Social media can do so much more than support marketing. Social channels are great ways to listen to, learn from, and build relationships with customers.
They’re not sales channels in and of themselves, however. Rather, social media creates opportunities to move prospects further along the buyer journey toward conversion.
From e-commerce companies to consultancies to financial services providers and every small business in between, social media can help you boost sales.
Here are five tips for achieving that.
Any medium thrives on reliability. Newspapers publish daily, magazines publish monthly, television shows have time slots.
When you publish social media content specifically to connect with customers, having a regular publishing schedule helps in two ways.
This does present a problem for many small business owners: Their own schedules are anything but reliable or predictable.
That’s where automation comes in. Automating social media is straightforward; this just means lining up your next handful of posts and scheduling a publication time for each. Tools like Hootsuite and Buffer are built specifically for this purpose.
In fact, Buffer has an illustrative story on its blog about the diet company Huel, and how Huel’s team uses automation to manage its 10 social media profiles. On each of those 10 channels, Huel’s social team regularly publishes product tips, proprietary nutrition advice, and purely entertaining content to support its overall brand message.
That way, people who are still early in their buying journeys—perhaps those who feel a vague desire to change their eating habits but haven't yet committed to a single method for doing so—have several opportunities to learn about what Huel stands for as they begin to invest their trust in the company.
Customer stories are great ways to qualify prospects. These stories are not as serious in tone as case studies, nor are they as focused on specific outcomes.
Rather, customer stories create opportunities for people to see their own needs and challenges reflected in the experiences of someone else. The Huel example above is a customer story, and it would resonate most soundly with business owners who feel overwhelmed by how much work is required to manage multiple social channels.
Customer stories also let you pass the mic to someone else while they make a sales pitch on your behalf. Their excitement for your business will help you earn the trust of future customers.
The trick to customer stories is to use them sparingly. They should only represent a fraction of what goes into your publishing schedule.
Customer stories don’t have to be complicated. Take Stewart Surfboards in California. Their customer stories are sometimes just action shots of someone riding one of their boards, with a nod to the surfer and the photographer in the image caption.
If an amateur surfer somewhere sees their own aspirations reflected in the photo, then the Stewart Surfboards team has done its job.
For products and services whose buyer journeys are long and complex, it’s sometimes helpful to nudge a prospect back into a sales motion.
That’s what retargeted ads do. We’ve all seen these ads. When you search Google for something like “pet bed” or “coffee maker,” you’ll see ads for those products for the next week in your browser and in your social media feeds.
Retargeting can be more sophisticated than this.
Imagine a real estate agent who maintains a regular blog dedicated to helping local homebuyers. Anyone who visits that blog could be a prospect, so the real estate agent puts a tracking pixel—essentially a cookie—on the blog.
Now, imagine a user who has stopped by that blog on a couple of occasions. It makes sense for the real estate agent to target that user with a more assertive marketing message. The agent places a retargeting ad on Facebook and Instagram with an invitation to schedule a free home-buying consultation, and that proves to be just the nudge that the user needed to take action.
That person just progressed through the agent’s sales funnel, from prospect to marketing-qualified lead.
If you are interested in trying out ad retargeting, Dmitry Dragilev at Content Marketing Institute has a great guide to using them on Facebook. Charlie Lawrance at Social Media Examiner also has a helpful guide to retargeting on Facebook and Instagram.
A social medium is a two-way communication channel.
That’s an easy fact to lose sight of when you’re busy scheduling new posts and tracking retargeted users.
At the same time, the person who is sending you messages on Facebook Messenger or commenting on your Instagram posts could be a warm lead, too, and it pays to keep the conversation going with that person.
A CRM tool can help you keep track of these inbound conversations:
Automating this kind of social media monitoring frees up considerable time and energy, and it gives you a single dashboard through which you can track all of the two-way conversations your social media channels facilitate.
In B2B verticals, where sales motions can be complex and many people are involved in a buying decision, small business owners are wise to invest their time in relationship-building.
This is where LinkedIn shines.
In fact, LinkedIn already has an excellent guide to social selling that emphasizes the importance of simply staying in someone’s orbit once you identify them as a warm lead.
This can be as simple as sharing their updates and their content to your own LinkedIn network, or reaching out with a direct message to share information or content you think would be helpful for them.
Further, you can use LinkedIn to identify and connect with the other decision makers in a potential sale. Connect with the senior people whom your leads report to and, with a light touch, look for ways to be valuable to those people, too. This again can be as simple as sharing their updates.
The golden rules of sales apply to this relationship building. Lead with empathy and passion, listen to each person’s needs, and seek to become a valuable connection in each person’s network.
Then, when it’s time to talk sales, you will have positioned yourself as a trustworthy person, someone whom potential buyers know has their best interests at heart.