In the early days of Friendster and MySpace, social media was commonly seen as just a way to connect with friends and family, post pictures, and gab with online acquaintances. Over the last several years however, social media has grown to encompass online and mobile commerce opportunities that are changing the way consumers spend their money. From Facebook to Twitter, organizations everywhere are seeing a real opportunity to connect with customers on social networks and drive sales in ways not possible even ten years ago. Below are some of the more noteworthy examples and developments.
The last two years have witnessed an explosion in Twitter usage, with site activity growing over 1382% in 2009 according to Mashable.com. With a growing number of users constantly connected via their phones, laptops, and desktops, it was only a matter of time before businesses began to see the potential value in reaching out through the platform. In 2009, companies truly began harnessing Twitter’s capability to drive sales by tweeting sales dates, coupons and exclusive event information to their followers. Sales and Marketing Technologies USA commented on the trend, saying, “with the estimated 6 million users, businesses are finding that there are true opportunities to connect with customers and drive sales from their Twitter accounts.”
In fact, Twitter businesses have become so popular that there is a new website made specifically for browsing (and establishing) business Twitter accounts. Twibs.com is a site that allows Twitter users to browse the over 22,600 businesses on Twitter. Additionally, Twibs provides quick and easy access to every business promotions (such as sales and coupons) currently being tweeted. Among the most popular businesses on Twitter are Sony Pictures, Microsoft XBOX, JetBlue, Time, and CNN.
Since many Twitter users also access their accounts via mobile devices, businesses can now blast out coupons and product updates directly to followers, no matter where they happen to be. Increasingly, many shoppers are finding Twitter to be a useful way to not only stay on top of the hottest trends, but to also find deals while on the go.
In May 2007, Facebook forever changed the way people bought and sold used items by introducing the Facebook Marketplace. With an enthusiastic blog post proclaiming that, “The Marketplace is open for businesses,” Facebook announced that users could now buy and sell anything and everything they wanted through the new feature. Jared Morgenstern, a project manager at Facebook, wrote that, “[Users] can use Marketplace to list what you have and what you want within your group of friends, networks, or other networks.”
Essentially, the service is an online thrift shop with references. Soon after the announcement, Facebook users began listing things they no longer needed to those in their networks. Instead of heading to the anonymous classified ads or seedy secondhand shop on the other side of town, users could now communicate directly with sellers and conduct transactions from their personal account.
In 2009, Facebook’s Marketplace was taken over by Oodle, an independent classified ad service that pulls together classified results from all over the Internet for thousands of used items. The Oodle partnership promised a smoother listing service, more product categories, and a host of new functionality. Among the new features was a “charity donation” option that allowed social media sellers to donate their sales money directly to global and local charities such as Unicef and The Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco. The power of social media was being harnessed to not only make a profit, but to do good while doing so.
In addition to listing products for sale, Facebook has also become a great way for small businesses to spread the word about local promotions to any customers (or fans) in the area. This strategy has been employed mostly by bars, nightclubs, and restaurants who hold weekly special events to which they want to draw the public. In fact, the typical business promoting itself on Facebook is a small company with few employees and just a local Internet presence. In a late 2009 study, Internet2Go, analyst Greg Sterling found that “45 percent of 2,400 [surveyed businesses] with fewer than 100 employees said they use Facebook and Twitter to promote their businesses.” The vast majority of the businesses selling on Facebook are indeed extremely small operations, with 80% having four or fewer employees. Since Facebook is primarily a social tool used to connect people in the same area to one another, it makes perfect sense that small local businesses use it for promotion. With an enthusiastic status update about an upcoming sales event, discount offers sent exclusively to fans, or the posting of a live band performance, these businesses have the power to pull in hundreds of sales, at no additional marketing cost.
The event creator is another Facebook feature that businesses frequently use to drive sales and clientele. By creating an event for a certain occasion, such as “Happy Hour at the Clam Bar & Grill,” businesses can send invitations to everyone who is a fan or a friend with their page. These fans then have the option to accept or decline the invitation, giving small businesses the power to control costs and prepare for the event by anticipating attendance and interest.
Blogs are a strategic way that businesses can build brand loyalty and drive sales. Though more time-intensive than a simple status update, blogs allow a business to be a trustworthy authority on a particular topic. One of the most frequently used blogging strategies is offering readers a great deal of useful and free information on any given topic and then trying to sell them add-on materials, such as instructional DVDs or heavily detailed e-books, on the subject at-hand. Using this strategy, the salesman has a chance to prove his value to the customer before asking him or her to purchase an additional product. Gone are the days where a shopper needs to rely on only a few terse sentences printed on the back of a packaging box before making a purchase decision. By consulting informational blogs, shoppers now have the power to gauge the usefulness of the seller’s product before paying for it in full.
Blogs also offer a second distinct benefit to consumers in that they are a great way to find coupon codes for online shopping discounts. Many companies offer promotions on products and services for which shoppers must enter a discount code and there are now several popular blogs that exist solely to post these codes for interested shoppers. RetailMeNot.com is one such blog and it contains perhaps the most complete collection of online coupon codes on the Internet. Often, simply searching for “Brand X coupon code,” will pull up several blogs offering the shopper a code for that product. In a way, blogs are making coupon clipping a thing of the past while helping shoppers save money in the process.
Foursquare is a new location-based social media application being used by businesses in 45 US cities. Named one of Social Media Examiner’s “Top five social media sites to watch in 2010,” Foursquare now receives over one million check-ins per week. More than 800 businesses are already offering incentives to users on Foursquare, such as discounts on products, or even free services, for repeated check-ins at their establishment. It seems that being social can now save you money and give you access to special treatment from some of your favorite establishments.
Also named a top five site to watch by Social Media Examiner is Blippy, an innovative platform that allows users to post what they spend their money on as they’re actually spending it. Social Media Examiner predicts that, as more people and businesses and sign up for the service, it will become “very valuable to retailers looking at general purchasing trends.” It is likely that businesses will not only begin mining Blippy for information about what consumers bought, but also for comments about why they purchased what they did as opposed to another comparable product. Such information has the power to change an organization’s entire marketing angle and help it better target the shoppers in their area and across the Internet.
As web technology continues to grow and more people plug into social media portals, businesses will continue to find new and creative ways to drive sales in the burgeoning online and offline marketplaces. Fans of both shopping and the social media world can look forward to many more innovations as the two continue to intertwine over the next several years.
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