Conversation bubbles

Brands spend a great deal of time attempting to make strong connections with their customers on social media. However, a recent study by Pear Analytics called 40 percent of Twitter messages “pointless babble.”  There was some debate over the accuracy of the study, but whether or not e-commerce brands agree with the findings, it opened the door to discussions about the true value of social media communication.

It is impossible to make every single social media message impactful – there is no way to knock every single message out of the park, every single time. With the right strategy in place, however, e-commerce companies can leverage social media for success.  In order to get the most from social communications, brands should treat outlets like Twitter and Facebook as platforms for real-time engagement, rather than simply a soapbox for self-promotion.

The Evolution of Brand Communication

In order to communicate effectively on social media, brands must have an understanding of how media communications have evolved over the years. Traditional media outlets – television, radio, print, etc., offer one-way communication only. A company broadcasts messages to consumers through media outlets, and those consumers receive the messages – they cannot reply to the messages or otherwise interact with senders.  This one-way style of communication has become so ingrained in marketing, that is has been difficult for many brands to shed this style of communication.

Over time, brand messages evolved beyond the traditional model and became more interactive. Platforms like online discussion boards gave consumers the ability to offer feedback to brands. However, the communication was not necessarily conversational. Brands could collect feedback and use it to improve their products and services, but it was difficult to leverage these platforms to strengthen customer relationships or loyalty.

Transactional communications are far more engaging than one-way or interactive communications. Transactional interactions engage the brand and the consumer, creating a conversational style of communication that gives individuals a direct line to brands, and vice-versa, cutting out middlemen and other noise that can dilute those messages.  Social media falls into this transactional model. When brands are engaged on these platforms, reciprocal communication is possible.  Instead of sending out messages into the ether and hoping customers understand the intent, brands can tailor messages to their customers and build relationships and relate to audiences in meaningful ways.

The Perils of Pushing Messages on Social Media

In order to communicate effectively on social media, brands must treat the platform as a means for transactional communication rather than one-way communication. Many brands fail on social media because they use the platforms to “push” messages out to consumers. The whole idea of “pushing” aligns with traditional, one-way marketing communication.

Companies “push” messages out in media blitzes, and many treat social media platforms the same way.  It is critical to remember that people on social media are there to engage – to have conversations where their contributions are considered meaningful. “Pushing” messages doesn’t allow for two-way communications and limits the effectiveness of social media before a campaign even begins.

In order to be successful on social media, brands must shift their mindset out of the traditional model of communication. When the door is open for consumers to engage with brands, it creates an instant, ongoing focus group where data can be collected and acted upon, while building stronger relationships with customers.

The Folly of Pursuing a Large Fan Base

Many brands still focus too heavily on generating a large following on social media. Large fan bases are great for the ego, but they do little to foster communication or strengthen customer loyalty.  It can be argued that a smaller, engaged fan base is far more effective and profitable than a large, unengaged fan base.

Brands must realize that customers on social media expect to have conversations. If they have a question about a product or service, they assume they will receive an answer. If they have a complaint, they want to know that the complaint has been heard and will be acted upon. Even if a customer just wants to leave a kudos, they still want to know that their voices are being heard.

The actions of a brand will have a direct impact on the company’s reputation and image. When social media is approached from a transactional perspective, it will help build trust among customers. Consumer trust and loyalty has never been more important than it is today.  Customers have more power than ever before to research products and services online, and instantly take their business to the brands that offer that they need.

Effective Social Media Communication is About More than Conversations

Though the interactions and conversations that brands have with consumers is absolutely critical to building relationships, ecommerce brands must also do the legwork necessary to help create a social media experience that is consistent with consumers’ other interactions with the brand.

Custom tabs and branded backgrounds will tell customers instantly that they have arrived at the right location. It can be confusing for consumers to visit a generic social media page. Hackers, phishers and other ne’er-do-wells will often create fake social media accounts for brands in an effort to either steal customer data or poach customers away. Strong branding says to visitors, “You’ve arrived at the right location.”

E-commerce can also capture customer dollars by providing an online shopping cart directly from social media platforms. Without instant shopping availability, customers who choose to make a buying decision may get distracted if they have to leave the social media platform, then visit the company’s website, search for the item and then make a purchase. Giving consumers the ability to shop from social media will keep customers engaged, and it shows those customers that the brand cares about creating an easy and seamless buying experience for them.

In order to effectively communicate on social media, ecommerce brands must stop treating the platform as a means to push out messaging, and instead foster meaningful, real-time conversations with customers. When brands take the time to create a consistent customer experience and they begin to treat social media as a reciprocal means of communication, they can foster more profitable relationships with customers.

About the Author: Megan Ritter is an online business journalist and guest author who often covers the value of social media and how it impacts various industries. She also enjoys writing about business globalization and the economy, personal finance management, and virtual technology.

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