Organic social media success

A recent trip to the grocery store for a few staple items turned into a reason to wander down the aisle known (to me, at least) as the cookie and chip aisle.  A promotional display at the end of the aisle lured me in with the promise of cheap Oreo cookies, for just $1.67.  Even better, was that these weren’t regular Oreos.  These cookies were some sort of special edition, apple pie and hot cocoa flavoured delicacies, as opposed to the pedestrian black and white variety.  As a die hard Oreo fan, this deal was too good to miss, and I tossed a few packages of Oreos into my basket.

Before my first (possibly life changing bite), I decided to share my haul of junk food on Instagram.  After posting, I received a medley of likes from both friends and random Instagram users.  Two friends had commented on the post, both asking for my feedback on the cookies in the images I had shared.  One friend had asked if I had enjoyed them and if they were worth trying.  She mentioned she had noticed them on her last trip to the store, but was on the fence about trying them.  I replied that, yes, they were quite tasty and worth picking up while on sale.  I can’t confirm if this led or will lead to a purchase as of time of publishing, but this interaction is a great example of the effectiveness of social and earned media.  This interaction removed purchase objections by providing product feedback.  By providing social proof, this friend moved further down the sales funnel, closer to conversion (taking a desired action, in this case a sale).

The second friend to comment, asked how many cookies were in the package, as the price was so low.  I replied that it was a normal sized package, with a normal amount of of cookies, just at a very low price.  After about an hour, this friend left another note on my Instagram post, mentioning that he had purchased four boxes of both apple pie and cinnamon bun Oreos.  In the span of about two hours, a very brief, casual social media interaction caused this friend to discover a product of which they were previously unaware, and make a very quick decision to purchase.

Without any effort, involvement, or even knowledge of these social interactions, Oreo has gained referrals, positive product reviews, and sales directly attributable to my Instagram post.  While this post was a win for Oreo, this engagement happened outside of their marketing channels, campaigns, and owned media.  The post was just two photos of store bought cookies on my kitchen counter.  No professional photography or editing was used, no money spent on ad placement.

The scenario described above illustrates the power of social media to add to a brand’s bottom line.  Through naturally occurring, organic, unpaid social interactions, user generated content led to both a directly attributable sale and positive product feedback.  Generating this online “buzz” is one of the core strengths of social media as a marketing tool.  This post and the positive PR it generated is known as earned media.  Earned media can be a very effective marketing tactic as it carries a high level of credibility and authenticity.  Consumers are more likely to positively respond to credible and authentic messages, such as product recommendations and reviews. Previous studies have found that 79% of consumers give equal weight to online product reviews as they would as personal recommendation (source).

My Instagram post (inadvertently) acted as an effective PR piece and led to a sale.  While unintentional, these results can be replicated by any businesses’ social channels.  Including the below elements in your social media marketing, to drive increased engagement, greater brand exposure and increased conversions.

  1. Visuals
    The photo quality may be a bit crude, but having multiple images, showing the actual product and packaging, was key to getting engagement.  If this had been a text only post on Twitter or Facebook, the impact would have been negligible in comparison.  The individual cookie photos let viewers understand exactly what the product was, while the packaging photo directs them to what to look for on the store shelf.
  2. Use Social Proof
    Social Proof is a powerful influence tactic.  Social proof includes product reviews and other positive feedback from real people.  Consumers are much more likely to believe and act on information from someone they could relate to, rather than a faceless company or brand.  Consider these numbers when deciding if you really need to include product reviews in your social media marketing:

    • According to Nielsen, 83% of consumers from 60 countries say they trust recommendations from family and friends over any other form of advertising.
    • 66% of consumers trust online customer reviews.
    • According to research by SheKnows Media, 86% of female shoppers say they trust product recommendations from real people more than celebrities.
  3. Consumers think with their wallets
    The comments of my second friend to reply to my cookie post focused on price and value.  Upon learning the cookie packages were the normal size, even at the sale price, he had purchased 8 packages within an hour.  Product quality, brand loyalty and other factors definitely affect conversions, but cost is still often king.  Consumers are price conscious and always on the lookout for the best deals.
  4. Keep it concise
    Besides the photos, my post was composed of just 9 words in the main body, followed by 9 hashtags,  I could have included a short story about my after work trip to the grocery store, but instead I opted to explain exactly what was in the photos.  In as few words as possible, I shared my message and it was received and understood clearly by my audience.  In this particular scenario, having a short post worked.  However, other posts may benefit from longer copy, depending on the message and purpose of the post.  There are many published studies and other resource on how long a post should be.  Take these into consideration, along with the context, purpose of the post, and what sort of content works best with your intended audience.
  5. Trust, credibility, and authenticity
    My friends asked for and acted on my feedback because they know me.  They likely wouldn’t be asking for advice from an internet stranger.  It is crucial for brands to be seen as authentic and trustworthy; brands can live and die, or have reputations destroyed by being associated with deceitful or dishonest practices.  Studies have shown that consumers consider authenticity as one of the main characteristics which would attract them to a brand.  63% of consumers are likely to buy from a brand they consider authentic.  The demand for brand authenticity is stronger in social, with 91% of consumers wanting brands to be authentic in their posts.

To best leverage your brand’s social channels and set yourself up for the sort of “accidental” wins described in this article, your brand must share relevant, authentic, and interesting content tailored to your audience and the context of the post.  Use visuals and keep copy tight and concise.  Include social proof such as product reviews ad customer testimonials.  Consumers are much more likely to be persuaded by real people rather than faceless companies.  Develop a brand that is authentic and credible; consumers expect and deserve this.  Any claims about a product or service need to align with the actual customer experience.  Apply these principles to your social (and all other) marketing, if you’re interested in strengthening your brand while promoting sales.


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