As 2020 draws to a close, we can officially say that more than half of the world are social media users. On average, they spend two hours and 24 minutes daily across eight social networks and messaging apps. As a result, the use of social media for eCommerce strategy has never been more relevant or effective.
With more people now working and shopping from home, users are spending 43% more time on social media. This trend is showing no signs of stopping, so brands need to be able to go beyond the basics and apply takeaways from the world of social media to all aspects of their business in order to remain relevant.
We’ve collected five key lessons to help brands and retailers navigate a hyper-social world:
1. Direct Customer Engagement Has Pros and Cons
With social media, brands and retailers can bridge the gaps of distance and anonymity. They not only have the opportunity to reach, interact, and relate to consumers worldwide but also to get actionable feedback from them.
Social media for eCommerce serves as an extension of customer service as well as an invaluable source of consumer behavior research for product development.
But it also holds up a mirror to every misstep.
This past year, issues from politics to sustainability took centerstage, and brands — including those with a reputation for leading the way on key social issues — saw the ugly side of social media, with nasty posts and comments and the bad publicity that went along with it.
Takeaway: Use social to connect with customers and understand what they expect from you, but don’t overpromise or take on causes they care about in a superficial way — authenticity is key and you need to be able to stand behind your brand values.
2. Influencers Are (Still) Important for Extending Market and Audience
You’re likely familiar with the ongoing debate about whether investing in influencers is worth it or not. For the most part, influencer marketing is indeed an effective way to increase brand awareness and reach a new audience — as long as it’s done smartly.
Like word-of-mouth and recommendations from family and friends, online content creators are a trusted source of purchase ideas on social media. They’ve built a community of like-minded people with shared interests and values.
But to get engagement from those audiences, you need to go beyond the usual suspects to find micro-influencers with quality content and and smaller, die-hard followings. And in 2021, you need to look beyond Instagram. Fashion, home decor, and skincare brands in particular should be combing through TikTok to find niche influencers that are right for them.
At the same time, larger retailers can look to their own employees to create an “army” of in-house content creators. Walmart uses this strategy, even providing social media training for all employees in their influencer program.
Takeaway: Influencers still work, but now that they’re ubiquitous, you need to be choosy about the people and platforms you work with. Always consider engagement over following when researching content creators that could be a good fit.
3. User-Generated Content Makes an Impact on Ads
Ad fatigue is real. And it’s getting worse as we spend more time at home on our phones and laptops. These days, the greatest compliment for social media advertising is “I didn’t even realize that was an ad.”
When consumers see your ads as part of their social feeds — rather than an intrusive addition — they are more likely to pause and interact.
While many brands have caught on to using UGC on-site by featuring customer photos, for examples, they often miss the opportunity to make the same impact on ads. Ads that feature user-generated content have a 3x higher click-through rate on average.
Plus, when consumers encounter the same or similar ads from the same brand over and over again, it creates a bad experience. By using UGC for creative (with customer permission, of course!), you can create hundreds of authentic-looking ads to appeal to various audiences without investing endless resources.
Takeaway: Leverage UGC in ads to overcome the limitations of ad blindness on social media.
4. Videos Are the (Current) King of Engaging Content
While engagement rates differ across social media platforms, videos — especially shorter ones — tend to get more organic interactions. More people pay attention to and remember video content.
As far back as 2017, a survey found that more than half of all consumers wanted to see more videos in the future. Today, TikTok is disrupting the social media landscape, prompting Instagram and Facebook to offer similar features, like Reels, making 2020 the year of the short video format.
When it comes to social media for eCommerce, another important video format that emerged in 2020 is live-selling. Both short videos and live-selling indicate a preference for more dynamic, visual content that shoppers can connect with more easily and naturally.
Takeaway: Super-short videos (even as short as six seconds) and live-selling video streams are the most impactful video formats on social today.
5. Empathy Is Key When Using Social Media for eCommerce
2020 has been, to say the least, a challenging year. For many, the combined weight of health issues, job insecurity, and lockdown, has been difficult to process. Naturally, when facing these hardships, we seek out empathy from friends and family. With social blurring the lines between businesses and peers, displaying empathy as a brand is not only the kind thing to do, but also one of the most effective ways to connect with customers.
A successful social media for eCommerce strategy is one that makes shoppers feel that they’re a part of the brand.
From American Eagle’s Come Together virtual concert series to Dunkin’ Donuts sharing healthy and safety guidelines, and others simply reminding shoppers that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, some brands really did a great job of using social media to demonstrate empathy during the height of the pandemic.
Takeaway: Social media is meant to be human. Brands need to make an effort to display empathy, so their customers feel seen and understood.
Looking to 2021
With the right formula, using social media for your eCommerce strategy can create unique customer touchpoints for increasing brand awareness, relevance, and engagement. But it also has the potential to destroy a brand image faster than it built it.
Using social media for eCommerce in the new year will be about give and take: Striking a balance between your brand image and personality with what customers expect and demand of you — on every channel — will enable you to build an appreciative and supportive audience in 2021.