2019 saw the start of the “social selling” movement. It wasn’t new this year, but it did become mainstream. Now, we are in a time where businesses with social networking presence who have not changed their approach struggle. This is largely thanks to alterations to algorithms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, attempting to balance the needs of businesses who advertise on their platforms against the desire of users who want to get back to the social element for which they were originally founded.
You’ve been hearing this term all year, but has anybody given you a clear idea of what social selling is? If not, read on. If so, you can still read on as you might learn something new!
What It Is: Softly, Softly
The short answer is that social selling is a softly-softly approach to customer outreach. Traditional marketing is laced with “buy our stuff!” or “here’s a link to get 20% off your first order” and even “our new autumn/winter range is out now. Click this link to see what we have!” While not always hard selling, this targets ads at people with a view to encouraging them to buy something.
Social selling dispenses with the whole idea of trying to sell and taking soft selling to even greater levels. Essentially, soft selling is selling by not selling. It’s marketing by not marketing. It’s advertising by not advertising. You need to drop the whole idea of how to sell and how to market if you are to do social media selling right.
For that, you need to look at your entire content strategy on social media.
How to Do It: #1 Building and Nurturing Relationships
Instead of looking at how to increase sales, build brand awareness or shoehorn a sales link to products and services into your posts, you focus far more on building a quality audience.
Social selling emphasises the social more than the selling with little to no pressure to buy or targeting encouragement to react to a call to action. Here are some ways of doing this:
- A coffee shop doing a weekly “meet the team” feature on Instagram. This is Sarah, our supervisor. She has been with us for three years and her favourite coffee blend is the Columbian which she loves over ice in the summer or with spray cream and chocolate sprinkles in winter
- Running a competition to win a product or service if people like and share a post with a comment (people like free stuff), essentially doing your outreach and audience building work
- Blog posts about things to do in the area even if not directly related to what your business does. It can even build relationships with local businesses who are not competing with you. The coffee shop that “Sarah” works at might promote a new Indian restaurant, for example. They are open at different times so are not competing.
How to Do It: #2 Build Trust
Following on from the building rapport, knowing Sarah’s name helps you feel closer to the brand because now you know “Sarah” a little better. She is not friend per se, but now you are on friendlier terms with Sarah and you can identify her when you next go there. You might even trust her coffee recommendation, remembering that she loves the Columbian blend and be willing to try it yourself.
This is social selling – now you are on first name terms with “Sarah”, you trust her. So when she recommends the soup of the day, or certain dishes from their new seasonal menu, you will pay attention to her recommendations with a high likelihood of choosing one of them.
How to Do It: #3 Thought Leadership
The approach of introducing potential customers to the team on a more personal level doesn’t work for every business. I have clients in recruitment and education. Introducing candidates to recruiters and discussing their favourite coffee blend or holiday destination may not feel appropriate for those types of client.
What will feel appropriate is something called “thought leadership”. This is articles on certain subjects useful to the intended audience but with no attempt to sell services or products directly. Instead, the intention is to present yourself or your business as somebody who knows what they are talking about. They may have a tentative link to the business. For example, a cloud storage provider for SMEs might create a free downloadable ebook on how to ensure you are GDPR compliant.
How to Do It: #4 Give Value Before They Buy
This is a similar to the previous two points above. The best way to engage in social selling is to start offering value to the customer way before they even consider buying from you. From the start, you need to prove that you are a trustworthy brand and care about their engagement. It’s also important that this desire to engage is sincere and speaks to customers on their level.
Recently, my favourite coffee brand Grumpy Mule created an amusing flowchart with the title “Should You Have a Coffee Right Now?” it started out with “have you had a coffee in the last hour?” All the flow chart directions led to it being the right time to have a cup of coffee. This is classic social selling. No link, no special offer, just the insistence that it’s time for another cup of your favourite brew.
Over time, you attract an audience who liked your article(s) and find your content useful. They will follow you on social media and come to see you as a valuable resource, referring to your site again and again for advice and tips, subscribing to your newsletter, and even enjoy engaging with you.
Why Your Business Should Care About Social Selling
If this seems a little long winded with no guarantees, you’re right. But this is the way social media advertising is going now – advertising and marketing by not really advertising and marketing. Trust, sincerity and genuine engagement with your audience is how things are now.
Your competitors are already doing it. No matter what line of business you are in, their marketers are changing their techniques and outreach to present themselves as genuine authorities while at the same time creating a friendly approach that invites engagement and sharing.
Because your competitors are already doing it, your customers expect it from you. When times change, business must change with it or become irrelevant. Constant messages about sales, discounts and just “Buy Our Stuff!” is a fast track to losing traffic, engagement, and sales. Your customers are not empty vessels for your sales techniques; they are people with expectations from the business.