Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter play an important role in disseminating your message and letting people know about your online business and shopping cart. Like any other tool, you need to know how to use social media effectively if you want to accomplish your goals. In order to use this marketing tactic effectively, you need to have a strong foundation before opening your online store, and then enact an efficient daily schedule to keep your social media efforts current. In this section we'll deal with the different types of social media out there and how you can implement them. Part II will deal with how to keep up with them once they are in place.
Social media utilities like blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter posts, and even YouTube videos can all be helpful in what we call "starting the conversation" about your products and business. Using social media should begin before you even have a shopping cart, ideally at least a month or two before you are ready to open up your online store. But if you already have an ecommerce solution set up - don't panic!
Blogs are great ways to get your thoughts out there (in more than 140 characters or a Facebook Wall post). Start your blog as early as you can. Wordpress and Blogger are two free services with intuitive controls. Your best bet is to use Wordpress though, since it can live on your own domain and therefor be a part of your online store. There are also great ecommerce solutions like 3dcart that include a blog as part of your shopping cart.
Think of your blog as a home base and a place to be passionate about your field and the market that you will be selling in, but not necessarily as a direct hard sell. There are several goals to think about when using a blog:
1. Establish yourself as an expert - You want people to buy from your online store (when it opens). There's no better way to entice customers and inspire trust than to present yourself as someone who is knowledgeable about the industry that you are in. If you are selling hiking and camping supplies, then start posting regularly about hikes you've been on, hiking advice, checklists for camping, etc. Let people know that this is what you are all about!
2. Attract potential customers and keep them coming back - Start putting out high quality, on-topic content on a regular schedule (more about that in part II). This will get people in a pattern that will keep them coming back. The more comfortable people are with who you are on the blog, and the more frequently they visit your site, the more likely they will be to patronize your shopping cart.
3. Use comments to further the conversation - Make sure that you enable comments for your blog posts. Encourage readers to weigh in on the article, maybe by ending with a question. The Consumerist blog ends many of their posts with a question related to the article and the suggestion to "sound off in the comments!" Check the comments to your posts regularly and respond appropriately to however many comments you have time for. You don't need to say "Thanks!" to every person who leaves a comment, but when someone says something bright or inspired that truly adds to the conversation, let them know it. Be wary about going toe-to-toe with people who respond negatively to your post (more on that in Part II).
4. Hype up your future shopping cart - While avoiding the hard sell, be sure to start dropping hints about your upcoming ecommerce store opening as you near the date - about one or two months before it opens. Make sure that you have a good backlog of other content before you start talking about the store itself. Start slow, and intersperse your posts about the store with your regular content, then step it up when you are about a week from opening.
5. Special note: 3dcart actually won Zippycart.com's first place award for "Best Social Media Tools" for its social media integration. It is the only shopping cart that we have reviewed that features a full blog platform. It also has great integration with Facebook, allowing you to sell directly on the site. If you love social media and are serious about integration, check out our 3dcart review.
Odds are you already have a Facebook account. If you are using your personal one for your business, you should strongly consider starting a new page just for your business. The settings are slightly different, but the mechanics are almost identical. Keep the hard sell tuned down here as much as you can, but don't be shy about the fact that this is the page for your store. If you already have a shopping cart set up, the links for it should be prominent (and probably in more than a few places). If not, let people know that your ecommerce solution will be open soon. The advantage of having your Facebook page set up before your shopping cart is that you can hype it up when you finally do open up your store. Some ecommerce solutions can integrate directly with Facebook, allowing you to sell directly on your page. Facebook also builds upon your blog by keeping people engaged with you in multiple ways. Upload photos of your merchandise, show people using it, etc. and invite customers to chime in about their experiences with your products.
If your blog is your home base, then your Twitter account is your megaphone. It's how you let people know what you are up to on a regular basis (along with Facebook), in quick snippets (less than 140 characters). Be sure to link your blog (and YouTube) to Facebook and Twitter so that when you post something new, your followers and friends on both networks will hear about it right away. Your blog should have a Facebook "Like" button and Twitter "Retweet" button, as well as buttons to allow people to effortlessly follow you via those services (most quality shopping carts will have this feature). Use your Twitter account to complement your blog and online store (when it opens) and build the conversation. Keep it professional at least 75% of the time, but don't be afraid to drop the occasional funny quote or cute picture either. Know your audience. If you have your doubts about a post or a comment, skip it. Once it's out on the Internet, it's there forever (even though you can delete old Tweets, you can't delete the effect that it could have on the wrong person, or how quickly it could get retweeted).
Though often neglected, YouTube can be a really effective due to the increasingly visual nature of today's consumer. Before your shopping cart is online you can post short clips about your process, how things are going, or showcasing products. Let your future consumers into your life a bit. When your products are actually available, you can shift the videos a bit more towards the typical style of a commercial, but again, keep the hard sell in the background. If you can pitch to your audience without hitting them over the head with it, you'll see better results than an in-your-face advertising press.
Now that you know how to lay the foundation of social media for your shopping cart, it's time to move onto Part II of this series, A Social Media Schedule for Your Shopping Cart - Part II: Upkeep.