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Ecommerce: Social Media

As Facebook prepares to cut back on unpaid adverts in its users’ feeds from January, we talk to retailers, brands and consultants about the possible impact of the change.

Chris Howard
Head of digital, Shop Direct

What impact will this move by Facebook have on retailers big and small?
First, retailers who currently use Facebook primarily to advertise products or run competitions for fan acquisition will need to change their approach, instead focusing on educating, entertaining and engaging their followers. Second, with less organic news-feed space devoted to products, and Facebook confirming there will be no increase in ads showing within the news feed, advertisers are almost certain to see cost inflation as a result of increased competition for Facebook ad inventory. We were already planning to increase our Facebook ad spend in 2015 off the back of the performance we’ve seen this year. We’ll adjust our spend on Facebook based on the impact the changes have on the return on investment of our activity - the cost inflation may lead to a further increase in spend in the short term, but if it reduces the efficiency of the channel, it could lead to a reduction in spend with budgets being moved into more cost-effective channels.

Is social media a proven platform for retailers to push direct sales or is it for raising brand awarenessWe are finding Facebook to be an effective channel for driving sales as well as raising brand awareness. Over the past six months the ROI we have seen from Facebook advertising for Very has been comparable to established direct response digital advertising channels, such as paid search and display retargeting. We’ve also seen it become an increasingly cost-effective avenue for new customer acquisition.

Which are the most effective platforms for your businesses?
Outside Facebook, YouTube has been a major success in terms of driving brand awareness and brand engagement for Very. YouTube advertising has also proved to be an effective channel for driving sales. We have seen fantastic results from ‘video retargeting’ on YouTube, which integrates recommended products based on a customer’s previous shopping behaviour into a video of our TV ads.

Are there any newer channels retailers should investigate?
As newer social media platforms such as Vine continue to grow, we will see retailers start to work out how best to use them in the way they have with the likes of Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest over the last 18 months. I’d expect to see social advertising develop beyond the predominance of Facebook and YouTube in 2015, with Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest continuing to develop their ad platforms to support the needs of advertisers.

Maria O’Flynn
Head of online marketing, House of Fraser

What will be the impact of this move by Facebook?
It will be minimal for us. We have been well aware for some time that promotional posts have little chance of being seen by our audience - our fans’ news feeds are busy and crowded by their own friend activity. Facing this, we are careful to ensure our posts add entertainment or true utility, and serve an actual purpose. Yes, we will have to pay to message our own fans, but this has been the case for some time. It will breed a higher-quality contribution from retailers. Long term this will protect Facebook as a means of communication among willing, consenting parties.

What are the most effective means of advertising on social media?
Obviously this medium enables creativity beyond any other - brilliant content marketing is the cornerstone of effective campaigns. Our current Cinders campaign [a video-led campaign asking fans to nominate a put-upon friend to win a luxury weekend in London] combines storytelling by us and our audience (with hundreds of shared stories), fashion advice and a competition, all wrapped around a three-minute gift to our audience. Of course, when creativity isn’t so readily available, the beauty of social platforms is the wealth of profile data available, greater than any other media buying opportunity in history.

So why do so many brands not avail themselves of this opportunity?
Any high-performing organic content is considered for boosting with paid-for media to increase its reach on an ongoing basis.

How do you use social media to promote your ecommerce business?
We want to share the personality and core identity of our brand using the language of social media. So conversations, not transactions. The huge success of our Fearless Friday campaign [encouraging fans to wear the more adventurous items in their wardrobes], which celebrates individuality and fun through video,competitions, user-generated content and styling advice, accompanied by a fashion edit, allows us to signpost our ecommerce business if the customer so wishes.

Rink Bindra
Head of ecommerce, three-store independent footwear retailer Tower London

What do you think the impact of this move by Facebook will be?
The move is definitely going to skew Facebook penetration towards those businesses that allocate a larger budget to social media advertising. Big businesses will have the capability to compete more aggressively due to the budget constraints of smaller and independent retailers, coupled with the lack of direct sell-through from social media activities in general.

Is social media a proven platform for retailers to push direct ecommerce sales or is it more for raising brand awareness?
From our experience at Tower London, social media is more beneficial for raising brand awareness than direct sales. As an independent, we focus on word-of-mouth and platforms like Facebook and Twitter to push our name out there. We also utilise social media as a further arm of customer service. [Customers] regularly use Facebook to check queries before purchasing a product, to view new seasonal product and keep up with trends, competitions and giveaways.

What are the most effective means of advertising on social media?
Facebook, as historically you could reach tens of thousands of people with a fairly small budget. This is something we have focused on this year and will continue to develop further into 2015. Instagram is best for anything behind the scenes or visual and attracts our lifestyle-focused customers. Twitter is best for reaching the largest audiences the quickest due to its immediacy, and is great for making announcements on competition winners and new product launches.

Jürgen Derycke
Digital marketing manager, accessories brand Kipling

What do you think the impact of this move by Facebook will be for brands?
Before, everyone was in Facebook because ‘you had to be there’. But now you have to invest money to see great results brands will ask themselves if Facebook is the right platform for them.

What are the most effective means of advertising on social media?
For us, Facebook is king when it comes to advertising. The targeting possibilities, the different advertising options and the support from the platform are great. We believe in the promoted posts to increase brand awareness and engage with new fans. And, for sales, the product-focus campaigns with strong call to actions are very good. Twitter also has great advertising options, like promoted trends to raise brand awareness or promoted tweets, which for us are better to drive sales. We are looking forward to trying the Instagram ads, which will definitely bring new opportunities. On Pinterest there are great options to drive sales, although it is not exactly advertising. We will be testing its Rich Pins feature [pins that provide extra details] very soon.

How do you use social media to promote your ecommerce business?
We drive our social media presence via in-store promotions. Our new openings in Manchester and Birmingham are currently hosting a fun photographic social media campaign, which will in turn drive traffic to our website. You have to ‘seduce’ your consumers, know them and show that you care about them.

James Abbott
Digital marketing and ecommerce optimisation manager, A Hume Country Clothing in Kelso, Scottish Borders

Is social media a proven platform for retailers to push direct ecommerce sales or is it more for raising brand awareness?
From our experience, social media is not yet a proven platform to push direct ecommerce sales. Our concern is that by trying to focus your social strategy around pushing direct sales, are you not missing the point of being social? However, creating a platform that is focused on inbound with diverse, relevant and engaging content will provide far stronger opportunities for creating community and rapport, which in turn will create the social word of mouth and advocacy that will lead to sales generation through social recommendation.

How do you use social media to promote your ecommerce business?
We utilise Facebook customer and lookalike audience advertising to build a relevant audience. We are focused on the quality of the people that like us, not just the volume, so we are continually monitoring our key performance indicators and refining our content strategy to ensure we are creating, producing and sharing content that is relevant and resonates with the audience. On Twitter, we run daily seek-and-assist searches, and YouTube houses our product information and behind-the-scenes videos. We have started developing on Google+ and Pinterest. Pinterest is good in terms of developing a fan base and starting to build referral traffic. On Instagram we have been populating content and are about to launch our page.

Are there any new social media platforms that retailers should be investigating?
We are currently testing Google+ but with limited success. Snapchat, while it has been around for a while, is certainly coming of age and starting to disrupt in certain demographics.

James Doyan
Managing director, multichannel consultancy Athito

What do you think the impact of this move by Facebook will be?
The impact will be significant for what was considered to be a very low cost but far-reaching social media platform. Big players will not wish to limit their reach to over 1.3 billion regular Facebook users but, equally, they will have to assess the ROI compared to other channels to market. For the smaller retailers, it will be a big blow for those that have adopted the channel as a great way to speak to and interact with its customers. Given the high cost of digital marketing, it is a great shame that Facebook may be closed to the smaller and independent retailer.

What are the most effective means of advertising on social media?
The teams (who should be dedicated) that run the social media entity need to be completely and utterly immersed in the brand, its culture, its product and, most importantly, its customers. The other key factor is to be responsive to both good and bad comments. Scouring the fashion sites of retailers on Facebook and Twitter, it is apparent that consumers are using the channel to solicit instant feedback on order or product issues. This could be a key influencer on whether customers order or not, if retailer’s responses are not immediate and satisfactory.

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