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Tue 28 Jul 2015 08:52 AM

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Social media for global growth

Melissa O’Malley, director of global merchant and cross border trade initiatives at PayPal explains how the right social media strategy can lead to growth into new markets

Social media for global growth

Big brands and retailers have been going all-in on social media in recent years to engage with shoppers – with good reason.

According to a recent study from Crowdtap, 64 percent of shoppers use social media for inspiration when shopping and 68 percent cite recommendations from friends and family on social media as a major influence on purchasing, proof that the era of ‘social shopping’ has truly begun.

How do SMEs fit in?

Despite all the hype, nearly half of small businesses have yet to venture into social media.

Many may be intimidated by the sheer number of channels to work with – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, and more – or the time, effort, and money that can be involved in implementing a social media strategy.

Nevertheless, with the rise in social shopping, embracing social media is a must for businesses looking to not only survive but grow in 2015.

How can SMEs leverage social media to grow their business?

Engaging on social channels not only allows merchants to compete with the big companies they are up against, it provides an opportunity to establish a global presence and interact with shoppers everywhere – from down the street to half-way across the world – more easily.

For merchants, having a robust blog can be incredibly helpful in connecting with shoppers since it can give your business a point of interest beyond the product, as well as offer advice on coordinating accessories, trends in your industry, various uses for items, or advice on which product is best for buyers – the options are endless.

Australia-based Black Milk clothing founder James Lillis created a blog about fashion, where he quickly grew a dedicated fan base throughout North America and Europe that then turned to buy his products too – five years after starting his company, he leads a 130-person operation and sells into markets all over the world to his dedicated fan base that found him via his blog.

 A Facebook page can be a great place to post additional products photos, hint at new items you’re creating, or even offer up pictures of your business and employees at work to give buyers a peek of the people behind the product or service.

 Merchants can also leverage Twitter’s real-time engagement platform to generate brand awareness, connect with new and existing customers and, ultimately, drive more sales. Whether it’s running a hashtag campaign, offering exclusive promotions and discounts, or handling customer service questions, Twitter is a valuable platform for engaging with customers directly, from all around the world.

Instagram is also a very useful tool for merchants, but is especially valuable for artists, designers, and culinary-focused sellers that benefit from a visual medium.

Featuring lifestyle products such as home goods, fashion/apparel and food, with key hashtags is an increasingly popular way for brands to reach this engaged social community. For example, the app’s video feature has been used to great effect by major brands and small business owners alike to give a ‘behind the scenes’ look at items in production, or ready to be shipped to customers. Many retailers use Pinterest to create boards that show how to mix and match items to wear or decorate a house, as well as to showcase how products fit into that season’s most popular trends and colors.

 Additionally, a strong social presence can put buyers abroad at ease. Some shoppers are hesitant to purchase from a foreign seller if they can’t find much information on them, or feel they don’t have an easy way to contact them with questions or concerns before or after a purchase is made. Making your company accessible and engaged on multiple social platforms will go a long way to making shoppers feel secure enough to go ahead and hit the ‘buy’ button.

Make sure mobile is part of any and all strategies.

Around the world, more and more shoppers are turning to mobile devices to research product information – to the tune of 36 percent, according to a 2014 global survey by PayPal and Ipsos. An additional 33 percent already buy via mobile – and that figure will only continue to grow.

Not only does this mean your website needs to be optimised for mobile devices – having a firmly-established social media presence is crucial as consumers use their phones to simultaneously research products and make purchases via mobile browsers as well as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram’s mobile apps.

Companies like Twitter and Facebook already have mobile offerings, so having a presence on these platforms already helps your chances of getting in front of the fast-growing group of mobile movers who are glued to their smartphones.

When shoppers open up these apps to explore what friends are buying, being present on these channels with an easy-to-find link to a mobile-friendly site can make sure you’re able to reach shoppers any time and any place they might be compelled to buy.

Social media can seem rather daunting for those just starting out, but even with a simple, maintained social media presence and strategy, small businesses worldwide can enhance their global selling opportunities and raise brand awareness as well as sales.