Focus on Facebook to Drive Social Success

Every merchant is talking about social media, and there plenty of opinions about how to do it right. We thought it was important to check in with customers to get their thoughts.

As part of a study of nearly 10,000 visitors to the largest U.S. e-commerce sites, ForeSee Results wanted to use the methodology of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) to examine these issues. The ACSI is able to show how different elements of a shopper’s interactions with a company (including on social media) affect their purchase intent, loyalty, and recommendations.

What we found is validation that social media is a viable marketing strategy when we understand what our customers want and know which social media platforms they frequent.

Key findings include:

· 56% of shoppers to top e-retail Websites who interact with social media sites have elected to “friend,” “follow” or “subscribe” to a retailer on a social networking site like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
· Facebook is, by far, the best place to reach shoppers—it’s where customers already are, and it’s also where they want to hear from retailers.
· Customers mainly interact with retailers on social media sites to learn about products and promotions—a marketer’s dream come true.

In terms of pure usage, more than half of all online shoppers frequent Facebook, while one-third of shoppers say they don’t use any social networking sites. One-fifth visit YouTube. Facebook’s dominance is even more apparent when we narrow our focus to shoppers who visit social sites regularly. Among online shoppers who engage in social media, 81% are using Facebook.

Of the 69% of online shoppers who say they use social media sites, more than half (56%) choose to proactively interact with companies on social sites by “friending” or “following” at least one retailer. This is an amazing testament to customer loyalty and interest in social engagement. Shoppers are actually choosing to engage in relationships with retailers on social sites.

But two-thirds (61%) of online shoppers who interact with companies on social media sites “friend” or “follow” fewer than five companies. Retailers must do their part in maintaining these relationships with the kind of content and engagement these customers want and deserve.

On the other hand, there are shoppers out there with numerous retail connections: Nearly one-fifth of social media users interact with 11 or more retailers on social sites.

The payoff to these relationships? The highest levels of satisfaction with retailers’ own sites were found among shoppers who interacted on the largest numbers of social media sites. In fact, site visitors who also interact with a company on a social media site are more satisfied, more committed to the brand, and more likely to make future purchases from that company.

This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg phenomenon. It’s likely that the customers who are more satisfied and loyal to begin with are the ones who will friend merchants on Facebook or subscribe to their YouTube channels.

But research shows that when retailers provide rewarding social media experiences, our customers become even more satisfied and loyal. As retailers, it’s how we interact with them once there that fosters greater loyalty and the likelihood to buy from us in the future.

Many companies employ social media–especially Twitter–as a means of answering their customers’ technical questions. But our study shows that while technical support is one option essential to the medium, far more people use social networking with retailers to learn about sales and product information.

Forty-nine percent of respondents who friend or follow companies through social media do so to learn about special deals and options, and 45% of users do it to learn about products. Only 5% use social media primarily for customer support.

This should be exactly what marketers want to hear: Customers want our information, sales, and specials. We just have to learn how to give it to them effectively.

These findings run somewhat counter to the conventional wisdom that you have to engage users on social media with snappy content and avoid being too salesy. Although snappy content can help to engage consumers, they follow retailers because of brand, deals, and products, not our witty repartee. If we’re smart about our Facebook content, we won’t turn anybody off.

The survey shows you, as an e-tailer, need a Facebook page. Make sure you have someone to monitor it and post good, timely information. Promote it to your most loyal customers through your regular communications venues (e-mails, ads, stores, coupons, etc.). Use your Facebook page to post promotions and product information.

But find out from your customers what they want. Ask what social media sites they frequent. Determine whether they want sales or coupons or technical support or product information. Find out how satisfied they are with your current social media efforts and how likely they are to purchase, return, and recommend your business as a result of your interactions.

There’s a lot about social media and online marketing initiatives that is hard to figure out. But asking customers what they want from you is a great way to begin.

Kevin Ertell is vice president of retail strategy for customer research firm ForeSee Results.