A large social media following is one thing. But how do you persuade your followers to purchase?
Many small business owners dedicate hours every week – or every day – to their social media communities. They plan posts, meticulously craft captions, and come up with imaginative competitions and collaborations.
And why not? Social media offers a direct line into a brand’s customers, and it’s a great way to promote your products and services.
But while the thrill of acquiring new followers or receiving hundreds of likes on a post can be addictive, social media followers are not the same as sales.
“Look, it’s nice to have a big social media following,” says social media expert Jordan Lomax. “It’s almost a vanity thing. It’s a nice number you can see every day, and it shows people that [your brand] is popular.”
"Followers show people that your brand is popular.”
But it’s all too common for business owners to get caught up in the race to grow their social followings without considering how to convert those followers into sales, says Lomax. She often sees business owners devote considerable time, energy and money into social media without ever stopping to calculate the return on investment (ROI).
That said, not all your social media followers will become customers – now or ever – and it’s important to be realistic about conversion rates.
“Only a percentage of your followers will ever convert,” says Lomax. “Just because someone follows you doesn’t mean they’ll buy from you.”
Some followers use social media solely as a source of inspiration; others may not be in a financial position to purchase right now; or they may not have a need for your product at this particular moment.
“Only a percentage of your followers will ever convert.”
However, to maximize the chances that followers do convert, you need to start with a strategy.
Before you start funneling social media followers to your website, check that your website is ready for the traffic, and that your potential customers’ path to purchase is seamless.
After all, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated your social media strategy is – if your website doesn’t load properly, is difficult to navigate or has too many frustrating pop-ups acting as hurdles along the path to purchase, then your conversion rate will never be healthy.
So, before you get started on a strategy to convert social media followers into customers, answer these questions:
1. Is your website optimized for mobile devices?
Oberlo estimates that three-quarters of all e-commerce purchases are made on mobile devices, which means it’s vital that your website works seamlessly on a smartphone.
2. Does your website load quickly?
Around half of all shoppers will abandon a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load, according to a recent study.
3. Are you providing enough information about your products?
To convert e-commerce customers, it’s important to provide plenty of information about your products. That means featuring photos from a variety of angles, as well as including details about product size, fit and materials. Similarly, all e-tailers should clearly provide information about returns, payment options and shipping.
If you don’t get this right, you’ll struggle to convert customers or they will buy from you but return the product – creating a whole new headache in returns.
4. Are you posting on the right social channels?
Consider your audience and where they are most likely to be, says Lomax. Gen Z fashion brands might do well on Instagram or TikTok, while home decor brands might be popular on Pinterest. In addition, Lomax adds that some social platforms are inherently more likely to drive conversions. “Pinterest can convert really well because people are often going on there with an intent to buy something.”
"Pinterest converts really well because people go on there to buy something.”
5. Do you have the right audience for conversions?
When was the last time you checked your audience insights? Having a large social media following is one thing, but if your followers don’t match your target market, they will never convert. Take a women’s bikini brand for example. If the majority of people following the brand on social media are men, who are more interested in the bikini models than the bikinis, it’s unlikely that the conversion rate will ever be high.
The most straightforward way to drive sales among social media followers is to use the plethora of social selling features increasingly being offered by platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. These allow customers to shop straight from your social media page, which reduces friction and potentially improves conversion.
Social selling tools include:
I added bullet points for clarity; please use what you'd like!
Wherever possible, remember to tag or link the products featured in posts, and stay up to date with the social media platforms new social selling features.
Organic reach may be down across many social media platforms, but you may have more traction with Instagram or Facebook Stories, which are only available for 24 hours and therefore have a greater sense of urgency – which is perfect for selling, sales or limited-time offers.
“Stories tend to be seen by more of your followers."
“One of my best hacks is Stories,” says Lomax. “Stories tend to be seen by more of your followers, and user behavior is changing so that they are opening Stories, looking through them, and then scrolling the feed.”
Another strategy to consider is retargeting. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram allow you to retarget advertisements to customers who have interacted with posts or visited your website. These ads can feature the product they have expressed interest in.
(Ever clicked on a product only for an image of that item to follow you around the internet via display ads? That’s retargeting.)
Retargeting can be a successful social selling strategy because you are advertising to followers who have already engaged with your brand and are therefore more likely to purchase.
Tip: Some brands build their entire social selling strategy around retargeting. They reserve their social media feed for fun memes that are aimed at driving high engagement, building brand affinity and keeping their brand top of mind among followers. In comparison, they post very few openly promotional or shoppable posts.
Why? “This [strategy] gives them a massive retargeting audience,” says Lomax, who points out that their engagement remains high as they are never perceived to be “pushing” products on their followers. “They might follow up with retargeted posts to “shop our bestsellers” or advertise that they have a sale on.”
While social selling tools and retargeted ads are effective ways to sell to customers who are already familiar with your brand or may be ready to purchase, this approach won’t work for every follower.
Think of it this way: When people first encounter your brand on social media they might have very little knowledge of your brand, products or ethos. (In other words, they are at the top of the customer acquisition funnel or in the “awareness” or “consideration” phase.)
But, over time, as they consume your content, and come to understand your brand’s point of difference and values, your relationship with your followers will develop. Gradually your followers will change from what’s known as a “cold audience” to a “warm audience” with a deep understanding of the brand.
"It takes time for people to buy into your brand.”
Nurturing this relationship takes time, says Lomax. “You have to treat social media followers almost like a friend. You wouldn’t expect to become best friends in one day. It takes time for people to buy into your brand.”
Be warned: if the price point of your products is high, it may take several months of relationship building before followers are ready to convert.
One way to build a deeper connection with your followers – and move them closer to the point of purchase faster – is to engage with them whenever possible.
“Engaging in comments and DMs with your ideal customer and those who have purchased from you, pinning comments, and replying to them all lets followers know that you care, as well as those who stumble on your account to know that you actually reply,” explains says Carly Smith, digital strategist and founder of Socially Graceful.
Business owner Georgia Love of Georgia Elliot Sleepwear responds to every message, tag and comment. “[It] makes our follower feel engaged in our community, which has led to a trust in our brand and in turn leads to sales,” she says.
Other ways to encourage your followers to engage with your brand – and drive them toward the bottom of the customer acquisition funnel – include featuring polls or Q&As or posting content that requires responses.
One tried-and-tested way to convert on-the-fence followers into customers? Offer discounts or incentives such as access to VIP sales or gift with purchase offers.
Don’t forget to promote Afterpay as a payment option. You can find templates for social media posts incorporating Afterpay stickers and logos here.
Promoting exclusive content such as e-books, whitepapers or gated content (also known as lead magnets) in return for an email address is another way to move social media followers down the funnel and toward a purchase.
“When it comes to socials, I find most businesses are concerned with selling and sharing the items that are for sale, which yes, you should be doing, but you also want to show off the lifestyle that’s possible thanks to your products,” says Carly Smith. “Share the transformation in their life that’s possible with your product.”
“Share the transformation in their life that’s possible with your product.”
Promoting the benefits of your products in this way will help move followers closer to the point of purchase. (Retargeting will move them ever faster.)
Another way to use social media to drive sales is to promote other marketing channels or brand touch points. For example, you might encourage social media followers to listen to your brand’s podcast or subscribe to your newsletter.
The more ways that customers interact with your brand, the more engaged they will become.
“It’s become very clear in the past year that brands don’t own first-party data on social media."
Besides, diversifying your marketing strategy could be smart business. “It’s become very clear in the past year, with all the iOS changes, that brands don’t own [first-party] data [on social media channels]. If you don’t use social media to build your email list, and you get hacked then all that work is gone,” warns Lomax.
If people have opted to follow your brand on social media, chances are they are interested in finding out more about you and your products. In other words, they are in the “consideration phase” of the customer acquisition funnel.
That’s why social media is the perfect opportunity to display “social proof” such as testimonials, user generated content and customer reviews as a way to prove the efficacy and popularity of your products.
Lastly? A large social media following can be a form of social proof in itself, as it demonstrates that a lot of people love your brand, which offers a sense of authority and trust. So, keep posting – but don’t forget to create the strategy to convert your followers!
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