Getting Social with Your Customers

Posted by Chris Heino

June 20, 2011 | 1:43 PM

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Today, leading online retailers are heading the social media trend by continually adding social networking features to their e-Commerce websites.  Consumers now expect to find certain features, such as product review, as part of the online shopping experience.  This, in turn, not only increases sales conversion rates, but it also drives more web traffic to the site via search engine queries; welcome to the era of user-generated content.  Learning how to effectively encourage and leverage the social content on your e-Commerce site will transform simple interactions into an effective marketing tool that will provide a great insight as to the thought processes of your customers.  According to facebook.com, there are over 500 million users; it might make sense to either place ads on or create a facebook page.  In the book “What Would Google Do?”, author Jeff Jarvis discusses how incredibly successful organizations such as Google and Dell have taken advantage of social media by utilizing it to be interactive with their consumers.  Many retailers feature a “Like” button for their facebook or Twitter pages which allows for a modern “word of mouth” advertising campaign.  In this way, your consumers become your marketing specialists, sharing their opinions not simply with a circle of friends but with millions of people all over the world.  In making sites more social, retailers face technical challenges such as search engine optimization, maintaining site performance, integrating social content posted by users and updating back office systems to handle this new influx of consumer information.

A great way to get a foot in the door in the realm of social commerce would be to add a product review section to your site; most retailers utilize the expertise of services such as Bazaarvoice which allows you to focus on your core business.  In addition, e-Commerce platforms such as IBM WebSphere Commerce and Magento now have social commerce features.  For example, IBM’s WebSphere Commerce version 7 feature pack 2 offers out of the box integration with Bazaarvoice, Facebook and Twitter.  IBM even allows you to target marketing promotions or discounts to customers based on their social commerce activity on your site; for example, how many product reviews they have written or if they have shared a product on Facebook.  Magento offers an out of the box product review capability and integration with Bazaarvoice using available plugins or modules.

Once you’ve acquired consumer information, what do you do with it?  The use of reporting tools and web analytics can help you understand more about your customer demographics, which will allow you to create better marketing and advertising campaigns.  This can be done either through your personnel physically reading the reviews, or through automated reporting tools.  This idea isn’t new, but new technologies, both commercial and free open source software, are making these capabilities readily available to everyone.  In the book "Collective Intelligence in Action", author Santnam Alag discusses using technologies such as search (Lucene and Solr) and data mining to understand social content, or, the "wisdom of the crowd".

Retailers today should make it simple for consumers to post comments on their sites and give them multiple ways to do it which will, in turn, drive traffic and sales.  At the end of the day, it's all about improving the products and services you provide to your customers; being a fly on the wall of their online conversations allows you to do so, per their comments and suggestions.

Topics: eCommerce

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