Is Social Selling Right for Your Business?

"Buy now" buttons have been popping up across social media sites. But does selling on Facebook or Pinterest really work?
social-selling-feature
Social selling will make your business more accessible while narrowing it's target audience. (Photo: Mangsaab/Shutterstock)

Over the past couple of years, retail has seen a new trend: direct selling on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. But reviews on the effectiveness of these “buy now” buttons have been mixed.

So how can you decide if social commerce is a good opportunity for your business? Consider the following pros and cons.

Related: Why Social Media May Not Pay Unless You Do

The pros

Social selling can expand your brand reach. According to Luke Rees, head of digital at the London marketing agency AccuraCast, social commerce “is one of the cheapest and most effective way to reach new customers online.”

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“If you’re going to use the ‘Shop Now’ button as your call to action, make sure you have engaging images, video and ad copy to catch the eye and add value to your offer.” -Luke Rees (Photo: Luke Rees)

The advanced targeting options available on social networks, particularly Facebook, provide a way for business owners to get their products in front of a very specific target market, Rees noted. “The setup is all quite intuitive,” he said. Selecting your target audience “can be as simple as setting your typical customer’s age, sex, where they are located and what interests they have.”

The cons

Unfortunately, consumers have been slow to embrace the social commerce trend. “For every attempt at social commerce, there seems to have been ten that were whisked away quietly in night, never to be seen again,” said Bob Clary, director of online engagement at internet marketing agency Intellibright.

“Remember #AmazonCart on Twitter?” he asked. “How about the buzzword F-commerce, the early Facebook attempt at storefronts? Buy buttons have popped up all over, but even those that seem to make sense, like Pinterest’s buyable pins, haven’t taken flight.”

Social platforms are working to evolve commercially, which is a potential boon for brands, but the prevalence of ads on these platforms may be backfiring. “The downside,” said Rees, “is that users often tend to be immune to advertising, particularly on Twitter.” Users may scroll right past ads and “buy buttons” without even registering them.

Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported some eye-opening data: Social channels accounted for just 1.8 percent of 2015 holiday shopping sales, which was actually a slight decrease from the prior year.

“Even with all the flashy attempts to merge commerce and social media, including buy buttons, sales from those channels decreased year over year,” said Clary. “That’s not promising.”

Is it right for me?

With such mixed reviews, how should small business owners proceed? Carefully, advised Clary and Rees.

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“To determine if it is right for your business, research and know if your audience is on that social channel.” -Susan Payton (Photo: Susan Payton)

Intellibright tends to suggest a “wait and see” approach in cases like this, said Clary. “We advise brands wait until the model has been proven before investing the time and money into direct social selling.”

If you decide to move forward, make sure have a great ad, said Rees. “If you’re going to use the ‘Shop Now’ button as your call to action, make sure you have engaging images, video and ad copy to catch the eye and add value to your offer.”

Related: How to Create a Call to Action that Won’t Be Ignored

Susan Payton, president of Egg Marketing & Communications, had a few tips for businesses considering social selling. “To determine if it is right for your business, research and know if your audience is on that social channel.” So for instance, if Pinterest users aren’t your target demographic, don’t waste time or money trying to sell on that platform.

Take it slow and experiment to see if social selling resonates with your customers, she said.

“Just test it out for about six months.” After that, you should be able to determine if you’re getting a reasonable return on your investment. And if you have the funds, she said, promote your social commerce using ads. “If advertising options are available to invest in for promoting the campaign, I would suggest using that to help make sure the campaign succeeds.”

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