May 8, 2019 by Rahul Chadha
Influencer marketing has gotten some negative press lately, with advertisers voicing understandable concerns about issues like attribution and return on investment.
In June 2018, Unilever CMO Keith Weed went so far as to tell a crowd gathered at Cannes that his company would no longer work with influencers who inflated their follower counts by simply buying them.
“We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever,” Weed said in a statement that was picked up by several media outlets.1
When it comes to influencers, Weed’s skeptical gaze is understandable. Unilever’s relationships with influencers who have fake followers has been well documented. For example, analytics company Points North Group estimated that 25% of the followers of influencers working with Unilever brand Dove in 2018 were fake.
The Influencer Paradox
Despite this, the practice of influencer marketing is still drawing significant outlays from advertisers. Points North also estimated that North American marketers spent more than $1 billion on influencers in 2018.2
eMarketer estimates that, worldwide, marketers are allocating about 10% of their budgets to influencers on average, and that marketers plan to continue increasing their spending on the strategy.3
Marketers are stuck in something of an influencer paradox. Influencer agency Mediakix surveyed marketers in January and found that 80% consider influencer marketing to be effective. But 50% also said that spotting fake followers and inauthentic engagement was their chief challenge with influencer marketing, more than any other factor.4
Go Micro for a Better Influencer Strategy
Influencer marketing is really just the digital equivalent of an old advertising standby—the celebrity endorsement. In the 90s, Michael Jordan was paid millions for hawking Nikes on TV. Today Kendall Jenner is reportedly pulling in six figures for sponsored posts potentially seen by her roughly 109 million followers.5
But as thinking around influencer marketing evolves, some brands and retailers are moving away from influencers that promise scale. Instead they’re getting replaced by so-called microinfluencers and nanoinfluencers.
These influencers have a fraction of the number of followers that the most famous celebrity influencers have, but often deliver much better levels of engagement.6
Your Shoppers Are Also Influencers
Why are these microinfluencers delivering better results for marketers? One key reason is because they’re seen as authentic sources of information, instead of celebrities looking to make a quick buck.
In that sense, microinfluencers have a lot in common with a resource eCommerce sites might not be taking full advantage of—their own customers.
Like influencer marketing, a Voice of the Customer strategy has proven benefits. Our research shows that 76% of shoppers are less likely to make a purchase from a site that lacks Customer-Generated Content like Ratings & Reviews. And 74% said Customer-Generated Content influenced their decision to shop on one site over another.
When a product is backed by other customers with content like Ratings & Reviews, it gives shoppers the social proof they might need to pull the trigger on a purchase—the same way an influencer endorsement might. Brands and retailers with online stores can benefit from this effect by taking a more expansive view of what an influencer looks like.
How TurnTo Can Help
Instagram’s meteoric growth was due in no small part to its mobile-first approach. Our Visual Reviews product was similarly created with smartphone users in mind, making it simple for them to submit a photo from their device instead of typing out a review.
Those photos can be displayed on your product detail page in a constantly updated gallery row, just like a social media feed. Converse’s site is a great example of how customer created visuals can be showcased on a product page.
TurnTo also partners with services like Curalate, which lets you integrate visually focused social media into product pages right alongside content submitted directly by customers.
In fact, TurnTo’s entire Customer-Generated Content product suite of Ratings & Reviews, Community Q&A, Visual Reviews™, and Checkout Comments™ is designed to help eCommerce sites gather more and better quality content from your customers.
Want to learn more?
1 Unilever to Crack Down on Influencers Who Buy Fake Followers and Use Bots; Adweek, June 18, 2018
2 Fake Followers Are Hard to Shake, According to New Report; Ad Age, February 6, 2019
3 Global Influencer Marketing 2019; eMarketer, March 5, 2019
4 Influencer Marketing 2019 Industry Benchmarks; Mediakix, January 2019
5 Preview: Kris Jenner as the Force Behind a Family Empire Worth Billions;
6 Are You Ready for the Nanoinfluencers?; New York Times, November 11, 2018
April 11, 2019 by Rahul Chadha
Tired of reading clickbait about Millennials’ love of avocado toast? Here’s some good news: GenZ is the next new generation, and over the next few years, people are going to be working hard to figure out this vibrant and dynamic group—the first truly digital native generation.
The boundaries of the US’s youngest generation are still somewhat fuzzy, but the Pew Research Center defines Gen Z as those born in 1997 or later.1
What sets Gen Z apart from its predecessors? For starters, it’s the most racially and ethnically diverse generation the US has ever seen—a group with even greater diversity than Millennials, according to Pew.
Gen Z Has Truly Digital-First Media Habits
It also consumes media in a fundamentally different way than any of its forebears. The oldest Gen Zers were only 10 years old when Apple released the first iPhone; smartphones are likely their default method for heading online.
The Center for Generational Kinetics reports that 95% of Gen Zers had a smartphone in 2018. Their survey also revealed that 61% of Gen Zers spent at least five hours on their smartphone per day, and that more than one-quarter spent a daily average of 10 hours or more with the devices.2
With so much of their time spent on smartphones, legacy media channels like TV hold significantly less sway over them than older generations. That means marketers can have a tough time reaching them at scale through more traditional advertising methods.
Teens and the Power of Recommendations and Reviews
Those media habits could make Gen Z a tough nut for online merchants to crack. But some new research from Social Media Link found that there are still some things that do exert a lot of influence over their purchase decisions: recommendations and reviews.3
According to the company’s survey, nearly all Gen Zers (96%) said they often read recommendations or reviews for products they were thinking about buying.
These young shoppers also relied heavily on their personal networks for guidance on purchase decisions. 80% of teens looked to friends and family for recommendations about new products and brands, making it their No. 1 source for those types of endorsements.
But online reviews were almost as popular with Gen Zers, with nearly eight in 10 accessing them for insights on potential purchases and brands. In fact, reviews were a bigger influence on their purchase decisions than social media, influencers, and even ads.
Social Media Link also found that these young shoppers aren’t just likely to read product reviews. They’re also highly predisposed to writing them as well. More than 90% of Gen Zers wrote product reviews at least some of the time, and more than a quarter wrote one for every product or service they used.
To sum up the research:
- 96% of Gen Zers often read ratings and reviews about things they’re thinking about buying.
- Members of the generation tend to look first to friends and family for product recommendations, but online reviews are a close second.
- Gen Zers are not just reading reviews; more than 9 in 10 also write them for at least some purchases
- Gen Z spends substantially more time on smartphones than with older media platforms like TV
To Reach Gen Z, Think Mobile-First
Just like our entire product suite, Ratings & Reviews is mobile-first and uses responsive design principles to make reviews submitted on a smartphone frictionless. To be clear, we’re not just making things look pretty on mobile devices. We’re changing the way content is collected based on smartphone users’ behavior.
It’s an approach that makes things as easy as possible for Gen Zers on smartphones—who, remember, are already primed to write reviews—to submit more content about their purchases to eCommerce sites.
TurnTo’s Visual Reviews™ takes this mobile-first approach a step further. Its visual-first collection flow lets shoppers send photos and videos to eCommerce sites with just a few taps. As a result, eCommerce sites get to bank even more content on their product pages, and customers don’t even have to type anything out.
Want to learn more about how TurnTo’s innovative products can help you connect with Gen Z?
1 Defining Generations: Where Millennials End and Generation Z Begins; Pew Research Center, January 2019
2 How Obsessed is Gen Z with Mobile Technology?; The Center for Generational Kinetics, 2018
3 Infographic: 27% of Gen Zers Say They Always Write a Product Review After Making a Purchase; Adweek, April 2018
March 13, 2019 by Rahul Chadha
Let’s start with the obvious: search engine optimization (SEO) needs to be a core element of any eCommerce site’s business strategy.
How can SEO help your eCommerce business? Solid SEO practices can help drive organic traffic to your site, capturing shopper intent and putting your customers seamlessly on the path to purchase.
But if talk of schema markup and other technical jargon makes your head spin and your eyes glaze over, don’t worry. There are some great resources designed to ensure your SEO strategy employs established best practices, even if you’re a beginner.
Start with Google
The best place to start is probably with the 800-pound gorilla of search: Google. If you’re going to focus your SEO strategy on one search engine, make it the company that handles more search queries than any other in the US. According to recent data from Jumpshot complied by SparkToro, Google or Google-owned properties controlled more than 90% of US search share as of fall 2018.1
At the highest level, Google suggests that websites:
- Give visitors the information they want. That means putting high-quality, useful content on your webpages that’s clear and accurate.
- Get other sites to link to yours. When another site links to yours—or backlinks—it’s a signal to Google that your site is reputable and generating good content. These links should be “natural,” meaning they weren’t created for the sole purpose of gaming Google’s algorithm. Google’s software is pretty sophisticated and can ding your site’s search results if it decides that sites are linking to yours in an unnatural fashion.
- Don’t “keyword stuff” or create hidden content targeted to crawlers. It’s tempting to put a bunch of keywords or other hidden content designed to better appeal to Google’s indexing software. But, again, Google can identify these tactics and will rank your site lower as a result.
Google has a helpful SEO Starter Guide that goes into much greater detail on how to improve your organic rankings.
Go Deeper for eCommerce
Google’s best practices are a good place to start. But eCommerce sites need to go beyond the basics to increase the online traffic to their digital storefronts. Thankfully, SEO service and tools provider Ahrefs has created a step-by-step guide for an eCommerce SEO strategy.
The Ahrefs guide understandably highlights the use of the company’s own tools and services, but the guide still contains some valuable concepts that any eCommerce site can apply.
Ahrefs suggests that eCommerce companies:
- Do keyword research. This entails using keyword planning tools to figure out the best keywords for both category pages and product detail pages. That can include the use of “long-tail” keywords that might not be immediately obvious, but that can deliver strong results over a long period of time.
- Optimize on-page SEO strategies. This does involve creating meta tags and schema markup. But don’t worry, the Ahrefs guide will walk you through those techniques, as well as the benefits of things like optimized URLs and unique content on both category pages and product detail pages.
- Fix “technical” SEO problems. This includes things like removing duplicated content—something that Google’s crawler is not terribly fond of—as well as eliminating “deep” or “orphaned” pages that are more than three clicks removed from your home page.
How TurnTo Can Help with SEO
Ratings & Reviews are incredibly important to shoppers. Our research shows that three-quarters of shoppers are less likely to buy something from a site that lacks Customer-Generated Content like Ratings & Reviews.
Why? Because Customer-Generated Content provides an authentic voice to shoppers from a trusted source—themselves.
But more than that, product reviews can yield serious benefits for your SEO efforts. TurnTo’s Ratings and Reviews are fully viewable and indexable by search engines. That means shoppers who submit a review are actually adding relevant keywords to your product detail pages, without you having to do anything.
Reviews also give product detail pages unique content, something highly regarded by search engine algorithms. Product detail pages that are regularly updated are also indexed by search engines with greater frequency, delivering even more value to your SEO strategy.
TurnTo’s widget platform is fully indexable by Google. And the indexability of our reviews also means they’re included in Googles’ “rich snippets,” the search results that include extra information, like a product’s star rating, that’s placed between the URL and the description of a search result.
Rich snippets like the one seen above tend to get higher click-through rates, generating more traffic for your site.
In addition, TurnTo’s Community Q&A product, which lets shoppers answer questions posed by other shoppers directly on the product detail page, also provide the same SEO benefits. They offer new, organically created content that’s updated frequently and can help surface items to customers on search engines.
Want to learn more about how TurnTo can improve your SEO strategy?
1 2018 Search Market Share: Myths vs. Realities of Google, Bing, Amazon, Facebook, DuckDuckGo, & More; SparkToro, October 2018
July 6, 2017 by John Swords
I’m going to start this blog post with an assumption – you know that user-generated content helps you to build engaging shopping experiences and connects your shoppers and customers. You are, after all, reading a blog post on the site of a UGC provider.
While I may feel it’s safe to assume that you know the value of UGC, I wasn’t so sure what consumers thought. I wanted to know how UGC impacted purchase decisions and the shopping experience overall.
So, we went directly to consumers in the US and asked them how UGC shapes their buying habits and shopping experiences. We asked how the value proposition of UGC compares to incentives such as discounts and free shipping offers.
The results of this survey have been collected, analyzed and published in “Hearing the Voice of the Consumer: UGC and the Commerce Experience.”
Here are some highlights from the report:
- Most shoppers (81%) will pay more and wait longer to receive products that are paired with UGC.
- Shoppers under 30 report a greater influence of UGC in purchasing decisions versus older respondents.
- Of those aged 18-29, 97% report UGC has an extreme influence.
- Nearly two-thirds of shoppers (63%) believe UGC creates a more authentic shopping experience.
- Nearly three-quarters (73%) say UGC increases their purchasing confidence. Nearly two-thirds (61%) report UGC encourages them to engage with brands.
Download the full, data-packed 49-page report today!
February 23, 2017 by John Swords
Organized. Structured. Logical. Predictable. None of these words describe your customer’s path to purchase. There is no grid system. No wide-lane expressway will guide your shopper from initial awareness to the ultimate destination of submitting an order.
Marketers struggle to steer shoppers down the purchase path when there are so many cost-cutting, channel-crossing competitors distracting the shopper along the way.
Rather than trying to dictate each move on the customer journey, marketers can shift strategies to support the consumer as they shop.
Your site and stores may be the roads that customers use, but tools such as user-generated content and email can help to keep them focused, engaged and on course to complete a purchase.
TurnTo’s white paper series, “Driving the Customer Journey: User-Generated Content and the Purchase Path,” examines how this ecommerce evolution has impacted consumer behaviors, marketing strategies and the role of user-generated content in the customer journey.
Part one of the series, “The Journey Begins – Pre-Purchase,” details how thoughtfully featuring UGC throughout the purchase path can engage shoppers from initial product searches to product pages.
While the customer’s journey is an unpredictable, winding road, there are ways you can keep the shopper focused and moving toward a purchase. Download “Driving the Customer Journey: The Journey Begins” to learn more.
January 20, 2017 by John Swords
I recently attended Listrak’s Partner Expo at the company’s 2017 Winter Summit. TurnTo’s chief product officer, John Swords, traveled with me to Lancaster, PA, where Listrak brought all of its team members together for a week of training and team building.
I’ve always been a fan of working with Email Service Providers (ESPs).
Like SIs, ESPs, such as Listrak, work very closely with industry-leading retailers and brands and become deeply integrated with their marketing teams. All of that time working together leads to innovative insights, and those insights lead to ground-breaking marketing strategies and products.
I’ve always known Listrak has industry-leading professional services, but the team’s product presentation stole the show at the 2017 Winter Summit. The data they are collecting with cross-device identification makes their content personalization and programmatic marketing products that much more effective. I was very impressed.
It was highly valuable for Swords and I to have an entire day of conversations with members of literally every team at Listrak. We immensely enjoyed drawing attention to what TurnTo is able to do for our mutual clients, hearing what they find interesting and discussing strategies to deliver more value through our partnership.
If you’re intrigued or would like to know more, check out the links above, or feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
December 20, 2016 by John Swords
Whether you are exploring your first user-generated content strategies or looking for ways to expand your current UGC offerings, it can be a challenge to figure out which tools and methodologies are going to connect with your shoppers.
Many marketers may simply add ratings and reviews to product pages and think they have launched enough of a UGC program that will boost sales and engagement. Rarely will that “just flip a switch” strategy be enough to truly impact the customer experience or your bottom line.
Imagine throwing a dinner party where you invite friends, family and co-workers. When the first guests arrive, you run upstairs and hide hoping everyone will get along, converse, find the food and have an enjoyable evening. A few guests will make the most of the situation, but most will probably feel a bit confused and may just leave.
The evening would be much more enjoyable if you are a good host. You must consider how the various groups will interact and foster an environment that will bring everyone together. Guide the conversation. Serve the main course. Delight with a dessert.
Make these same considerations when you are planning your UGC implementations. Your shoppers and customers are showing up to your site, what are you doing to bring them together? Analyze your customer segments to identify behaviors that could encourage content submissions, spark conversations and educate first-time shoppers.
Check out these 3 common customer behaviors and how they can be translated into a powerful UGC strategy.
You know your shoppers are using mobile devices to research products and to check the status of their orders. You have probably invested in mobile-friendly product pages and checkout processes. Augment these efforts by including a mobile-optimized UGC submission flow. Give customers the power to take and submit photos on their mobile phones when they are reviewing a product. Ensure that this UGC is easily found on your mobile site and viewable on a variety of devices by shoppers considering their next purchase.
Pride and Projects
Brand advocates are rarely bashful. From unboxings to shopping hauls, completing a project or completely taking a product apart, your most active customers have a lot to say and a lot to show off. Help your most enthusiastic customers to share their stories by prominently featuring customer-created video reviews of your products. Build awareness that videos can be included on your site and then actively share their hard work to spread their message as well as your own!
An informed shopper can become a valuable customer. They may just need to have a few questions answered before they can confidently make their first purchase. Think about conversations your customer service reps and store employees have with customers. Identify the topics that happen organically in your product reviews and Q&A sections. Certain products or product categories could benefit from having these themes prominently featured on product pages or in search results. For tough to answer questions or overly complex products, consider developing videos or written guides that can be an additional resource for shoppers. UGC comments and Q&A can supplement and complement these efforts and motivate shoppers to move further along the customer journey toward completing a purchase.
Using existing consumer behaviors to build a UGC strategy can help you to develop meaningful site interactions, motivate shoppers to buy and give customers a reason to come back and share thoughts on purchases. As you plan to add UGC features to your site, think about how you can help to expand on these successes rather than just adding features to your product pages and hoping for the best.
Learn how TurnTo customer Sur La Table identified a UGC collection opportunity on their order confirmation page. Download the “The Power of the Customer Voice” white paper.
September 8, 2015 by John Swords
… And we mean LOOK different.
- 90% of reviews come in response to emails
- >60% of emails are opened on phones
- Phones are bad for long text (like reviews)
- Phones are great for photos!
The implications are clear:
- Your strategy for collecting customer reviews needs to work on phones
- On phones, the strategy should be “visual first.”
So what is a visual review? It’s a photo (or video) submitted by a customer in response to a request for a review – the proverbial picture that is worth a thousand words. Instead of text stating, “With my new cookware, I was finally able to perfectly brown the crust of my famous chicken-pot-pie,” it is a photo of that perfect chicken-pot-pie.
Instead of text stating, “The shirt fit perfectly, with no extra blousing around my waist,” it is a selfie of the customer looking great in her new shirt.
Instead of text stating, “The fabric on the sofa was gorgeous, but the cushions were way too saggy,” it is a photo of the sofa with its gorgeous fabric and saggy cushions.
Far from being yet another “gotta-keep-up-with-changing-platforms chore,” the shift to visual content that the rise of smart phones demands creates a huge opportunity. Simply put, visual content converts better. Few shoppers have the patience to read the full body of customer reviews, and those that read any rarely go past the first couple of entries. So while having lots of reviews is valuable for signaling that an item is popular, most of the text you are collecting has little impact on conversion. On the other hand, shoppers can scan an image gallery in a blink and come away with a powerful, visceral sense of the appeal of a product.
This is not to say that you should abandon collecting text reviews; there is plenty of information in text reviews that images can’t convey. If a customer is on a desktop when they get your request to write a review, you should lead with the request for a standard text review (with an option to attach an image). But when the customer is on a mobile device, don’t try to force a round peg into a square hole by asking for text. Instead, ask the customer to do what comes more naturally on these devices and submit an image.
The applications are broad and go way beyond selfies. Image subjects can vary such as:
- Things made with the product (cooking, crafts, do-it-yourself projects)
- The product in use (home furnishings, hobby items)
- Unboxing and explainers (electronics, fashion)
- Travel (Hotel rooms, attractions)
- And yes, selfies (fashion, beauty, sporting goods)
Visual reviews are a great complement to imagery you can gather from social media sites, if you’ve taken that approach. But visual reviews also have some important advantages over social media harvesting and may be all the visual content collection you need:
- Images are automatically connected to the relevant SKU (saving a lot of work)
- Usage rights are automatically acquired
- You can collect a lot more images, since there is a big portion of your customer base that is happy to write a review but isn’t going to post your product to their Instagram page.
- The image collection is continuous; there’s no need for special hashtag campaigns
So as we said, the next generation of product reviews is going to look very different.
December 3, 2014 by John Swords
To provide some more context, I sat down with our CEO to discuss how this new product came about.
Heather: TurnTo is well known for providing the top-performing community-powered Q&A solution for eCommerce. Why branch out to Ratings & Reviews?
George: Well, we resisted for a long time! One reason we’ve been able to build up such a lead on the Q&A side is focus. But 4 things changed our minds. I’ll go through them:
- First, some businesses wanted to adopt our Q&A without increasing their vendor count. Our Q&A has always been targeted at businesses that take a best-of-breed approach to vendors; but with integrated Ratings & Reviews we can meet the needs of those who prefer suite providers, too.
- Second, we identified some very exciting ways to integrate the two products to deliver more value than either can alone.
- Third, we realized that all of the enterprise-grade infrastructure we built for Q&A could be leveraged by our Ratings & Reviews product, enabling us to rapidly build out the application and launch with a full enterprise-ready feature set.
- And finally, our customer research revealed some pretty wide-spread dissatisfaction with the existing choices and a strong demand for a better option.
Heather: What was the overall philosophy behind the design of TurnTo’s Ratings & Reviews product?
George: We spent a lot of time talking with both current customers and prospects to understand what they wanted in a Ratings & Reviews product, and the feedback was very consistent: all the important functions that have been proven to work, beautifully executed, on an enterprise-grade platform, at an affordable price. We also heard consistent requests to stay away from bells and whistles that don’t add value and clutter up the user experience or make the system management difficult just to appear different. The architect Mies van der Rohe was famous for saying “God is in the details”, by which he meant creativity doesn’t necessarily require wild gestures – there’s plenty of opportunity for innovation in just honing an idea until it’s really right. I’d say that was the philosophy guiding us here.
Heather: OK, so there’s nothing radically different about TurnTo’s Ratings & Reviews product, but are there still some innovations you’d like to point out?
George: At the application level, one nice touch is that the “purchaser credential” (like the Verified Buyer badge) provides an approximate date of purchase. That increases the credibility of the review and also enables the shopper to see how much experience the reviewer has had with the product. We also offer state-of-the-art mobile capabilities – responsive design right out of the box and phone-optimized UX for review collection. Plus, as I mentioned, we’ve found some very valuable new ways to integrate Ratings & Reviews with Q&A. For example, when a shopper enters a question, our Instant Answers feature now searches the Ratings & Reviews for relevant information (as well as the existing Q&A dialog and the store’s knowledge base). Also, the please-review-your-purchase email can now include an offer for customers to get help with their recent purchase from others who already own the item. That turns Q&A into a post-purchase support tool; and by coupling it to the review solicitation, stores can head off potential negative reviews and turn them into positive ones.
Heather: How has the market received TurnTo’s Ratings & Reviews so far?
George: The reception has been great. Many of our existing Q&A customers have already or are in the process of switching their reviews over to us, too. Many of our new customers are signing up for both reviews and Q&A together. And we’ve even got a some new customers who are starting with our Ratings & Reviews and planning to add Q&A later. And that’s all before we’ve really started to market this new product.
Heather: Does this mean TurnTo is no longer a “Q&A first” company?
George: No, we’re still Q&A-first. We expect that online business who are satisfied with the current reviews providers will still come to us for best-of-breed community-powered Q&A. It’s already the industry leader, and we have many big enhancements coming in 2015. But when you look the whole package of our Ratings & Reviews offering – the product itself, TurnTo’s outstanding support, affordability, integration with our industry-leading Q&A, and our extraordinary roadmap – it compares very favorably to the existing alternatives.
January 29, 2013 by George Eberstadt
The essence of social media is that the content comes from users. A social graph is important for some types of social sites, like Facebook, where posts tend to be of interest only to people who have a connection to the poster. But it’s not essential. I can lose myself quite happily in Pinterest without following or being followed by anyone. It’s the UGC (user-generated content) that’s the key.
So by that definition, should eCommerce sites be considered social media? Emphatically YES. On many eCommerce sites, most of the content is user-generated. On this page on Backcountry.com (I don’t know if it’s representative – it’s the first one I clicked on), the word count for reviews and Q&A is 1,125, while the combined Description and Technical Specs word count is 179. On this page on Adorama.com, the word count for Social Q&A is 6,116. The word count for customer reviews is 1,302. And the combined word count for Overview, Features, and Tech Specs is 478.
And yet eCommerce sites rarely think of themselves as social media sites. Most of the larger brands and stores we work with have separate teams for “site experience” and “social media marketing”. That makes sense. You want to organize your teams around the 80% of things they focus on uniquely, not the 20% of things where responsibilities overlap. But a consequence of this way of organizing is that the social aspects of the site experience often get too little attention. The site experience team needs to focus on page design and navigation and check-out and cross-sell/recommendation and branding and loads more; social interaction is just a small part of their mandate. The social media team, on the other hand, has become the center for expertise on how the store interacts with its customers, and how to encourage customers to interact with each other and spread the good word. But the social media team’s domain is everywhere on the web except the store site; that belongs to the site experience team.
With the social mojo focused off the brand/store website, and the store site team spread thin, it’s not surprising that the user experience on most store sites is not very social. But just ’cause that’s how it is doesn’t mean that’s how it should be. In fact, by ceding the social arena to the social media sites, most stores are missing huge opportunities to create value. A different approach, which recognizes that eCommerce IS social media and makes social a high-priority responsibility of the site experience team, can address many of the toughest challenges that online stores face.
Challenge #1: Differentiation.
If other stores also sell the same products you sell, then your product detail pages probably look a lot like theirs. Likely, you both get the same product descriptions from the manufacturer and use the same images. Not only does this leave you competing solely on price (yuck), it means you have little chance of generating search engine traffic organically. Whatever margin you have left is going out the SEM window.
But social content is unique. Build social engagement on your storefront and you can generate content no other site has, increasing the value you bring to your shoppers as well as your performance with search engines. (Jack Kiefer, CEO of BabyAge.com, has a great discussion of this point in this recent webinar.)
Challenge #2: Customer Support.
Pre- and post- sales, customers have questions. Sometimes these questions get posted on social media sites. But more often, those customers come to your site, and one way or another (email, phone, livechat) they end up in your call center. That costs you $, and it doesn’t always make your customer happy. While many inquiries need your staff (e.g. “where’s my order?”), many others can be handled at least as well socially. Past customers are often more accurate, faster, and more persuasive than your own team. Really. Here’s some hard data.
And here’s a little illustration: I stumbled on a customer question recently at Overstock.com about a chair I had bought from them. This person couldn’t figure out how to make it recline. Since I sit in it all day long, I had a pretty good idea what the problem was. AFTER I sent in my answer, customer service posted a vague “We want to help you…” non-answer. Then, to my gratification, the asker wrote back that my post indeed solved the issue. (See it here.) Social (1), Customer Support (0).
Challenge #3: Loyalty
Shoppers who engage deeply with your site are more likely to direct-navigate back to your site the next time they need to buy something, rather than just typing the thing into Google and going where ever that leads. So what opportunities for deep engagement do you provide? Social interaction is the most powerful tool you’ve got in the engagement tool kit. In fact, in a recent study, we found that first-time buyers who interact with Social Q&A while shopping are 15-40% more likely to make a repeat purchase within a year than first-time buyers who don’t. (Blog post on that coming up.)
Further, social gives you an opportunity to reach out to your past customers and invite them back to your site that is completely different from the usual promotional material you send. For example, past customers click through on shopper question emails and return to the store site to answer at a 10% rate. And the unsubscribe rate on these emails is typically ~ 0.2%. Most stores using the TurnTo Social Q&A system tell us that, by these measures, this question email is one of the best performing marketing emails they send. Period. Not to mention that the purchase conversion rate for these past customers who come back to answer is 2-4X higher than that of normal shoppers.
With benefits like these, it’s time for site experience teams to recognize that eCommerce IS social media and start prioritizing projects that socialize the on-site experience. Leaving social to the social media team is leaving money on the table.
August 5, 2011 by John Swords
Normally, we at TurnTo reserve our blog for topical posts about online commerce that will lead to spirited discussions about the state of the social web… but sometimes we win awards and can’t resist a little self-promotion. We’re honored that we were recently named an Ecommerce Junkie Award winner.
The team at EcommerceJunkie.com selected TurnTo based upon Ask Owners, our best-in-class Social Q&A product. As they noted, “Many of TurnTo’s retail partners have even said that Ask Owners provides more quality user-generated content than their very own customer review systems.”
They go on to say, “It has been awhile since we awarded a Junkie based on a technological feature but Turnto is certainly deserving of this month’s edition of the award!” Aw, shucks. You’re making us blush. Thanks so much to the whole Ecommerce Junkie team.
April 29, 2011 by George Eberstadt
Forrester and GSI just released a study by star analyst Sucharita Mulpuru showing social networks are not effective channels for ecommerce. The oldies – email and search marketing – perform far better. (Available free on the GSI website here. Data cited in Mashable here.) In a universe of endless, self-promotional, vendor-funded studies, this one should get more than it’s share of your attention because the sponsors gain nothing (but credibility) from spreading these conclusions.
In the face of this withering evidence, we think it’s a good moment to review the distinction between social media marketing and social commerce.
- Social media marketing is about delivering a commercial message on social media sites. It is a hub-and-spoke model of communication where the brand is the hub and customers/prospects are at the end of each spoke. It’s getting people to Like your fan page or to Follow you so they’ll accept your messages in their news feed. Social media gurus say you must “listen” carefully and that your tone when you speak must be “authentic”, advice that inherently assumes the dialog is between YOU and THEM. Social media marketing is comfortable to most organizations because it’s basically the old stuff, just in a new place.
- Social commerce is about facilitating interaction between your customers and prospect about you. You are not at the hub of the network; rather you provide tools that encourage discussion amongst the members (and prospective members) of your community. That discussion about you is happening anyway, but usually only in response to extreme experiences – positive and negative. But if you lower the barriers by providing the right tools, you can greatly increase the amount of discussion about you (and improve the tone, too). And that leads to increased sales. These tools can run on your own ecommerce site, on social networks, or on content sites across the web.
The Forrester / GSI study takes an ax to social media marketing, but not to social commerce. I like the analogy Fiona Dias of GSI uses to explain why social media marketing doesn’t work: just because lots of people go to church doesn’t mean church is the right place to advertise. Similarly, just because lots of people are on Facebook doesn’t mean Facebook is the right place to deliver your commercial message. Context matters. And while the Facebook context may not be right for brands to deliver their commercial messages, it is definitely a good place for brands to facilitate discussion between members of their community.
We think most brands should reconsider their social strategies – and especially their Facebook presence – in light of these findings. In particular, they should stop using their Facebook presence as just an extension of their existing brand or ecommerce website and instead think of it as a place to host discussion among the members of their community. They should also think about how to add tools to their ecommerce sites that facilitate dialog between prospects and customers. And finally they should think about how to tie all of these community presences together so that dialog in one location is visible on all.
That’s social commerce, and it’s alive and growing.
March 14, 2011 by George Eberstadt
Join us and leading Yahoo Store services provider FastPivot for a webinar on:
Tuesday, March 29, 2011 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT
Question-and-Answer systems are one of the hottest topics on the social web. Now learn how to use Social Q&A on your store to increase conversions, bring past customers back, improve your SEO rankings, and drive fresh traffic from social networks.
The goodwill of your customer base is the #1 asset of your business. Don’t leave it locked away. Adding Social Q&A to your store can release this untapped goodwill to generate more sales by connecting your shoppers directly to your customers. That’s what makes it “Social” – this isn’t just another customer service tool; this is a level of community engagement you’ve never seen before. Results include: – Shopper questions about popular items typically receive 3-6 answers from customers within 24 hours – 80% of these questions receive their first customer answer within an hour or two – 7% of past customers receiving a shopper question email return to the store to provide an answer – Shoppers who engage with Q&A convert at a massively higher rate – as high as 7X the baseline – Often produces more user-generated-content (UGC) than customer reviews with attendant SEO benefits During the webinar we’ll walk you through a number of live examples of Social Q&A in action on Yahoo! Stores. Register here
June 8, 2010 by George Eberstadt
It’s a big day at TurnTo: we’re introducing our Social Commerce Suite. (Yes, we know that it’s ambitious to call it a “Suite” with just 2 products – please humor us. Also, there’s more in the pipeline…) Official press release here.
So what’s new? 1. We’ve done a nearly complete overhaul of our current product, now branded “Social Merchandising” and 2. We’re introducing a new product called “Social Purchase Sharing”.
Social Merchandising. We’ve made improvements top to bottom.
- Shoppers who open the widget but don’t personalize it by checking for friends will now see a range of other customers and their purchases designed to give the site that buzzing busy-store feeling and to encourage consideration and purchase of more items. (The goal is to address one of the big limitations of the shopping online: lots of stuff in the stores, but no people.) We’ve built a ranking engine that selects which customers and which items to show, ensuring the greatest relevance given limited data.
- We’ve made the value and process of personalizing the widget a lot more transparent to the user, so many more of those who open the widget will go the next step and personalize it to see their own friends in place of those the system picks. Underlying this is a simplification of the sharing rules to a vanilla Twitter-style “follow” model. (See our last post about the importance of simplicity when it comes to privacy and sharing.) We’ve also switched to delegated login for most of the friend list sources we support, including the newest Facebook protocols. (The short explanation: it’s better.)
- The widget now shows big, attractive product images throughout, so not only are shoppers seeing which of their friends also shop at that store, the purchases those friends made look particularly inviting. Good for cross-sell and order size improvement.
- The comment mechanism has been redone to both capture more input from buyers and to show it more visibly to shoppers.
- We’ve made significant enhancements to the guts of the system to provide greater speed and reliability. These include use of a Content Delivery Network as well as a range of server-side caching and summarizing strategies. The design point was to be able to support the largest ecommerce sites out there.
- We’ve added new tools for optimizing the button that calls up the widget. It doesn’t do stores any good to have a fabulous social merchandising tool if only a few shoppers use it. We now provide a range of more interactive button designs as well as tools for doing rotation tests (randomized A/B/C tests) of alternatives. In its initial use, we’ve already seen large engagement rate improvements.
In a nutshell: you have to see it. So here’s the first screen shot we’ve released:
Social Purchase Sharing. Our partner merchants have been telling us how valuable it is when a customer posts to their social network (most often Facebook and Twitter) about their purchase. So we’ve added a simple tool to significantly increase the amount of purchase sharing online stores can generate. It’s an overlay that appears on the order confirmation page right after a purchase and makes a clear, persuasive appeal to share. The permission obtained from the buyer is also used to power the Social Merchandising widget, so the “sharing” appears both on the social networks and on the store site itself. Here’s an example of the overlay – just picture it on top of your order confirmation page. (See also our blog post on “Like” vs. “Bought”.
The TurnTo Social Commerce Suite will be generally available to online retailers at the beginning of Q3, 2010. If you are in Chicago this week for the Internet Retailer show (IRCE), please come by booth #431 and we’ll give you a full demo. If you’d like more information on the thinking that went into these products, please have a look at the white paper we just released: Onsite Social for Online Commerce.
May 14, 2010 by George Eberstadt
Here is the conversion lift data for the larger sites using TurnTo for the last couple months. We’re comparing the baseline conversion rate for the site to the conversion rate for shoppers who interacted with the TurnTo system at some point in their shopping path on the site. The 2-7X lift factors we were seeing in the first couple months of the year are still evident.
April 21, 2010 by George Eberstadt
First: we wholeheartedly agree with the ideas underlying Facebook’s big announcements today. People want to be able to interact with their friends on sites all across the web, not just within Facebook. And sites don’t all want to have to become Facebook apps to support this.
TurnTo has been working to enable contextual delivery of social networks on ecommerce sites since our founding in 2007. And we’ve proved that the benefits for both shoppers and merchants are significant. So we applaud Facebook, appreciate the validation that their heading in this direction provides, and are already hard at work incorporating their new API.
We also think that to derive maximum advantage from an Onsite Social strategy, ecommerce sites should not rely exclusively on the new Like-based functions that Facebook is providing, but should – more importantly – leverage their purchase transaction data. Here’s why:
It’s useful for your shoppers to see which of their friends know about your store and the products you sell. Facebook’s API takes care of the problem of determining who you shoppers’ friends are. But how do you determine what those friends know about? Facebook’s new Like button lets shoppers register a connection to items on your store that they, well, like. But Like does not equal know-about. And many people who buy from you – and therefore REALLY know about you and your products, will never click Like. In other words, there will be loads of false positives and false negatives.
If you were a content site, this might be the best you can do. But as a commerce site, you have a unique asset: the purchase transaction. You already have a massive set of people who really do know about you and your products, and the list grows every day. They’re called: customers.
So go ahead and use the new Facebook plugins. But also, and more importantly, leverage your transactional data to socialize the shopping experience on your site. That’s where the big opportunity lies.
February 19, 2009 by John Swords
Last year, ecommerce sites that sell to “grown ups” sometimes told us, “We don’t need a social shopping strategy – our customers don’t use social networks.” That was last year. The landscape is changing at an incredible pace, and customer profiles in 2009 are going to look quite different. Take a look at this article about the growth rate in the over-55 Facebook population.
February 3, 2009 by George Eberstadt
Here’s the TurnTo presentation from the OnMedia conference today. This talk focuses on the whole idea of “Trusted References”. The TurnTo part goes from roughly minute 1 to minute 10. (I’m hoping the conference will provide a version of this without the side-bar. I’ll upgrade if we get one…)
January 23, 2009 by George Eberstadt
I just got back from the Social Networking Conference in Miami. Here’s the presentation I gave, titled “Ecommerce Meets Social Networks: A Different Approach to Driving Online Referrals”. The usual caveats about slides-without-accompanying-commentary apply.