Have you ever found yourself in a restaurant because of some mouth-watering pictures you’d seen on Instagram earlier? Or maybe you’ve watched multiple hands-on review videos on YouTube to decide whether you should buy the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the iPhone 5?
Consciously or otherwise, social media influences our purchasing decisions tremendously. The question for businesses is no longer “Should we bother with this social media thing?”, but “How do we best make use of social media as a marketing platform, so we don’t get crushed by our competitors?”
The tenets of effective social media marketing are no different from marketing in general: Engage your consumers, build brand loyalty. How do you execute that strategy, though? For most businesses, there’s a mechanical formula:
- Source for interesting and shareable content
- Posting it across your social media profiles
- Wait patiently for likes, shares, retweets and repins
- Respond heartily to the occasional comment
Zzz. What a mundane, mechanical methodology! Surely that can’t be all there is to social media marketing? Shouldn’t social media be, you know, social?
Let’s revisit the examples of restaurants and smartphones. If you noticed, both examples involve us (as consumers) responding to content shared by other consumers. We rely heavily on user-generated content to decide what to buy. Photos from friends and comments from fellow consumers are much, much more relevant and trustworthy than any amount of content created by retailers.
Now is the time to start leveraging on user-generated content for your social media strategy. Here’s why:
1) Trust drives sales.
A 2012 study by Nielsen reported that the most trusted form of advertising is “earned media”, which refers to word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family. The second most trusted form is online consumer reviews.
Notice how neither form of advertising originates from retailers. They originate from consumers themselves.
Consumers will trust each other much quicker than they’ll trust retailers, merchants and corporate-types. They’re increasingly market-savvy, and are aware of retailers’ motives. (This isn’t specific to commerce. It applies to all sorts of markets. A referral from a person you trust is always worth more than a slick sales pitch.)
People are more likely to purchase a product online because a friend or family recommended it, as compared to what the company says about it. It’s who they trust, rather than who they know, that drives their purchasing decisions.
If their friends and family haven’t tried the product, the next logical option is to turn to online reviews by fellow consumers. The beauty of modern technology is that consumer reviews can take shape with more than just words – photos, videos, location check-ins, etc give reviews vastly increased persuasive power.
This is where businesses should come in to encourage the growth of “earned media”.
2) It’s easier than ever to let your customers be your ambassadors.
Many fashion retailers have started asking customers to submit photos of themselves wearing their products. Setting up and dealing with such a submission process might seem painfully tedious: It requires extra time spent handling user submissions, and effort to constantly update your website.
Fret not. Social media platforms can now simplify that process for you.
With Instagram hashtags and integration built into their ecommerce store, Baublebar aggregates its customers’ Instagram ‘selfies’ on a single page, which acts both as customer endorsement and crowdsourced style guidance. Baublebar have since reported a 3x increase in conversion rate and a 6% engagement rate out of 300,000 unique visitors – just using social media!
Your customers are your most powerful social influencers. Most people enjoy sharing their experiences with their friends on social media, and it won’t cost you a single cent to let them do as they please. Set things up nicely for them to do it, then get out of the way.
3) People want to know what your products REALLY look like.
Seeing the product actually being used gives people more confidence to purchase it. Photos uploaded by customers may not showcase your products in the best possible light, but they are far more authentic and believable than your professional product photos. (Even the “best possible light” point is debatable, given the power of Instagram filters and the rising quality of amateur photography.)
Are your products appealing only because of good camera angles and lighting? Hopefully not! They should look good in use, not just in promotional material.
A newly launched restaurant in New York decided to do just this, and what happened after was powerfully successful. Instead of creating a centralized menu of their own, Cómodo let their customers create an Instagram Menu. Using a common hashtag, guests are encouraged to upload photos of Cómodo’s food, as well as seek inspiration for what dishes to order. The campaign has since generated up to 280 million media impressions. More importantly, they are now receiving table reservations up to 5 months in advance.
If you think your products are excellent, have faith in it. Let your customers speak for your products with their photos. Accompanied with product photos that you already have, you now have a lethal weapon to attract potential customers.
Social media isn’t about YOU.
It’s about content generated by ordinary, everyday people. It’s about making your customers look good. Despite this, many businesses are still treating social media as another platform for mass communication. This means room for you to gain a competitive advantage. It’s time to truly engage your followers. This means encouraging them to go beyond just liking and sharing. Allow them to play a part in building your brand. This inevitably builds deeper brand loyalty.
Stop showcasing yourself on social media. Let your customers do the showcasing. You will be surprised at how much they can do for you.