Connecting and Selling to Your Followers

Years ago, commercial social media accounts were simply something you’d follow—a way to keep informed about the developments at your favorite clothing companies or breweries, to hear about sales and releases, or to simply view amusing content. You might comment on a post here and there. At worst, and at your most ornery, you might tweet at the airline who lost your luggage, hoping to be connected to some priority customer service representative, lest they let your thunderous, midnight fulminations make too much of a scene for their prim and professional page to bear. But by and large, for most of the previous decade, a brand’s social media account was a one-way street: they posted, and you read their posts. That brands have since become much more accessible, functional, and more interactive is one of the most significant social media changes businesses have yet experienced online.


Social media platforms have encouraged this shift in a handful of ways. Facebook has fostered far greater interaction between businesses and their customers, rendering the platform a kind of extension of a business’s customer service operations. Now, over Messenger, restaurants are receiving requests for reservations, while retailers field complaints and queries, all from the same page where their followers come to view the business’s hours, address, and latest updates. Meanwhile, just this year platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest, have incorporated further ecommerce capacities within their own websites, nudging users toward products, and enabling customers to make purchases right then and there. All of these trends point to a greater integration within the very platforms businesses once saw primarily as a means to generate publicity and awareness. Before, customers had to search for, visit, then navigate through a retailer’s site to buy goods they saw on Facebook or Pinterest, or uncover a company’s customer service email to talk another human being. Much of this is beginning to change, making the world of social media all the more exciting and profitable for businesses.

Pinterest, best known as an aesthetically focused photo-sharing website, debuted its Catalogs function last year, allowing businesses to list product images and descriptions on the site. And more recently, in March 2020, Pinterest unveiled its Verified Merchant Program, bringing companies in closer proximity to the platform’s throngs of users, searching for the next item to bring into their home. (The site provides instructions to join here.) Purchases still happen on merchants’ sites, but with Pinterest’s conspicuous Shop button, as well as its search and recommendation functions, getting a customer from exposure to a product to point of sale has become more seamless (and perhaps impulsive) than ever before. And of course, Pinterest provides sellers with analytics and ad retargeting, allowing businesses to better understand and build on their success.

Admittedly, Pinterest’s evolution leaves most B2C companies behind, by favoring sellers of décor, apparel, tools, house plants, and similar goods that harmonize with Pinterest's focus on beauty and craftiness. But what’s happening at the site is likely emblematic of where much of social media is going, if for no other reason than that it has made merchants, and Pinterest, a lot of money. This summer, Pinterest reported a 50% jump in year-over-year revenue, through its embrace of frictionless ecommerce, and saw a 350% spike in product listings. Critically, product search has long been the territory of a big-money battle between Google and Amazon, and well-crafted shopping functions on a specialized social media site like Pinterest can be a great, novel way for businesses of all sizes to break past dusty algorithms and get noticed amid a maelstrom of competitors.

Similarly, this spring, Facebook and Instagram announced Shops, enabling purchases on the very same apps customers visit to check a store’s hours, or find updates about online retailer’s new products. Businesses on Shops no longer need to buy ads to “reduce friction in the path to purchase,” as Instagram boasts. Any business, of any size, can set up a presence on Shops for free, uploading their inventory catalog, allowing users to browse, save, and buy products. Sellers have the option of sending browsers to their site to purchase with the click of a button, or they can allow customers to check out right on Facebook or Instagram itself. Should Shops catch on, which, considering the usership of the platforms, seems likely (Instagram says 130 million people click a shoppable tag each month), this could be a significant opportunity for companies to gain sales and traction. On top of everything, Facebook aspires to securely store its users’ payment information, rendering shopping online all the more frictionless. And, you may be pleased to learn, that through the end of 2020, Facebook has pledged not to collect fees on sales made through its Shops shortcut.

The biggest social media sites intend to make commercial pages all the more like commercial websites themselves. Facebook, for instance, aims to integrate customer loyalty programs. The site has made an even more significant push to make businesses more communicative on the app and site. You may have noticed, if you visited a business’s Facebook page within the past year, that a Messenger box opens automatically. That’s because Facebook has lately fashioned itself as a customer service nexus for companies on its platform. Facebook indicates to users, in a sidebar, just how prompt and responsive a given company page is to requests, complaints, and inquiries delivered through its Messenger app. Of course, chat requests imply a quicker response time than traditional customer contact over email, and keeping up with all that correspondence can be difficult. One investment many companies find worthwhile is in the creation of chatbots, and some services such as Mobile Monkey and Chatfuel help you create them without code, and for free. And data has shown a robust, friendly presence on Messenger translates to high customer trust and loyalty.

So many of these ecommerce developments are less than a year old, and provide an exciting, promising opportunity for your business to build relationships and sell to customers it might not have had otherwise. That sounds like a trend worth paying attention to.

Matt is a writer, researcher, and excavator of generally good and useful things. He lives in New York City.

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