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How to leverage social media to sell your products online

6 minute read

Charlotte Jenkins
someone taking pictures of a row of shoes on mobile

“Social commerce” is one of those marketing terms that says exactly what it means: selling your products on your social media channels. With 30% of online shoppers saying they would likely purchase a product from a social channel, it’s a sales and marketing opportunity not to be passed up.

For a long time now, social media has been used by companies to raise their brand awareness and foster engagement with their audience. This process has, for the most part, been indirect. We’ve seen how brands have been using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn (among many others) to showcase their brand culture and promote their products and services, directing people to their website via a clickable link.

But since Instagram brought in “shop now” features, Facebook Marketplace became a mainstay in online e-commerce, and Pinterest started offering “buyable pins”, businesses are increasingly turning to social commerce as the next big thing in online selling. 

If you’re an e-commerce business and you’re looking for new opportunities to sell online, then this guide should help you get started right away.

Determine the right social platform

It’s a good idea not to go all guns blazing as you embark on social commerce. Instead, focus on one platform, and make sure it’s the one that a. your audience is using and b. provides a good conversion rate.

To get started, run some numbers on your web and social analytics, and determine which of your social media channels is:

  • Driving the most traffic to your site
  • Providing the highest conversions

Tools like Hootsuite and Sprout Social all help you to track your social channels, and decide which have the most active and engaged audience, and which are converting best.

Once you’ve identified the best channel to commit to, then it’s time to start getting a handle of how it works for direct selling.

Familiarise yourself with your social selling platforms

Instagram

Instagram is a predominantly visual platform, allowing users to upload pictures and videos and film live “Stories” which can then be saved to their Story Highlights.

Brands are using it to showcase their products in a visually inviting way. And with 1 billion monthly users, it’s a good option for reaching a large audience. And according to Yotpo Instagram data, 72% of consumers think that seeing an Instagram image of a product raises their chance of buying it.

Until very recently, brands have struggled to get customers to take any action as a result of seeing their Instagram posts. The platform hasn’t allowed clickable links anywhere other than your bio making it frustratingly limited in allowing conversions.

Brands have worked around this by making sure the link in their bio is a useful one, like their main product landing page. Or by saying “go to the link in our bio” every time they discuss a product.

Shoppable posts:

Instagram is responding to this by introducing its shoppable posts. Brands can now tag product images and videos so that a clickable link goes straight to your product page on your site.

Shopping tab:

Instagram now has a “Shop” tab at the top of your profile which allows you to showcase your products on one page within your Instagram account. When you click on images, the product prices are displayed which, if clicked on, link to an individual product page – still hosted on Instagram – with an option of “view on website”. 

Screenshot of John Lewis shop platform on Instagram

Product tags are also available on image and video posts:

Marks and Spencer product tags on Instagram

As of September 2018, Instagram rolled out the option of shopping via stickers on live Stories. It also added a dedicated shopping channel on Explore.

Adding shopping functions to your Instagram marketing can be a little complicated. You’ll need to set up your Instagram Business account first, and then link it to your Facebook Business page’s catalogue or shop. Your account will then need to be verified by Instagram before you’re ready to start selling. This can take a few days.

For more on how to set this up, check out Instagram’s step-by-step guide.

Also worth noting, there’s rumour of Instagram bringing out its own standalone shopping app called IG shopping. It would allow users to browse brands’ collections and purchase directly from the app.

Facebook

Facebook has embraced e-commerce for a while now, ever since it launched its marketplace – initially in India – in November 2017. It now has a dedicated e-commerce section in its “Shop” tab for businesses.

Once you’ve got a Facebook Business page, you can navigate to the Shop section.

Screenshot of Facebook Shop

From here, you can add your products, providing a title, image, video, description, price, as well as other detail such as dimensions, material and sizes.

screenshot of Facebook ad product page

When your product is complete and you’ve clicked “save”, it will appear in your Shop. When a customer clicks on your product, they have the option to purchase it.

Pinterest

Pinterest is one of those social platforms that many businesses underestimate. But with an active monthly user base of 250 million, and every pin 100 times more spreadable than a tweet, the potential for business is often untapped.

Since it was launched in 2010 Pinterest has been used as an ideas tool where users go to get visual inspiration for projects. But since buyable pins were introduced in 2017, there are now options to use the platform for direct selling.

Buyable pins have been replaced by “product pins”. Product pins let you display real-time pricing, product descriptions, and availability, on your Pinterest board. They then click through to your e-commerce site where products can be purchased in the usual way.

To get started, you need to sync your Pinterest account with your e-commerce site, and add some HTML code to all the relevant product pages on your website. For more on this, read this guide found on the Pinterest help pages.

Focus on more than just selling

Not all brands are using social for selling their products, but it doesn’t mean that social media isn’t a huge part of their sales and marketing strategy.

Social media is becoming better than ever at letting brands reach out to their customers. Gone are the days of sending the odd tweet or updating your Facebook profile now and then. Social media of today is your brand and is allowing you to connect with your audience in more sophisticated ways than ever.

Social live streaming like Instagram Stories and Facebook Live lets businesses reach their audience in real-time, helping them to come across as both approachable and helpful.

If you’re not already active on social or feel you could be doing more, then now’s the time to reassess.

Foster community rather than sales

Although we’ve been discussing the opportunities for direct selling on social media, it’s important to distinguish between the times you’re selling, and the times you’re socialising. Using social media for the hard sell isn’t always the best tactic, because people aren’t necessarily expecting it. After all, social media evolved to facilitate online socialising.

When you’re not tagging products on Instagram, or uploading items to your Facebook catalogue, or placing product pins on your Pinterest profile, then you should be focusing on the less tangible aspects of your brand.

Foster community rather than just sell: tag micro-influencers and your industry leaders. Engage in the conversation that’s happening in your industry on social media. Use your Instagram Stories to talk to your customers about the issues you and your business find important.

Post regularly

Whichever social channels you use, it’s important that you keep your activity up. Regular posting reminds your audience of your brand, and why you’re worth checking out.

Be visual

Social media is becoming a predominantly visual medium. Tweets with images receive 150% more engagement than those without, and Facebook posts with images see 2.3 times more engagement.

Include authentic and vibrant images in your posts. Or, better, use live video to reach your audience. Showcasing your product and brand visually will see your conversion rates soar.

Get your CTAs right

In any online selling, it’s important to keep the purchasing journey as simple as possible. And this is where your call-to-action comes in.

All links to products need a simple clear “buy now” CTA, with a clickable link through to a product page.

You might not realise that you have control over your social calls-to-action. But Facebook Ads has eleven options to choose from, and Instagram Ads offers eight. Make sure these are as unambiguous as possible.

Be mobile-optimised

Over half of online purchases are made using a mobile device, and this number is expected to keep rising. For businesses which still don’t have a mobile-optimised website, it’s time to address this. 

If you’re one of those businesses, then make it a priority to get your site optimised for mobile. Your customers, as well as your conversion rates, will thank you!

Other things to watch out for are your page speed (use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to fix any issues), and navigational roadblocks on your site. 

The juggle is real

Getting the balance right between sell sell sell and the gentle brand journey approach takes quite some doing. But there are some brands that are towing that line brilliantly.

Take, for example, @maxmademedoit, British illustrator and designer who creates personalised art prints.  Not only does she sell her prints via her Instagram, but she also lets you in on her journey as she renovates and decorates her family home. On top of all this, she uses her social media to draw attention to causes she feels passionate about. For just a tiny brand, she has a huge following on social media as a result of her creative, intimate and diverse social activity.

screenshot of example brand's Instagram stories

In summary

Over the past decade, we’ve seen social media transform from the almost entirely social through to a marketing tool, through to more recently, an e-commerce platform.

But it’s still early days for social commerce. Only a minority of brands are using it as a serious addition to their e-commerce website.

Having said this, social selling has a great number of opportunities, especially for smaller brands looking to expose their products and grow their online customer base.

With all the platforms, tools, tricks and tips available to you, the task is to find the balance between the hard sell (for which there now seems to be a place on social) and the usual brand awareness tactics we’ve become accustomed to over recent years.

Charlotte Jenkins is an Oxford-based content marketer. She has several years’ experience in content writing, editing and digital marketing, helping clients communicate their businesses online.

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