How to sell on social media (without being a creep)

There’s a right time and place for your message. You have to identify it and capitalize on the opportunity; otherwise your campaign will be doomed.


A couple interesting stories made headlines over the last week or so. GM announced that it’s going to cease buying Facebook ads. Shopify (a provider of back-end e-commerce services for e-tailers) released an infographic about increases in sales driven by Pinterest.

By now, we all know that the hard sell doesn’t work in social media. Additionally, audience patience with advertising is also wearing thin. So is it a surprise that Facebook isn’t a great vehicle for selling cars? Probably not.

Facebook is for socializing. The whole point of Facebook is interacting with the people in your network—posting updates, reading links they share, and maybe playing a game. Sure, there’s an element to discovery, backed with personal recommendations from the social graph. But really, people are on Facebook mainly to hang out and catch up with each other.

That is not the case with Pinterest. At its core, Pinterest is for discovery. A large portion of the pins are aspirational: clothes the pinners want to buy, home decorating ideas they want to try, cakes they want to make, places they would like to visit.

In other words, it’s a lead funnel created by the users themselves.

The data released by Shopify is revealing, and one fact in particular stood out to me: Pins that included a price drew 36 percent more “likes” than those without. Pinterest feels like it’s becoming a consumer search engine of sorts. Like search engines, on which advertising is a proven model, Pinterest is used by people who are actively in the process of seeking. They’re not just hanging out. As the Shopify data reveals, Pinterest users are likely to act.

Content marketers and PR pros can learn a lot from these two contrasting situations. The primary lesson seems clear—there’s a time and a place for promotional messages, and there’s a time and a place for attracting audience and fostering attention. Pinterest and search engines are the former. Facebook, blogs, and community sites are the latter.

Audience intention

When thinking about messaging and networks, it’s crucial to consider the audiences’ intentions. Why are those people there? What are they expecting to derive from their time spent on a particular network? Getting a handle on the answer to these questions is the first step in planning a message strategy that will garner results.

Self-identification

Drilling deeper into the question of audience intention, one also needs to consider audience qualification. There’s an enormous difference in the level of interest expressed when you compare a person who became a fan of your brand on Facebook six months ago, and the person who is rapidly accumulating pictures of different beaches and resorts on a pinboard titled “Vacation Planning 2012.” One probably needs more cultivation. The other is probably close to buying. They have self-identified as a hot prospect.

Adjusting the message to the buying cycle

From a message strategy, communicators need to think about not just different types of content, but what sorts of outcomes they need to inspire, and what sort of calls to action they need to include. On Facebook, a beachfront resort operator can spark interest, build visibility, and gain mindshare by sharing a steady stream of interesting vacation and travel related content.

On Pinterest, the data suggest the point of sale is closer, especially since inclusion of a price has been correlated positively with buying behaviors. Posting pictures of beachfront villas with weekly pricing is likely to convert lookers to guests on Pinterest. The same message on Facebook would be obnoxious.

These aren’t fine distinctions. Facebook and Pinterest are dramatically different networks, and the difference is most stark when you consider user intent. Failing to understand and take these differences into account can doom a communications campaign.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media. She’s the author of the free eBook, “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”

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