We’re rapidly moving from social networks that are about people and places, to networks about things. On Pinterest, Tumblr, Polyvore, and Houzz, product discussions abound. These visual conversations are inspirational, aspirational, and demonstrative of the fact that users don’t just care about brands, they care about what those brands make.

As social cues increasingly become about specific products and even the specific images that represent how those products were merchandised, the value of those social cues will increase tremendously. Smart retailers will be able to use these consumer insights to merchandise smarter, target better, and sell more.

While this creates a wealth of opportunities for brands eager to connect to more customers and move more merchandise, for most brands, a substantial divide exists between social and ecommerce. In other words, these two functions rarely talk. How can ecommerce and social teams connect to engage consumers across the board? Check out a few ideas to get a little inspiration for how to follow suit.

1. Let’s Get Visual

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 11.05.52 PMVisual merchandising – both instore and online – is an important component of inspiring consumers to walk into your store, stay on your site, and ultimately purchase. Pinterest’s social cues can provide additional insights to help your merchandising team tap into what’s top of mind, now. For instance, let’s say you’re a fashion brand with a broad collection. You start to see that the majority of what your fans pin are shoes. This is a fantastic opportunity to use this information to merchandise in a more topical and relevant way. Consider updating your window display to include some of the shoes that have been pinned and repinned a lot. These may not be your best sellers, but they are grabbing attention, encouraging discovery, and tempting people to walk in to your store.

A great example of this is Nordstrom. A lot has been written about how Nordstrom has taken a very forward-looking approach to Pinterest. On Nordstrom.com, the company has dedicated a portion of their site to a dynamic roundup of the most pinned items each week. The brand then took it one step further and showcased highly shared products in 13 of their stores as well.

2. Deal with the Dead

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Dead links are costing retailers money. As conversations become more visual and more product specific, they spark discovery. People want to know more about the cool product that they saw someone post. It’s no surprise then that Pinterest has become one of the largest referral traffic drivers to retailers. Every time someone pins or repins something from a brand, an inbound link is created to the brand’s site. That’s a whole lot of opportunities for people to discover your brand and arrive on your site. The problem, however, is that for most retailers when products go out of season, they’re removed from the retailers’ website. That means all of those saved products now send all of that traffic to a big black hole. Ouch. How bad is it? Curalate released a study earlier this year that indicated amongst top products for large brands, as much as 50% of links were dead. Is this really how you want to treat your hard won customers?

The solution to this problem requires the ecommerce and social teams to collaborate. Effective strategies include redirecting consumers to similar or current products or providing a waitlist option for products that could be brought back. Quitokeeto does a wonderful job of doing the latter with their sold out products.

3. Keep ‘Em on Site

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User generated content (UGC) is on the lips of the digital marketing teams of retailers everywhere. While users have been generating content for years now on sites like Instagram and Facebook, UGC is finally about to breakthrough and find a home on the websites of retailers. Why? Because UGC creates social proof, keeps people on your site longer, and ultimately leads people to purchase. UGC also enables brands to celebrate the fans that celebrate the brand. For too long, brands have focused on the influencers. Meanwhile, the loyalists went unnoticed. Now, the loyalists will get to see their name in lights on the biggest stage of all – the brand’s website. Get ready to turn your fans into fanatics!

Incorporating UGC into the brand site doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. It can be done in a phased manner. Consider starting with a simple gallery that enables users to upload their own photos while pulling in hashtagged images from Instagram and Facebook. Then, extend this to a product page to see how you can map UGC to specific products. Finally, extend this across all of your products to create a site in which consumers can explore fan photos that actually drive traffic to product pages.

Forward thinking brands have already started implementing UGC onsite. For instance, online bridal shop, Dessy.com is funneling user generated images from fans across social media to their website in an effort share beautiful examples of how customers actually look in their products. When a user uploads a photo to Dessy.com, the images automatically populate the “Real Weddings Style Gallery”. These images appear dynamically and serve two purposes. First, shoppers trust the endorsement through user generated imagery at a level that branded content simply can’t achieve. Second, the sheer fact that this imagery is coming from fans creates a more authentic message that is more likely to result in conversions. Additionally a user-generated ecommerce component like this gives brands a platform to celebrate their fans. Fans are already sharing images of your products across social networks, why not give them a place to do it on-site as well.

In the very near future we can expect to see a fundamental shift from brand focus to product focus across all social platforms. Brands will start to collect more granular data and with that develop a better understanding for what content drives engagement online. With this unique opportunity, brands can provide a targeted experience for their fans and as a result generate more traffic and sales. The first step is to learn from user interactions with brand content on social. Brands can fill in the gaps on the ecommerce side by repurposing top content on social to drive revenue on-site. The next step is implementing UGC as social proof for a more effective message that celebrates customers. Ultimately the most efficient strategy is one where retailers are capturing both organic and on-site engagement and each arm of your digital team functions in harmony.

– This post originally appeared as a guest post on Adotas.com.
– Featured photo from Flickr via Creative Commons.