If you read through any of the blog posts or infographics on the subject of “Do’s and Don’ts” of social media the one big reoccurring “don’t” is direct selling. For me direct selling is definitely a ‘Do’ activity.
While there are a few “hard rules” I do tout, if you follow me you’ll know that I am not much for rules in general when it comes to social media usage, or any marketing activity for that matter. Each industry and each business within that industry is unique. It’s impossible to run an effective marketing campaign for a unique business off a strict set of rules. I prefer rough guides as starting points, then tailor YOUR posting and platform use to YOUR needs and the needs of your client / fan base. Social media campaigns must be tailored to the business.
So why the “Don’t sell” craze?
Social media is not outbound marketing, the traditional means to advertise and promote your product and service. It’s not supposed to be an ‘in your face, look at us, here’s our service / product and why it’s better than the other guys’ platform.
The general consensus is that consumers are tired of those messages and their buying habits have shifted away from the “what a great price / I need to go buy that now at that store mentality”. Consumers are more focused on what I call the 4 ‘R’s – research, reviews, recommendations and referrals. You can blast your latest sale and product offering but the predominate thought (at least based on how I operate and have observed others operate) is those specific Call To Actions no longer fully drive the actual sale. It drives the consumer online. Either they already know they want what you’re selling and need to do their homework or you just created a need the consumer was unaware they had and they do their homework. While the specifics of what they look up may be different, the result of your outbound marketing is the same – Come on, Robin, to the Internet! There’s not a moment to lose! (research, reviews)
Social media is not a sales tool. Social media should be about the personification of your business. It’s about building a personal relationship with your client’s and customers, about connecting with them and interacting , being personable, about networking and branding (referrals, recommendations).
So why do I think social selling is a good idea, even recommended?
Just to be clear I don’t blanket recommend you start using your social media sites to begin outbound marketing. It still boils down to your industry, business and fan / client base. It’s that I DO think direct selling is completely acceptable as a practice and I encourage it….under the right circumstances.
Unlike traditional outbound efforts that rely on blasting your message to a large audience (albeit with some targeting) who does not necessarily know or care about you, social media affords you the ability to get your message out specifically to those that WANT to hear it. They Liked or followed you for a reason. You’ve developed a strong, trusting relationship so why not leverage it to drive sales and revenue directly? I understand the risk of alienating those followers but they are your clients but avoiding it amounts to lost revenue. The trick to direct selling without offending anyone comes down to the strategy behind HOW you do it.
For many small retail shops social media, Facebook specifically, has become a great way to reward fans with special sales, coupons, new products announcements and to offer ‘check in’ specials. For some of these businesses the core fan base is actually liking and following strictly for those deals. My wife actually follows several pages including a children’s resale boutique BECAUSE they post hot selling and hard to find items when they arrive. Most of the time the item sells before she ever has a chance to comment on it. They have developed a great social relationship that includes customer service, general Q&A, direct sales and traffic to their website. They get new fans for the sales updates who then stay for the info, advice and service as well as vice versa. Clearly direct selling on Facebook is a big win for the business.
So how do you sell on social media without offending or alienating anyone? Start by determining if you SHOULD direct sell. Again, social media is not a ‘one size fits all’.
- What is your business?
- Retail businesses, especially those with hard to find or often out of stock items as well as those selling specialty products generally fair best. If you run specials or unique ‘deals’ social selling should be a good fit. Service based? Contract or sign up discounts still count as social selling.
- How have your fans responded in the past?
- Did you get good feedback or see a spike in reach, views, +1s? Did the phone ring or website traffic increase?
- Why are they following you?
- You should be tracking when fans like or follow. Is there a pattern? After informational posts? Humor? A sales pitch? When your pages are liked says plenty about the content they came for a want.
- What is the goal or strategy of your marketing campaign (specifically with respect to social media)?
- Are you looking to brand yourself, drive blog or web traffic? Are you using it strictly as an informational or customer service tool? How you market affects the content you provide.
If you decide to sell, the next step will be to decide on what platforms to use to selling and how often you’ll post a selling pitch. Each platform is unique and how people interact / accept on one is not the same as another. Since their is no universal formula, you’ll need to experiment and monitor you activities. This goes for how often, when and what you post as well as where you post it.
Direct sales pitch posts – social selling – is not going to be right for every business (my retail based business, even with a strong following, never saw much success with it) but don’t fall into the trap that it’s wrong. Social media is a marketing tool and like every other marketing tool it was designed to brand and drive revenue. Don’t simply avoid social selling just because of the prevailing thought. It might just be costing you sales.
If you’ve used or use social media for direct selling I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you’ve made it work for you (or didn’t). Happy selling!
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Robert Nissenbaum is a successful small business owner with more than 20 years of marketing and sales experience. Using the same social media and traditional marketing techniques he leveraged to brand and drive revenue for his own businesses, he works with other small to medium sized business owners to do the same. His methodology is based on his own practical experience leveraging inbound and outbound platforms with a revolutionary approach and philosophy. His methods have been applied successfully to retail, service and non profit based organizations.