As social media continues to grow, it is creating new selling opportunities for e-commerce entrepreneurs.
With billions of us spending hours a week scrolling through our social media feeds, it’s clear that channels like Facebook and Instagram are now powerful tools to communicate with potential customers.
And they are now great sales platforms too. We’re talking about social selling. And, if you’re running e-commerce or dropshipping business, this is something you need to get your head around.
But the world of social selling can seem vague and overwhelming to those who are just getting started with it.
So we’ve put together this guide to change all that. Below, we’ll explore:
- what social selling is;
- what its benefits are;
- how to start social selling, and
- provide tips and strategy advice for you to make the most of this source of sales.
Let’s get to it.
What is social selling?
First, we should rule out what social selling is not.
- It’s not social media marketing - that would be promoting your products and brand via social media posts.
- And it’s not social media advertising - that’s when you run ads on social media to promote your products or deals (using, for example, one of the many different types of Facebook ads available).
So what is it?
Simply put, social selling is using your social networks to attract potential customers and build trusted relationships with them. Think of it as good old-fashioned sales, just done on social media.
The aim is to provide value to prospective customers (called prospects or leads in sales jargon). You can do this by answering questions, responding to comments, and sharing content related to your area of expertise on social media.
So, with social selling, you’re not reality pushing a specific product or deal. But you’re giving key messages to your network that will help to encourage a sale:
- “I’m ready to help you.”
- “I know what I’m talking about.”
- “You can trust me.”
What is an effective social selling strategy?
Selling on social media is all about engaging with future customers directly, building credibility and trust.
So, what normally forms part of a social selling strategy?
- Content marketing: This could include sharing industry-related articles. For example, if you’re in the fashion and accessories industry, you could share your thoughts on how fashion can be more sustainable. You can also share blogs and videos that share more about your company and how you work. Behind-the-scenes material really helps your followers to connect with you.
- Engaging with social posts: Add comments to other people’s posts, especially if they are existing or prospective clients. These could simply be encouraging messages, or you might try to share useful tips and suggestions.
- Using platform-specific messaging features: Linkedin is obviously the king here, but it is used more often for business-to-business connections. To connect with customers for your e-commerce store, try reaching out on Facebook Messenger and have something tangible and valuable to offer.
The key point here is that social selling is certainly not about spamming strangers with unsolicited messages. Think of it as a different type of social media marketing, one which is designed to create fast sales and conversions. Rather than expecting someone to click a link and buy, social selling is about establishing connections throughout the sales process.
Why should you care about social selling? The main benefits
There are plenty of benefits, but the main ones are:
- Relationships that help you stay top of mind,
- Enhanced knowledge of the challenges your customers face,
- Improved understanding of what they actually want,
- And shorter sales processes that cut out many steps.
Let’s take a deeper look.
Advantage 1: Relationship building
Social selling is all about building connections and cultivating relationships. This process has been part of business for centuries. It’s just today it is now happening on social media platforms rather than in stores.
Relationships result in sales, when the time is right. Actively connecting with potential customers on social media can help you stay top of mind - you’ll be the first brand they consider when they are ready to make a purchase.
Advantage 2: Understanding customer challenges
Social selling can help you to better understand prospective customers.
Many people use social media to search for recommendations or to talk about challenges they are facing with some product or service.
By putting yourself in the right place at the right time, you can present your products as the solution to the prospect’s challenges.
But, more importantly, you can understand which problems your products are a good solution to. This can help you to further refine the way you market your products and deliver meaningful content that will help solve their problems.
Advantage 3: Gaining market insights
Another way it can help your business is by providing valuable market insights.
Social listening, or paying attention to what consumers are saying about your company and your competitors, is an important part of this process.
And it can be a very effective tool for understanding what customers really want and how they view your brand. By gathering market insights you can figure out more about the attitudes and behaviors of consumers. You might even change a few minds in the process.
Advantage 4: Shorter sales process
Finally, with social commerce, you can bypass many of the traditional routes to purchase by using built-in e-commerce features. These include Facebook Shops, Instagram Shopping, and Pinterest Shopping Pins. and marketing your products to an existing and engaged audience.
Shopping on social media is taking off, and the process is fast and streamlined.
In summary, social selling allows businesses to engage users where they already are and turn their social media engagement directly into sales.
Does social selling actually work?
In short - yes!
All the evidence suggests that social selling is highly effective in comparison with other, more traditional sales channels. But that is only if it is used in the right way.
- According to LinkedIn, 78% of social sellers outsell peers who do not use social media. Moreover, social sellers create 45% more sales opportunities. This is not surprising - creating conversations about your product and services on social media can organically produce sales conversations.
- This effectiveness is reflected in the number of people already engaged in social buying. 25% of Americans ages 18 to 34 made a purchase via social media in the last six months of 2020, according to Statista. India, the UK, and Australia all saw approximately a third of people ages 18 to 34 make a purchase via social media in that same timeframe.
What is also important is that the value of social selling comes at a relatively low cost. Most social media activity is free, and LinkedIn reports that it costs 75% less to generate leads on social media than any other medium.
How do I start social selling?
Pick a social media platform that suits your needs
If you have a Facebook Business Page, a LinkedIn page, a Twitter profile or a page on any other platform for your e-commerce business, you are already engaged in the basics of social selling.
If you are completely new to this, start by selecting the best social media channels for your business. Rather than being on every social platform, it is best to focus on the networks that are a good fit for your business.
Figure out where your target buyers are and position your social selling business there. For e-commerce, you will probably have more success on Instagram and Facebook than on LinkedIn, which is geared towards business networking. Also, take your target age group into consideration - Instagram tends to attract a younger crowd than, for instance, Facebook.
Let’s take a deeper look at Facebook, Instagram, and the other main social platforms.
Social selling on Facebook
For social selling on Facebook, you’ll need to create a free business page. This will allow you to connect with customers and provide relevant content. Once you have a business page, you can give your attention to those users that comment on your page or engage with your ads.
What can you do with your Facebook business page?
- Publish content: New photos and updates help to keep your page fresh and worth following. You can extend the reach of your posts beyond your page followers by boosting your posts and selecting the people you want to connect with.
- Message: You can let people send private messages to your business. In this way, they can ask questions, get in touch or make suggestions. And Facebook Messenger is integrated with your business page, so you can connect with customers one to one. This is perfect for social selling!
- Make use of special features: To make your page more useful and attractive, you can also add special content to your Facebook business page. This could include listing your services or showcasing your products with a shop section.
Social selling on Instagram
Do you like to present your products visually and would prefer to connect with a younger demographic? Then Instagram is the place for you. Again, you’ll need to set up an Instagram business account.
What can you do with your Instagram business account?
- Publish content: Instagram is highly visual, so post well-lit photos that showcase your products in the best way. User-generated content (UGC) is another great way to show fun and exciting photos of your products in use. With UGC, fans and followers can share their images using hashtags or tagging your Instagram account. You can check out this content and repost it to your account while crediting the original creators. Doing so will help you build a community and a loyal following!
- Message: Responding to people on Instagram can help you strengthen relationships with existing customers and connect with new ones. If you see a comment you would like to address privately, such as custom orders or customer support issues, you can move the conversation to Direct Messages. For example, you could respond to a comment on your page with, “Thank you for asking this question - please check your DMs for our response.”
- Use Instagram Insights: Instagram Insights allow you to learn more about overall trends across your followers and your content’s performance with your audience. You can also view insights for specific posts, stories, and live videos you’ve created to see how each one performed and how people engaged with them. Insights are free and available only for business or creator accounts.
Social selling on other platforms
Facebook and Instagram are perhaps the most fitting platforms for social selling for your e-commerce store. But there are plenty of other options out there that are worth considering. Here’s a quick rundown of their key characteristics, and how you might use them for social selling.
- Twitter views itself as a news platform as much as a social network.
- It is well suited to brands sharing blog posts or promoting website content.
- Twitter is great for social listening - you can listen to thousands of prospective customers simultaneously as they share what is on their minds. Use Twitter Lists to group prospects in ways that make the most sense for your sales strategy.
- Pinterest is a highly visual platform that lends itself to strong visual imagery.
- It is often used to find inspiration for projects.
- You can connect your Shopify store to your Pinterest business account directly in the Shopify app. Your entire catalog will become browsable on Pinterest in just a few clicks.
- LinkedIn is a professional network, and the content you share should reflect this.
- It is used heavily for sharing industry articles and general professional content.
- LinkedIn produced the first-of-its-kind social selling measurement - The Social Selling Index (SSI). It tells you how successful you are at developing your brand, connecting with the right people, engaging with insights, and establishing relationships. These four points combined give you an overall measure of how effectively you are using the platform.
- Google+ essentially acts like a social layer across Google’s web properties, e.g. YouTube.
- Google+ free business profile allows you to connect with customers and display your business info across Google Search and Maps.
- It gives customers several ways to reach you - by calling, messaging or leaving reviews.
10 tips for successful social selling
Made your selection of social platform(s)? Then it’s time to start engaging with potential buyers! Here are 10 top tips to follow for successful social selling.
Tip 1: Make a complete, sleek social media profile
This is an obvious but massively important point. You have to look your best for social selling to work for your business. Look at your profile from the point of view of a potential customer - does it show that you are a credible, knowledgeable seller?
Make sure you complete every section of your social media profiles. If someone clicks your page, you want them to be able to find out what you sell, how your products add value, a link to your website, and any contact information so they can quickly get in touch.
Tip 2: Be personal
For social selling to be effective, you need to develop personal relationships with your customers. Authenticity creates credibility, and credibility is key. Be open and honest, and do not be afraid to offer a unique take. Followers do not want to follow a robot, they want to follow a human.
So let your human side show - do not be afraid to show a glimpse into your life outside of work. This is exactly what makes social selling so powerful. In fact, that is the kind of stuff that will help people understand more about who you are and like you. People buy from people they like and trust, so share your personal plans or photos every once in a while.
Tip 3: Speak to people
Social selling is about building a relationship with new and existing customers. Social media platforms show you what your customers are doing and saying, offering precious insights into issues you might fail to spot by any other means. They also give you a way to speak to potential customers directly.
So do exactly that. Listen to and engage in conversations your target audience is having. Answer questions and respond to its needs. This will build trust and keep you in their minds when they decide to make a purchase.
Tip 4: Follow relevant brands and people
Follow local companies, brands, and influencers in your industry. It is one of the first steps after creating your profile to fill your feed with relevant content. This will allow you to easily keep up with the latest industry developments, give you content to comment on and share on your own page, and perhaps establish valuable partnerships.
Tip 5: Define your social media tone of voice
Is your e-commerce brand serious or funny? Thoughtful or witty? These are examples of traits that inform the voice of your business on social media. And finding your voice is key to connecting with consumers on a personal level and in a consistent way.
Consider these three questions when defining your tone of voice:
- What do you want your brand to sound like online?
- Who is your target audience and what vocabulary do they use?
- Based on the first two questions, what will your audience want to hear from you?
Tip 6: Be consistent, but switch it up
Consistency is key to a great social selling strategy, so you should post regularly to stay at front-of-mind with your potential customers. Episodic content is a great way to keep people engaged and wanting more, so take time to think about unique content.
However, being consistent does not mean being complacent. Do not be afraid to try new things. A good tactic is to split your content 80/20 - 80 percent tried and tested, and 20 percent new. This allows you to find out what does and does not work for your business while keeping your content relevant and fresh.
Tip 7: Get noticed by using hashtags
Hashtags might seem like throwaway bits of text, but they are an important way to link your content to the potential customers looking for it. Carefully consider which hashtags you use and think beyond just the product you are selling - consider related themes that drive your customers to you. Spend some time researching the best hashtags for your brand, with a mixture of popular, medium, and niche wording to maximize your potential.
Perhaps you have jewelry business. Rather than just hashtagging #jewelry and #fashion, think about occasions people may want your product for. Think #gifts, #birthdaypresents or #weddingideas. Know your customers and their behaviors and choose your hashtags accordingly. (If you’re planning to use Instagram, check out this guide to using Instagram hashtags in 2022).
Tip 8: Encourage customer feedback
A huge majority of people look at customer reviews when considering a product or brand for the first time. Peer reviews are considered more authentic and trustworthy than advertising messages from the business itself. Use this to your advantage and create a space where happy customers can share positive experiences of your product.
This works both ways, though, and customers may post about an unhappy experience. Stay switched on and respond to complaints quickly. Handle negativity with grace and sincerity - the more genuine you can be, the better.
Tip 9: Focus on quality over quantity
Some social networks, like Twitter and Pinterest, require a high volume of content to make them worthwhile. However, try to always emphasize quality over quantity. To be a successful social seller, avoid posting anything simply for the sake of it, and make sure every post is connected to a broader goal or objective.
Tip 10: Be patient
Do not expect loads of new customers overnight. It takes consistency over a period of time until people start to recognize who you are, what you do, and begin to trust your expertise. Some customers will need to read five pieces of content before engaging with you and your product, so be consistent and give them a reason to commit.
Social Selling: the Key Takeaways
As we have seen, social selling is an affordable and highly effective way to increase sales for your e-commerce business.
Just remember that you’ve got to do it right. That means no spamming. Interactions with your prospective customers should be thoughtful, relevant, and personalized.
Here’s a quick reminder of how to engage your audience using social selling:
- Sharing content: In order to be effective, social selling must deliver authentic, timely content that is valuable to potential customers. So post content that your target buyers will be interested in, and post it often. But try not to only link your content - switching up your sources will mitigate the perception that you are self-serving. Use your expert knowledge to share tangible advice that would draw in a captive audience.
- Commenting: Always respond to your followers’ comments and mentions of your product or business. If you choose to comment, it should not just be a sales pitch or a link to your website. It should be a thoughtful response to a post or an article. Commenting kills two birds with one stone - it is a way to share posts that your potential customers might be interested in, and thoughtful addition to someone else’s content as well.
- Liking: When you have no time to comment or nothing substantial to add, an Instagram like or a Twitter favorite works just as well. Likes also work as “thank yous” when others share your content. But make sure to stay relevant - your customers do not need your business account liking personal updates.
Social selling should be one of the ways you drive sales for your online business. But it definitely doesn’t need to be the only way you do it. You can run social media ads as well - these will reach different audiences and have a different effect. To get started, take a look at this explainer for the different types of Facebook ads available. That way you can pick the ad type that suits you best and use it to supplement your social selling strategy.