Social media feeds on ecommerce websites

Social media feeds on ecommerce websites

October 23 2015

How to make the most of social media feeds on ecommerce websites

It has become standard practice for ecommerce businesses to tap into social media platforms to connect with their customers.  There are many benefits of using social media for online stores, ranging from simply enlarging your customer base and reach to generating customers’ trust in your products and services.

The majority of e-commerce sites nowadays have direct links to their social media platforms to get their customers to connect with them. However, some sites have started going beyond that by integrating pictures of social media followers wearing or using their products. Take the online fashion retailer, Hello Molly for example. At the bottom of each page, visitors can see Instagram photos of customers wearing the brand’s merchandise. 

But what are the benefits of dedicating valuable real estate to this form of advertising on your ecommerce site? And are retailers really making the most of this form of advertising?

To understand the benefits of this strategy and to find out how to maximise its effectiveness it is important to understand how it works first. Why might a photo be more effective than a feed of posts for example? 

How it works

Social Psychology gives us some insights into the mechanisms that might be at play when a retailer showcases their customers using the merchandise.

Basically this tactic taps into a phenomenon known as social comparison. Social comparison occurs when people compare themselves with others in order to evaluate themselves, for example in terms of appearance, wealth or success.  

This can have a persuasive effect on a person, and drive competitive behaviour. When people compare themselves to others they instinctively feel the need to protect their self-image and do better than the other person. This competitiveness stimulates people to act and to reduce the distance between themselves and the other person. For example, when an online shopper compares herself to another customer featured on a website, she might be more inclined to buy from the site and update her wardrobe accordingly so that she too can look ‘better’ than the other person.  

How you can make the most of this strategy

When people engage in social comparison they often tend to choose other people who share distinctive characteristics with them to make sure their self-evaluations are accurate. So the more similar the other person is perceived to be, the greater their comparison concerns and competitiveness.

In this case, simply using any social media photos of customers on your site may not be the best solution. You need to make sure that featured social media photos of customers are a good representation of your customer base. Take for example a brand ambassador, if you choose someone who does not resonate with your customers, they are probably not going to be able to influence and stimulate a large audience to buy and consume the product. The same concept applies here; if you choose photos of customers who are not similar to your target audience you might not be able to tap into the power of social comparison. This means your customers are less likely to engage in competitive behaviour and buy your products, essentially running the risk of losing business. Customers are less likely to buy products from your store because they won’t feel the urge to ‘beat’ the other customers who are showcased on your website if they perceive themselves as being different to them. 

What you can do to find out more about your target audience

This is where user research comes in: user research in this case can help you really understand your customers. Aside from understanding who your customers are on a surface level (e.g. their age, gender, and geographic location) more detailed user research can help uncover your users’ values, needs and goals. For example, the use of contextual inquiries can help identify how, where and when customers engage with your brand. During a contextual inquiry, users are observed in their natural setting (for example in the comfort of their home) while doing a task of interest (in this case online shopping). This form of research gives valuable insights into the context in which a behaviour takes place and also helps to identify the sources of information that might come into play during the process (for example what other websites a user might visit or which social media platforms they engage with before or after the purchase).

Similarly, diary studies can help reveal the frequency and time of day when users visit certain sites and what frustrations they may encounter along the way. During a diary study a user records certain behaviours of interest over a set period of time. This helps gain more accurate insights than when relying on the person’s memory of the same period of time.  

Another form of user research that can really help you understand your customers is usability testing. Here a user is observed while interacting with a website and completing a set of tasks. It’s a great way to understand how your users actually experience your website and works very well to test any changes you might want to make following on from insights you gathered during a contextual inquiry or diary study. For example, if you know that your users look at Instagram photos of other shoppers when making purchasing decisions you can place social media feeds next to the ‘buy’ option on your site and see how users respond to it.  While you could do this with a simple A/B test as well, usability testing will allow you to observe user’s reactions first-hand, giving you richer insights than a conversion rate, which does not show if a user actually saw and liked the content they saw or not.

With the benefit of technology, usability testing can also be conducted remotely. This is particularly important for e-commerce sites that may have different users from around the world. People from different countries and regions may use and interact with your site and social media differently and insights gathered from a group in one city may not translate across different regions (for example, the use of Instagram may be more popular in some countries than others).

Ultimately, it is important to use a variety of methods and integrating the insights from each source of information, rather than just relying on one source, like web analytics for example. This will give you a more complete and rich picture of what your users think and do when they interact with your website. In the case of using social media images to increase sales these insights could help you understand the best type of imagery to use to address your desired group of shoppers.

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