The eCommerce industry has many different platforms, programs, bells, and whistles now with the popularity of shopping online, but it still will always and forever be about making an emotional connection between either a buyer and a product or a client and yourself as the business owner. Social selling is a hot new Internet retailing trend that expresses this connection online and in real-time by using a brand’s social media accounts as a way for consumers to not only have conversations and connect with the brand, but to now also make purchases through easy, natural commenting on photos on sites like Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Social selling works like this:
Step One: The seller posts a photo and description of an item on a social media platform like Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook.
Step Two: A consumer sees the photo and description and wants the item.
Step Three: The buyer posts SOLD in the comment thread, along with an email address.
Step Four: The social selling platform sends the buyer an invoice with payment and shipping information. (You must have a social selling platform enabled for this to work).
Step Five: The sale is completed and shipped.
Although social selling is still a relatively new concept, everything from small brands and large brands are catching on and seeing success. For example, Hilton International’s ultra-luxurious Conrad Hotels line launched a social selling reservations option this February, and big-time retailer Nordstrom’s uses Like2B.uy on their Instagram photos too, allowing their followers to purchase the items they post.
But, even with such big players entering the market, social selling really excels for small businesses – those in a better position to make a truly personal connection with their customers.
Christina Battle was one of the first fashion boutiques to adopt social selling with the platform Soldsie, but has been in business for years prior to taking on this new technology. She grew up loving fashion, and started working in malls at the age of 14 to fund what she calls her “shopping addiction.” The next 10 years of her adult life she spent working two jobs: office-based gigs in the fashion industry, and making extra money bartending.
In 2012, she fused her knowledge of fashion marketing and behind-the-bar personal connections to start Fashion Truck, a literal rolling clothing store that got a fair amount of press in the San Francisco market. She shifted the name to TopShelf Style (in homage to her bar roots where the best liquor is kept on the highest shelf), and added online sales to her company’s offerings. Always quick to catch a developing trend, she latched on to social selling and loves how it lets her connect immediately and directly with the people she knows are as passionate about fashion as she is.
After a year of research and experience, supported by her education in fashion merchandising and her experimentation across more than a decade, Christina has identified a few golden rules of social selling success:
Do Know Your Audience
This is true of all forms of selling, and has been true of selling since selling was invented. That said, the Internet gives you unparalleled access to information about your target demographics and how to best make meaningful connections with them. Christina recommends online resources like Iconosquare, and Google Analytics to gather statistics and information about your core audience. A few of the most important include buying habits, typical times online using different social media platforms, language usage, and current trends of conversation or engagement.
Killer Advice: Use online polls to foster buzz around your social media page while simultaneously collecting hard data about what your readers would like to see, do, and buy.
Don’t Delay Communication
Social media is a medium of instant gratification, where a long-lasting trend has a 48-hour life span. If you wait to respond to a comment or question, the potential buyer may have already stepped away from the screen for anything from a coffee break to leaving the house for the day. Christina advises that social selling is the perfect marriage of impulse buying and online shopping. You need to be there to respond in real time and capitalize on the impulse so the shopping happens.
Killer Advice: Hire a college kid to monitor your social media thread during hours you need to do something else. They’re cheap, and they are native speakers of social media.
Do Build Relationships
“Social selling is really new,” says Christina. “Customers need to trust that it is a legitimate form of shopping.” Customers with whom you have already formed a strong relationship will have the trust they need to move forward with the purchase. Besides driving social selling, this practice is a key component of web marketing for small businesses in general. You won’t have the budget to drive a massive online campaign, but you can make personal connections through likes, shares, plus ones, and thoughtful comments that relate with potential customers as people.
Killer Advice: For every product or other “All About You” post you put up, post three that are about somebody or something else. Relevant news items, shared posts by regular customers, or questions about an industry topic are examples of this.
Don’t Use Low-Quality Images
Just because it’s a new trend isn’t an excuse to skimp on image quality. Poor quality images send a message of unprofessionalism and lack of reliability. You can’t afford this if you’re going to ask potential clients for money over a newly established retail method. The images should be excellent, creative, and colorful…and large enough to still look great when the buyer zooms in for a closer look. Pixilation loses sales every day.
Killer Advice: Bite the bullet and spend $200 to $500 on a camera you can’t play Angry Birds with. Yes, the one on your phone is better than the ones pros used in the 80s, but a great image sells better than a good one.
Do Switch Things Up
“People like social shopping because it’s a little more non-traditional than going to someone’s web store where you can see the same four angles of an item against a white-ish background.” Customers who want that experience just nip over to Amazon or Etsy. The early adopters who embrace social selling like to be different, and will be drawn to images that reflect that difference. Some of your photos should be classic product photos, but most should be unique, interesting, and relatable.
Killer Advice: Do A/B testing on product images. Take two very different photos of the same item and post both for a week. Use elements of the one that performs better to get a stronger idea of what sorts of images most draw your client base’s eyes and attention.
We can’t thank Christina enough for her advice on this new and exciting way of getting your message and your product to customers. You can follow TopShelf Style on Instagram at instagram.com/topshelfstyle/ to see how they use social selling in action, and find out more about her and TopShelf Style at their website, topshelfstyle.com. If you’d like to know more about social selling, leave a comment with your question and we’ll see what Kabbage’s army of like-minded business owners have to say.