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3 Trends To Help You Plan Your Social Media Strategy In Online Retail

By Blueleaf

Chris Jones – User Experience Director at Blueleaf

The power of social media as an influential channel is undeniable, especially with the recent US election and Brexit here at home. For better or for worse, for many people it’s become their go-to channel for news and editorial. 

But what about its role in ecommerce? Do users see social as being a separate, personal channel that shouldn’t be sullied by brands, or is it genuinely useful in their shopping journey?

One thing is for certain — where the masses go, brands will follow. With so many of us now living our lives on social media, the reach and ability to target specific groups is huge. 

A reminder of the numbers involved. As of September 2016, Facebook had 1.8 billion active users, YouTube 1 billion, WhatsApp 1 billion, Instagram 500 million, and Twitter 313 million — astonishing numbers for any brand owner to get their heads around.

Let’s look at three trends in social media, how they’re affecting online retail, and how they’re used to their full potential.

1. YouTube influencers

YouTube’s growth has been so phenomenal that it now rivals every broadcast and cable channel in the world. According to its owner Google, 8 out of 10 18- to 49-year olds in the USA watch YouTube every month and it reaches more of this demographic than any TV network.

Amongst digital-native younger generations, it’s perceived alongside ‘traditional’ channels as just another choice, available at the touch of a button on Smart TVs, tablets and mobiles.

It also has a huge advantage – it’s free to watch, has a virtually unlimited choice and is heavily populated by ‘real’ people uploading their own content on a regular (even daily) basis. And if you’re young, that’s a pretty cool tribe that you’re likely to want to be part of.

For decades, brands have used famous actors, singers and sportspeople to influence us into wanting their products, but young people are just as likely to be influenced by YouTubers these days (if not more so) and that’s led to brands forging links with these content creators in order to reach this lucrative market.  

In the UK, YouTube stars such as Zoella (Zoe Sugg) and DanTDM (Dan Middleton) boast over 10 million subscribers each, with their American peers quadrupling that number.

Brands have clamoured to jump on their bandwagons, paying to advertise on their YouTube channels or sponsoring them in other ways to get their products associated with these hugely influential names.

These are ‘normal’ people remember often doing pretty routine things online, they’re not famous for their acting, singing or sporting talents.

But brands must be careful how they go about associating themselves with YouTubers. Go in cynically or heavy-handed and the big corporation mistrusting young generation will spot a fake straight away

Emirates made a smart move last year, when YouTuber Casey Neistat checked in for a Business Class flight from Dubai to New York. Recognising Neistat, they upgraded him to First Class on their flagship A380, knowing full well that he was sure to video his experience and share it with his 6.5 million subscribers.

Posting it with the title “The $21,000 First Class Airplane Seat”, the video has been watched over 31 million times at the time of writing.

2. Seamless social commerce

The ability to buy directly from social channels is a developing area of ecommerce, but one with huge potential, again due to the number of people using these channels on a regular basis.

Research conducted in 2016 showed that 19% of consumers would like to purchase direct from Facebook, followed by Twitter (10%), Instagram (9%), Pinterest (7%) and Snapchat (5%).

Well over half of consumers also reported that they follow brands in order to look at products, suggesting that making it easy to buy direct from social is a logical next step.

Paid social advertising already exists on Facebook of course and in the form of Pinterest Promoted Pins, with Snapchat confirming that it’s working on its own ecommerce platform. Instagram have also launched a new targeted marketing tool and ad formats such as a 30-second video option, designed to give brands more impact.

It seems as though there’s a certain amount of chicken and egg surrounding social commerce, with many brands waiting to see if it really takes off amongst consumers and perhaps waiting to see what features social channels develop, before investing.

The ongoing trend of joining up channels such as store and web would suggest it’s only a matter of time before social becomes a fully fledged commerce channel.

3. Socialising your site

With social channels still developing direct commerce tools, some brands are instead pulling social feeds into their ecommerce sites in really engaging ways to influence and persuade their visitors to buy.

This works particularly well for retailers with very visual products, such as fashion and home furnishings, where inspirational imagery is essential. It’s long-proven that high quality product photography boosts conversion on ecommerce sites.

Combine this with the fact that trust is a key ingredient in online purchases and it’s easy to see why user contributed imagery is so persuasive. Show me a beautifully shot studio photo of a dress on a model and I’m interested; show me the same dress looking great in a customer selfie and I’m sold.

Fashion retailer Oasis show user contributed content on their ecommerce site with the ‘Oasis My Way’ feature, a curated stream of customer’s social photographs, sucked in via #oasisfashion. It showcases not only Oasis products, but also other clothes customers are wearing them with and how they’re accessorising too.

Even the environment that the selfies are taken in can add to the effect and inspire users on the site. Oasis reported that products supported by social imagery have a conversion rate of 4.5%, compared with 2.5-3% for those that don’t.

Similarly, made.com run ‘Made Unboxed’ in partnership with their ecommerce site. It features user contributed imagery of their home furnishing products, some of which is from what they call ‘brand advocates’ who contribute professional photos of their homes.

made.com have found that site visit duration is three times longer for users who’ve first visited Made Unboxed and average order value is up 16%.

And so...

Online retailers need to take social media into account as an increasingly common and vital part of the customer journey. It’s where many shoppers find inspiration, discover products, and increasingly actually begin their transactions.

Social media is only integrating more into people’s lives, and by seizing on the latest developments and opportunities offered by these platforms, online retail can fit seamlessly into that user experience.