Reaching the shopper today is not just about engagement through conversation, but it is about how a consumer is visually stimulated when engaging with a brand on social media that could eventually lead them down the path to purchase.
There are a few social media platforms that embrace the visual experience and retailers are taking full advantage of that. While Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are all visual platforms, each provides the consumer with a different user experience. The platforms each engage the shopper through beautiful imagery, short videos and conversation.
Pinterest has set out to inspire a user with visual images and video and retailers with visual friendly products are taking full advantage of this.
Rob Reed, founder of location-based market platform MomentFeed, said Pinterest is a platform built specifically for retailers with a massive skew toward women. Retailers should be optimizing accordingly.
Ryan Bonifacino, vice president of digital strategy for jewelry retailer Alex and Ani, said while social media platforms like Twitter are for engagement, people go to Pinterest to be inspired.
Richard Sexton, president of furniture company Carolina Rustica, said when he looks at where referrals and traffic are coming from, it’s most often driven by Pinterest. Facebook comes in second for the brand, he said.
Two-fifths of respondents to the MCM Outlook 2014 said they plan to use Pinterest for prospecting in addition to their own house file over the next 12 months. Pinterest however, fell behind Facebook (68%) and Twitter (42.7%). In 2013, 36.3% of respondents said they use Pinterest for prospecting.
Scott Cohn, vice-president of ecommerce for Chinese Laundry, said Pinterest is the social media platform the company chooses because it is very visual and the company gets the best balance of engagement and driving revenue.
Merchants need to be up and running on Pinterest, especially if the possibilities of Pinterest when and if the “buy button” is added.
The image-heavy social platform Instagram offers retailers a chance to engage with consumers in a picture-by-picture conversation. Whether it is a product image or an inspirational one, Instagram creates brand loyalty.
Reed said Instagram is more about communicating a specific side – the most authentic side of the brand to a younger, mobile-first audience.
“[Instagram] is not about driving sales – not yet,” said Reed. “It’s more about customer engagement and brand building.”
Bonifacino said if he had to choose the social media platform that delivered the most business impact, he would choose Instagram given its growth and engagement metrics.
While most of the Alex and Ani audience is hooked into Instagram, Bonifacino said he also sees a most of the audience on Facebook and Twitter. Instagram to him, though, is all about organic regenerated content.
Bonifacino said the content Alex and Ani is sourcing and distributing comes from the fans themselves on Instagram.
Reed said the most effective social media channels vary based on brand and objective. To him, Pinterest is aspirational while Instagram is much more of a brand-building channel.
Rebecca Lieb, an industry analyst for The Altimeter Group, said Instagram works well primarily for very visually oriented retailers and brands, such as those selling fashion and jewelry.
“This isn’t just about beautiful products, but quality images as well,” said Lieb.
Reed said retailers should be building and executing a comprehensive Instagram strategy, because he sees it as the next great social platform.
“It has the growth, scale, and audience that will one day be vital to all retail brands,” he said. “Those that start early and build an audience will be the winners over the next five years.”
Since Facebook is such a visual social platform that for brands to sell to consumers they engage with there is a no-brainer. As the place where many if not all retailers want to be, Facebook enables a constant conversation between fans and brands.
Cohn said Facebook keeps the brand conversation going and is very close to Pinterest in terms of how it drives revenue. When it comes to social media advertising, it’s his number one choice.
“Facebook gives us insight to who our customers and fans are,” said Cohn.
Reed said Facebook is nothing if not an audience machine. Brands can target campaigns at the micro level to a specific audience and geography with very precise calls to action such as visiting a store or making a mobile purchase.
“Facebook should be an always-on strategy from a paid social perspective,” said Reed.
According to the MCM Outlook 2014, Facebook is the social media platform that retailers are most active on (91.9%) while 50.3% said they use Pinterest. YouTube was used by 48.6% respondents, followed by Instagram at 25.4%.
Reed said retailers should be taking advantage of everything Facebook has to offer, especially localization around their retail locations to drive both in-store and online sales.
Amitai Sasson, vice-president of marketing and development for overstockArt.com said Facebook has the most interactions and is the top social media site for customer acquisition.
“Facebook has shifted from being a place to ‘come together’ as a tribe and has joined Twitter in the sense that it has become a place for people to check up on what’s going on with the people around them,” said Sasson.
Sasson said while not all social media channels are important, Facebook and Pinterest are the most critical for his brand.