Looking to up your digital game? Follow this deep dive into using social media to your advantage to build relationships with consumers
As a mattress retailer, you probably have a social media presence — a Facebook page where you share sleep tips and promote upcoming sales, maybe even a TikTok account where your delivery team and retail sales associates have dance-offs.
But do you have a social selling strategy? Are you sure what a social selling strategy is? If not, don’t feel bad. Terms describing social media tactics pop up as fast as new social media platforms themselves.
Social selling isn’t the same as social media marketing (which is what these previous examples represent) and it’s not the same as social media advertising (which includes paid advertising on social platforms).
We like this definition from Christina Newberry and Karin Olafson: “Social selling is the practice of using a brand’s social media channels to connect with prospects, develop a connection with them and engage with potential leads. … Think of social selling as modern relationship building,” they write in a May 26 blog for Hootsuite, a social media management platform with offices worldwide.
Social media marketing and social media advertising are directed toward a broad audience of consumers. Social selling is more personal, building one-on-one relationships, says Kasey Fleisher Hickey in a blog for EveryoneSocial, a Salt Lake City-based company that offers an employee connection and advocacy platform.
And “now is the perfect time to prioritize social selling,” because “networking and relationship building have shifted online due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” according to Newberry and Olafson.
“Social selling creates opportunities to connect with new potential customers on social media, where they’re already active and engaging in conversations,” they say. “Using social listening tools allows (you) to go a step further and identify leads who are already talking about your business, your competitors or your industry.”
One reason that social selling can be effective is that consumers use social media specifically to connect with others. “Consumers don’t want to be advertised to on social media. They want to be engaged on social, like they are with their friends and families. For them, it’s primarily a communications and information platform,” writes marketing specialist and author Pamela N. Danziger in a May 23 article for Forbes.
When done well, social selling can help you improve a number of marketing metrics that can, in turn, boost your overall business, Fleisher Hickey says. These include:
O Referral traffic: Social selling can increase the number of visitors who find your website through social media posts.
O Direct traffic: A good social selling strategy also can boost the number of people who go directly to your website by typing your web address into their browser.
O Net promoter score: “This metric measures loyalty between brands and their customers,” she says. “(It’s) based on the direct question: ‘How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?’ ” A good social selling strategy can strengthen your score.
O Exposure to new audiences: This can help drive overall growth for your company.
So, we know what social selling is and some ways it can help to drive your business. Let’s look at how you can do it most effectively.
O Choose your platforms. Social selling can be successful on any social platform, but concentrating on one or two, especially to begin, will allow you to hone your tactics and determine what works best for your business. Newberry and Olafson recommend starting with Twitter and Instagram. “They offer tools for responding to customer queries, and they’re casual virtual spaces where communication comes naturally,” they say. “Simply speaking, they’re great for building relationships.” For bedding retailers, Facebook is good, too.
O Assemble the team. Social selling efforts typically are led by the sales team — sales managers and RSAs — who are closest to valued shoppers and prospective customers. But your technology team can provide infrastructure and tracking tools, and your marketing team can help create content and measure performance metrics, Fleisher Hickey says.
Especially as your RSAs and sales managers get started building personal relationships via social media, your marketing team may need to assist “by prepping an ongoing stream of credible, quality articles, topics and relevant/timely announcements that your associates can then draw from and utilize as needed,” notes an article from Salesfloor, a provider of a mobile clientele and point-of-sale platform with U.S. offices in New York.
O Motivate your social sellers. As the core of your social selling effort, your sales team needs to be motivated and excited about their role as social influencers, the Salesfloor article says. “While it’s true that some may be hesitant to blur their public and private social media personas, help them understand how a social selling program might build their professional identities and increase their visibility as leaders,” according to Salesfloor. If your RSAs earn commissions, be sure to reward them monetarily for items customers purchase through their social posts.
Social selling can be used to reach consumers in all demographics but is especially helpful in connecting with younger consumers. Danziger points to a Sprout Social survey that shows 58% of consumers “actually prefer to interact with a brand on social instead of going into their stores.”
“That so many consumers view the social media experience as more engaging than visiting the store is a surprising finding about the typical in-store customer experience,” Danziger says. “Nonetheless, consumers feel more in control of their experiences on social than in the highly variable in-store environment.”
Here are some specific ways to forge relationships via social media:
O Be valuable. As with all social media messaging, it’s best not to “get too salesy” when trying to build relationships with potential and current customers, Newberry and Olafson say. “One way to build your brand on social media for social selling is by sharing interesting, valuable and shareable content,” they say. “Basically, (you want to) show your prospects that you’re not just out to get something. You’re there to give something, too.” Encourage your sales team to “share a mix of branded and nonbranded content so that they become perceived as expert curators,” Fleisher Hickey suggests.
O Be authentic. Avoid sending rote or standard messages to multiple prospective customers. Sure, there are time-saving automated tools that can help you do this, but your comments won’t feel genuine to your social media followers, Newberry and Olafson say. Personalize your conversations as much as you can. When starting a social conversation, a quick look at someone’s Twitter or Facebook bio may tell you a bit about them. As you forge a relationship, look for ways to make real connections and have meaningful conversations. “In other words,” they say, “be yourself.”
Such relationships will pay off — literally, Danziger says. “Nearly 80% of the consumers surveyed (say) if they have a positive experience with a brand on social, they are likely to buy from the brand eventually,” she notes.
O Be direct. “Direct messaging on social is usually very underexploited by retailers. Yet DMs — on Facebook, for instance — are invaluably convenient for sharing info about upcoming events or doling out discount codes to new or loyal customers,” the Salesfloor article says. “Fans of your brand and customers-to-be will feel more appreciated with individual attention, and this can additionally help your associates glean more useful customer data.”
O Keep listening. Social selling is about having conversations and building relationships, both of which require listening. Listening means paying attention during interactions you have with people online but, more broadly, it also means tracking “what people are saying about you, your company, your industry and your competitors,” Newberry and Olafson say. “Watch for pain points and requests, both of which provide natural opportunities for you to provide solutions.”
As Danziger says, “The most successful companies on social media are turning the tables and using it not just to push marketing messages out, but to listen to what consumers are saying and adapting messages accordingly.”
O Don’t give up. Unlike creating an ad campaign, social selling isn’t a one-and-done process, like running a new ad campaign, and if you expect quick results, you may be disappointed. “If your relationship building efforts don’t yield immediate results, don’t give up.” Newberry and Olafson say. “Some contacts may not be ready to purchase whatever you’re offering quite yet — keep in touch.”
Over time, you can learn from the process, Fleisher Hickey says. “Social selling is a never-ending experiment. With every message that you publish on social media, you create a new opportunity to test out content and discussion points. What’s resonating? What isn’t capturing your audience’s attention spans, and why?” she says. “Over time, your social selling strategy will help you answer these questions. And once you do, you’ll have tested and data-driven perspectives to inform your sales strategy moving forward. The end result will be higher close rates and stronger long-term relationships.”
Building Relationships Before They Buy
Better Sleep Council research about the mattress buying journey shows that consumers who are happiest with their new bedding — and who get the best night’s sleep on it — conduct significant product research before buying.
As they visit websites, read reviews and ask questions via social media, mattress retailers have plenty of opportunities to connect with consumers and build relationships.
In fact, the BSC research shows that satisfied shoppers collect information on everything from construction methods and bedding components to warranties — and they gather that information from multiple sources, including visiting brick-and-mortar stores and websites.
“We have clear evidence that how people shop can affect how they sleep, and that taking the time to do the research and visit retailers will increase the likelihood they will be happy with their mattress purchase,” said Mary Helen Rogers, vice president for marketing and communications for the International Sleep Products Association, when the research was released in 2020. The BSC is ISPA’s consumer education arm.
By implementing an effective social selling program, you can reach buyers early in their shopping process — perhaps even before they start shopping actively. As you build relationships with prospective customers, you can become a trusted source of reliable information. And when it’s time for them to buy, you have a better chance of getting the sale.
Social Selling, Literally
Consumers long have been able to pur-chase products via social media. Well, they’ve been able to do it for about 15 years — that’s an eternity on the social media timeline.
But now social platforms are making it easier, and shoppers, led by Gen Z, are increasingly comfortable buying this way.
An eMarketer report estimates U.S. consumers will spend $36 billion buying products via social platforms this year, notes Thibaud Clément in a March 31 article for TotalRetail. Other trends contributing to the shift in buying habits: People are spending more time on social media overall and are more adept at using e-commerce, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Instagram continues to be the gold standard for shoppable posts, mainly due to its visual nature,” Clément says, adding that “the past few years have seen the emergence of ‘Instagram brands’ that exist entirely on that platform.”
But Facebook, Pinterest and even YouTube offer tools mattress retailers can use to make it easy for consumers to buy their products through those platforms.
“Of course, as the popularity of TikTok keeps rising, many brands are closely watching how that platform will evolve in 2021,” Clément says. “After testing shoppable videos in 2019, the short-form video app rolled out shoppable ads last year. It continues to add shopping features and is now moving ahead with ones that allow brands to upload catalogs and livestream shopping, enabling advertisers to link to e-commerce pages during live takes.”
Social Selling, In Short
O It is personal: Think one-on-one vs. one-to-many.
O It’s about building trusting and long-term relationships, not making the sale.
O It leverages the tools, technologies and people in your company to deliver value to your customers.
Source: Kasey Fleisher Hickey, EveryoneSocial
Mattress retailing veteran Craig McAndrews, now an executive professor in the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, wrote about social selling in the November/December 2020 issue of Sleep Savvy. Read his take here.
Julie A. Palm is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has 25 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines and as a director of publications. She is a past editor in chief of both Sleep Savvy and BedTimes magazines. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.