Monetizing Social: Four Lessons from the Facebook Front Lines

I've worked in the social media field since 2006 when I co-founded a social marketing company. It wasn't really called "social" at the time, but the widgets and feeds of Web 2.0 turned into the streams, tabs and apps of today's social environment. As Web 2.0 evolved, marketers' approach to connecting with consumers in digital and social evolved, too.

Today the evolution of social marketing continues, and is being driven by brands' need to derive meaningful business value from their social customers, presence, and marketing efforts. To paraphrase what I hear from most CMOs talking about their social programs: "I've got a team that spends all day posting, tweeting, and pinning. Where's the return?"

To help you address that very question, following are four lessons I've learned from being on the front lines of Facebook marketing — and increasingly other social networks — working with leading brands and retailers to help them monetize their social investments.

1. Social activation
Over the past several years you've amassed an amazing audience of fans and followers to your social properties. That's great! However, while having an audience is important, it's less important than how many of those social customers are actively:
  • Engaging with your content and exploring your products.
  • Amplifying your messages and marketing via sharing and participation.
  • Converting to purchase online or in-store, and generating real revenue.
The key theme here is social activation. To be clear, this isn't a new idea. However, with recent changes in both the technology landscape and social customers' engagement with rich product content, the activation opportunity has arrived. To capitalize on it:

2. Create consumer value add
Smart social strategists are setting aside noisy quizzes and are instead creating experiences that invite customers to explore and participate with their products and content in an authentic way. For example, take a look at the multi-channel social campaign Hugo Boss put together for Fashion Week in Berlin. It spans Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest with content about not just the brand, but its products, models, and music.

Another example is Gucci's recent "Cut and Craft" campaign in which Facebook fans could craft their own Gucci handbag. The Facebook app married product descriptions, videos, rich images, and a link to purchase. These are two great examples of the wave of the future for engaging consumers: Create value through a wide variety of content, experiences, and even apps that help cement the consumer connection with your brand and products. While many marketers focus on content to drive value, I have begun advocating the use of social product experiences as an effective mechanism to add value and drive consumer engagement.

3. Social product experiences
Vital for retailers whose business success depends on product success, social product experiences activate your social audience through a value-added consumer-focused experience. As the industry learned with search marketing, customers need a "transitional" experience between the ad (in the case of social, a post) and purchase. Social product experiences serve this transitional role by allowing social consumers to:
  • Engage with products in a format that conforms to the customer's context. For example, I recommend that they are created as Timeline apps within Facebook, Web apps, or as mobile websites.
  • Explore products through rich and immersive imagery and descriptive product information, and reviews.
  • Amplify your message with easy sharing and an integrated view into customer's social graph to understand influence.
  • Make a purchase decision with exclusive access to products, offers and rewards, supported with trusted purchase options.
When product experiences become this rich and integrated, and are focused on consumer benefits (not just product features), marketers gain advantages throughout the marketing cycle, helping to monetize social investments. Social product experiences are important tools in transitioning consumers from one step to the next in the social path to purchase.

4. Social path to purchase
One thing we've learned in social media marketing as we've begun to transition from audience gathering to social ROI is that there is a gulf between product discovery and purchase in social. That is where the social path to purchase comes in. Every social product experience should be designed to elicit a small number of key, valuable actions for your brand. This could be as simple as capturing an email address or generating a post, or it might even include a loyalty program sign-up or purchase.

Defining a path to purchase through a clearly defined customer journey — that has value to the customer and to the business — is an important starting point. Driving consumers through a social product experience, you can capture behavioral and demographic insights and often the coveted opt-in to future communications. In addition, by integrating posting, experiences and purchase, apparel marketers can close the loop on social-driven commerce and better understand and activate their most influential fans.

And, no social lesson would be complete without a quick note about Mobile. Too often, retail experience designers start with a desktop experience and try to squeeze it into a phone display at the last minute. If the goal is to have customers discover your products within their social network, research tells us the odds are high it will be on a mobile device. Make sure to think small to start, using responsive designs that can flex up or down according to screen size.

Apparel marketers are doing a notable job growing their fan bases and expiramenting with new social marketing approaches. However, the need remains to drive sustained returns across seasonal and brand calendars in repeatable and cost-effective ways. Combining these four social media lessons will allow apparel brands to lead the way in monetizing social investments, turning Facebook fans into lifetime value.

Kevin Tate is CMO of ShopIgniter, a Portland, OR company that powers social retail experiences for innovative brands.
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