be tracked and analyze through various attribution models.

Although there are still limitation to data transparency across all channels, one thing is clear, modern marketers now must try to understand all the touch points prior to conversion (making the sale) to get an idea of the impact of these channels.

It’s time we realize that social media provides significant influence across the social web.

It’s not just about page rank with SEO or ad rank with PPC; you now must consider measuring the depth of engagement as a competitive advantage within your marketing toolbox

What are you doing beyond search?

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