How to optimize your social strategy for pre- and post-purchase audiences

Nearly half (48%) of shoppers use a combination of search and social media to fuel their purchase decisions, according to new research from GroupM Search. Only 24% begin on company sites, implying 76% begin their search without commitment to a particular brand.

Most brands today know they want to participate in social media, but the majority are lost as to what role to play. To understand what works in social media, companies must recognize the difference between shoppers (pre-purchase), and customers (post-purchase). Both types of consumer have different needs, and to meet these needs, brands must play different roles.

Encourage the content shoppers crave: opinions from people like them

The research consistently shows that consumers’ brand perceptions are shaped and changed through interaction with social media. But ads and branded content on social networks aren’t what shoppers are looking for. In the 90 days prior to their purchase, less than 1% of purchasers engaged with brand-controlled social media or sponsored ads on social networks. The low average click-through rates for Facebook ads (0.051%) support this finding.

According to shoppers, the most useful social media for purchase decisions is customer reviews (30%), while Facebook (17%), YouTube (14%), and Twitter (9%) are less valuable. The value of reviews translates to social networks as well: the research shows that gathering opinions from others is the biggest motivator for shoppers using social media in purchase decisions. It’s earned media, not paid or owned media, that impacts purchase decisions most in today’s social environment.

This doesn’t mean brands shouldn’t be socially active; with so many shoppers using social media to make purchase decisions, brand presence on social media is important to the marketing mix. These findings just mean that brands’ social goals shouldn’t be to drive purchases through their own social presence. Rather, brands should encourage earned media to help shoppers buy. Brands can do this by sparking and engaging in relevant conversations, encouraging customer feedback like reviews, and producing valuable, interesting content that consumers seek out and share with each other.

Foster customer loyalty post-purchase with branded social accounts

After purchasing, customers don’t consider their journey over. After biting the bullet and clicking “Buy,” customers seek reassurance that their decision was the right one. Don’t abandon them in this critical period with dead-end “thank you for purchasing” pages and emails. Invite them to turn their purchase into a real relationship with your brand.

“Any companies who blindly link to Twitter or Facebook from their corporate website are doing themselves a disservice,” says Jeremiah Owyang. “After investing millions of dollars over the past 10-15 years to get customers to come to their corporate website, they are undoing these investments.” Rather than prompting your homepage visitors to follow your brand, save this invitation for your customers post-purchase. 64% of customers say they are likely to follow a brand on social media after a purchase.

Once you’ve earned their following, use social media to deepen customers’ relationships with your brand by delivering an excellent post-purchase experience. Show customers you care about them beyond the sale. According to study respondents, effective brands on social media will make their followers feel:

  • a sense of trust with the company that produces the brands they buy
  • like an insider with the brand
  • that the company cares about them beyond a single purchase

This doesn’t mean constant updates with coupon codes. Respondents emphasized that earned social media continues to play an important role after the sale in boosting customer loyalty, and “new product reviews” are a major motivator for following brands. Rather than pumping your social media account with generic coupon codes you hope will “go viral,” encourage feedback from your customers to show them you’re listening, and help future shoppers buy. When offering discounts, frame them as perks for your current customer following to make your followers feel appreciated instead of marketed to.

Shoppers and customers have different needs on social media. To reach shoppers, brands should encourage earned media – favorable mentions from real users. Branded accounts and content, meanwhile, should focus on deepening relationships with the brand’s current customers. Smart brands will recognize these unique needs, and tailor their social activities to best serve both types of consumer.