Social media captures attention far and wide, keeping people glued to their phones, laptops, and tablets on a nearly-24/7 basis. We go to our social feeds for entertainment, breaking news, networking opportunities, community events, and — of course — retail inspiration.
That last element is of particular interest to online sellers who are always on the lookout for fresh ways to bring in qualified leads. Content marketing in the form of blogging is one arrow in the digital marketer’s quiver, but social networks present entirely new opportunities — and from their rise came the broad discipline of social selling.
Very simply, social selling is using social media to identify and attract potential customers. Find them, engage with them, offer them valuable content, and steadily steer them down the sales funnel until they’re ready to convert. It’s flexible, powerful, and creatively liberating.
What’s more, given the aforementioned breadth of influence achieved by just a handful of social media platforms, there’s always room to develop and expand your efforts. But how can you effectively manage a large-scale social strategy? Well, try following these 6 steps:
#1. Identify (and Value) Your Success Metrics
As noted, social selling can be a drawn-out process of slowly priming a prospect until they’re convinced and eager to buy, and this hugely affects how you need to measure success. Consider that even something as simple as PPC ad has some depth to it: you have to look at clicks and resulting conversions, but also consider demographic breakdowns, and the average cost, and how different ad variants perform.
Now compare that to the near-infinite possibilities of social selling. You can target any set of people at any time using one of many tactics. For instance, you could have some casual conversations on suitable subreddits, or give product-related Quora answers to show your expertise, or take to Twitter with some beginner-friendly resources to raise interest in your niche.
The point here is that what your ultimate goal (selling more products) will follow very gradually from a wide range of smaller goals, such as earning a click to an introductory guide, getting thanked on Facebook, or winning A mention in an influencer’s product roundup.
And since there’s every chance that you’ll need to build up steam for quite a while before your work starts paying off at great scale, you can’t start questioning your strategy within a month because it hasn’t produced sales. Pick out a full set of metrics, value them accordingly, and you’ll have a much better understanding of the long-term prospects of your campaign.
#2. Follow a Strict Set of Brand Guidelines
Your social selling efforts will see you communicating with different types of people in different situations across multiple platforms, and the risk of making some kind of faux pas is substantial. The social media age is very intimidating in this regard, with a lot of people looking for things to get furious about, so I strongly recommend doing the following:
- Steer clear of anything political. Whatever your political opinions may be, don’t let them seep into your social media comments or content. While doing so could win you acclaim, it would also set many people against you. It’s better to avoid it entirely.
- Use links and resources consistently. If you’re sharing one version of a guide on Twitter and another version on Facebook for no clear reason, it will split your traffic and confuse people.
- Choose a tone and stick to it. Are you sassy? Funny? Stoic? Motivational? Whether you’re posting on Instagram or discussing something on LinkedIn, you should maintain a consistent company tone.
- Be playfully negative about others, if at all. It’s possible to get attention for insulting other brands or people, but, as with getting political, it’s dangerous. If you’re going to be negative, make it very playful.
- Ensure that everyone is on the same page. A large social selling campaign needs a lot of people working on it, and everyone needs to know about your guidelines. If you let someone post without reading and agreeing to them, you’re asking for trouble.
Plenty of your prospective customers will encounter you in various channels. They’ll see your posts on Twitter and Facebook, and see your Instagram updates, and if your content is inconsistent, it will muddy their impression of you. Keep things clear, and your brand will benefit.
#3. Choose Your Tools Carefully
Even small-scale social selling takes a lot of time, so when you ramp things up, you rapidly run into scheduling problems. How can you balance your social selling campaign with the everyday demands of your business? The answer is simple: software tools.
Using suitable SaaS solutions will allow you to automate certain elements and speed up many others, freeing you up to fulfill your core responsibilities, but some are better than others — or it’s perhaps more accurate to say that some will be better suited to your needs than others. Choose well, and you’ll make the execution of your strategy significantly easier.
There’s no shortage of options, but something like Awario is a great jumping-off point: it’s essentially a conversation-location tool, rapidly locating mentions of your brand across numerous platforms and channels. And then there’s a tool like Bambu, a social advocacy platform that you can use to help your employees share content and engage with prospective customers more effectively through social media.
You’ll also want to confirm that your regular online platform will easily integrate with any social apps you deem useful, particularly if you sell through an online store. Something like Shopify Plus, an enterprise eCommerce package, will offer this kind of flexibility, and access to a wide range of suitable apps through a convenient store (e.g. the Outfy product promotion tool).
#4. Locate Your Target Audience
The economy of effort is hugely important in social selling. Even with powerful tools on your side, you can’t be everywhere at once (and if you could, it would prove counterproductive through making your brand seem intrusive). You need to find your prospective buyers so you can do whatever you can to target them specifically.
The aforementioned Awario will help enormously with this task, but it will still require a lot of manual effort. You’ll need to get involved in conversations, looking very closely at the exchanges taking place to discern how much value there would be in targeting them (for instance, rooting through a subreddit to gauge how heavily the users spend).
If you don’t know where you’re trying to sell, then your effort will all be arbitrary, and much of it will achieve nothing. You’ll also struggle to cater your messages as required. Accordingly, you should take as long as you need for this step, and only proceed to the next when you’re entirely confident that you know what you need to do.
#5. Build a Varied Content Calendar
A strong amount of your social selling should consist of off-the-cuff interactions: short unplanned exchanges with prospective buyers to provide snippets of information or encouragement. But not the bulk of it. That should go to planned content — long-form pieces of content created to provide value and be easy to distribute through social media.
For example, you might have a comprehensive product brochure that people can easily view on mobile devices, or an infographic about the history of your company (a tool like Venngage, an infographic creator, will make this easy), or a buyer’s guide for your entire field (leaning slightly towards your products, naturally).
When you create content like that, you set a precedent about the nature and quality of your content production process, and you need to live up to it. As useful as it is to show people just how great your content can be, you won’t truly build up your brand name until you prove that you can do it time and time again. You need consistency.
To that end, you must create a varied content calendar (and line up helpful tools) to steer your content-production efforts for the next year or so. It doesn’t need to be complete, and you should leave gaps for spur-of-the-moment work, but it should encompass the general topics you want to address plus the audiences you’re trying to reach with them.
#6. Show Humanity and Personality
Lastly, we need to cover the most vital ingredient of social selling: talking like an actual person. Plenty of companies make the basic mistake of being coldly formal, addressing people in a businesslike fashion and having every response polished and checked for potential legal ramifications before sending it. That approach might be practical, but it’s also ineffective.
Social media users are attracted to personality, spirit, enthusiasm, and humor. You’re trying to win them over with your brand, and if you seem boring or generic, that won’t happen. You can’t be lax, of course (as noted, there are major risks to veering away from your brand guidelines), but you can be extremely informal.
Think about the companies that thrive on social media, and look into how they participate in conversations. Find the elements you like, and emulate them. It’s all about nailing down the fundamental limitations on your social selling so that everything beyond that can be creative.
Having a great large-scale social selling strategy is a difficult task, but following these 6 steps will make it significantly simpler. Remember to listen to people, pay close attention to context, and have fun with it. Good luck!