social media

By Cassidy Welter

Social media marketing is booming. Companies of every size, from international conglomerates to one-man startups are pouring funds into developing, researching and executing a social media marketing strategy. Racking up the likes, shares and retweets on your latest post translates into a dopamine high that rivals the same good feelings we have after eating our favorite foods or exercising.

Growing your follower count has an instant gratification effect; it feels good to see your follower count tick up and see your social reach grow as more and more people engage with your brand. However, followers alone do little for the general health and success of your small business. Sure, having a ton of likes on your Instagram post feels like a small victory, but if it doesn’t lead to actual revenue this exercise of personal satisfaction is for naught. So how can we translate our follower count into sales?

Understanding social media marketing

The potential customer base to be gained through social media is staggering. There are over 700 million monthly users on Instagram, over 320 million on Twitter, but the king of social media, Facebook, still pulls in nearly 2 billion active monthly users. Nearly seven in ten Americans are social media users and that figure is only expected to rise as more Americans buy smart phones and as wifi and broadband networks expand.

Social media marketing aims to capture a share of these users. Ideally, marketing strategies target prospective customers rather than followers. The people that follow your brand on your social media platforms do so because they are interested and enjoy the kind of content that you put out. There are a few rules of thumb when it comes to social media content that we can use across industries and business types.

Consistency is critical when it comes to the frequency with which you post on your channels. People want to follow channels that are actively engaged on the platform, post unique content and interact with their followers. The content that you post, whether that’s a tweet, photo or sponsored advertisement should reflect your brand’s style, values and aligns with your brand mission.

Followers engage differently across apps

The platform that you use should also be one that your target audience can be found on. If you are a B2B, there may be less value to investing any substantial time or resources into a social media strategy since your sales are likely technical and cannot be fully conveyed through a social platform, nor is your audience customer facing.

Not all social media apps are equal when it comes to engaging followers. A Forrester study found that Instagram has 10x more engagements than on Facebook, and users tend to be more receptive and interested in being redirected to websites through the app than they are on other platforms. This makes your life a little easier, provided your target audience is on Instagram and they follow you. Investing in paid shoutouts (hiring Instagram influencers to promote your product to their own followers, either for a flat fee or for a percentage of sales through their unique code) has proven to be a popular and effective.

Making the transition from platform to ecommerce

The best way to get your followers on social media to become customers of your brand is to incentivize them to leave the platform and to move to your ecommerce channels.

On Instagram, you can add URL links to your Instagram Story that direct your viewers to your ecommerce channel where they can purchase the product you feature in your Story in the form of a “See More” swipe up button. Snapchat lacks a similar feature, one of the primary complaints brands have of the app. Facebook allows hyperlinks within posts, which allow you to direct your post viewers to the exact URL on your ecommerce channels where they can buy the product they see.

Using in-app advertising

Instagram Story Ads have also recently been rolled out. Now, the reach of your Instagram Story or Live posts are extended to targeted Instagram users. Sponsored ads appear in users’ Story queues, even if they don’t follow your brand. This is a significant update that has the potential to dramatically widen your Instagram reach

Translating Facebook followers into customers requires a different strategy. Targeted Facebook ads through sponsored posts offer you a more solid return on investment in this case. Facebook has lower rates of engagement, particularly as more young people are leaving the platform or lowering their usage as it becomes saturated with older generations. Larger brands with significant followings often offer exclusive “fan-only” coupons that incentivize Facebook users to follow the brand by offering them a coupon or discount for their first purchase.

The role of content creation in attracting engaged followers

The content you put out on Facebook should balance the line between overt and covert sales tactics. While your content must be engaging, visually appealing and reach your target audience, a good percentage of your posts should feature products that followers can buy. Rather than offering content that simply features product X for price Y, your content should tell a story. Storytelling as a content strategy offers you an opportunity to connect with your customer and convey a representation of your brand in a way that elicits engagement.

Tell a story about the product that you’re featuring. For instance, a photo or video testimony from a customer about a product of yours that they love and why they support your brand is more engaging than a text-only listing of the product price and specifications.

Calling for user generated content, like asking for recipes, photos, testimonies, and videos of customers using your product, is a great way to engage with your followers and to encourage them to purchase your products as a way to participate in the call. Denoting your call with a hashtag that can be followed on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook allows you to track engagement and gives you engaging content that you can then repurpose and share with your followers.

By calling for photos of your users with your product, for example, you encourage sales as a way to elicit participation. Pairing this call with a coupon or discount for said product will also likely bump up participation.

Making a passive follower an active customer

Encouraging the transition from a passive follower to an engaged customer is a process that requires your intervention. A small percentage of social media followers will likely make the transition on their own, but in order to grow this percentage to a more robust number, you will need to incentivize your followers to leave the app and move to your ecommerce channels in a frictionless way. This transition is more difficult if you only offer brick and mortar stores as a way to purchase your products, but offering strong incentives like exclusive discounts can help to bridge the gap.

Cassidy Welter is a Staff Writer for StartUp Mindset and is a Chicago based researcher at a consulting firm specializing in nonprofits. When she’s not working, she’s reading anything she can get her hands on, debating politics, watching the Pittsburgh Penguins and eating her way across the city’s food scene. See more from Cassidy on Twitter at @CassidyWelter