Note: this article was originally published in ClickZ.

Has your business started planning for the holidays yet? It may be months before the “official” Black Friday-start to the holiday shopping season, but that doesn’t mean potential holiday shoppers are waiting.  According to an eMarketer study, 47 percent of consumers will have already started their holiday shopping by the end of this month.

So what’s the real impact of social on shopping? Let’s look at a few key trends.

Shoppers Are Searchers, First and Foremost

59% of shoppers this year will start their gift search at a search engine, so it’s key to grab shoppers’ attention at this stage in the game. Updates like Google Instant and Google Caffeine make it more important than ever to prioritize freshness in your SEO strategy. So, if you do nothing else, spend time optimizing your site for search, to make sure you drive the right buyers to your site. Some ideas? Ensure you have fresh, constantly-updated content on your product pages. Use Google Rich Snippets to surface content like customer reviews in search results. Look at how your customers describe your products, then test new keywords from there. And take advantage of all of the new features in Google Product Search. Spending time at the very beginning of the purchase cycle can pay off big.

Put Your Customers to Work

If you have customer reviews or Q&A capabilities on your site, now is the time to reach out to your customers and get them to contribute. For anyone who’s made a purchase over the past year, e-mail them to write a review, share an experience, or answer a question (or all three). Again, this content helps increase search, and helps holiday shoppers make more confident decisions. Last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales saw a boost over 2008 (11 percent and 5 percent respectively), and social media had already affected 28 percent of last year’s shoppers’ purchases as of December 4, 2009. A recent ChannelAdvisor study shows that customer reviews alone will influence 83 percent of all 2010 holiday shoppers.

Retailers can get manufacturers involved – get them to add expert content or answer customer questions on the retail site. Let your customers give shoppers all the information they need to buy the best gifts.

Get Customers to Invite You to Meet Their Friends

According to eMarketer, 27 percent of holiday shoppers last year (and likely even more this year) used social networks like Facebook and Twitter to look for clues as to gifts friends and family might like. Once customers review products, make it easy for them to share their input on their own social networks. Yelp does a good job of this, letting Yelpers connect directly with Facebook. Retailers and manufacturers can get on this, too, to help friends figure out what to buy.

We’ve seen that men and women interact differently with businesses on social networks, so consider this when planning your holiday social network strategy. Fifty-two percent of men say they want “to show others I like or support this brand” as one of their main reasons for connecting with a brand on Facebook or Twitter, compared to 34 percent of women. Focus on getting those male customers to connect with your brand now – position it as a way to “drop hints” about where their friends and family should go to find great gifts for them.

Women, on the other hand, name “to receive discounts and promotions” as their primary reason for becoming a fan of a brand. Women indicate this reason more often than males on both Facebook (30 percent vs. 18 percent) and Twitter (34 percent vs. 23 percent). Give your female customers what they want by using your brand presence on social networks to promote holiday deals – especially on super-deal days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Shopping continues to change, and I think this year will be the year that social media plays big here. Do what you can now to make sure search and social media do everything they can to help you prosper this season.

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