When it comes to making a purchase decision, consumers generally follow a routine regardless if they are buying a big ticket item or an everyday necessity. Although routines may vary, there are common steps that people take before and after making a purchase. Traditionally these steps could have taken days, weeks or months to complete before a purchase decision would have been made. However, the consumer purchase cycle has become much shorter now that 90 percent of Internet users research products online (Forrester Research).
Through digital media, your customers have access to tools and information that enable them to dodge interruptive brand messages and instead seek out information on their own terms. Consumers are able to make smarter, faster decisions and it is up to you to influence their buying habits by becoming a trusted source of information through social media.
Traditional Consumer Purchase Cycle
Let’s take a look at the traditional cycle. Before social media, the process involved several time-consuming steps. These steps began with Need Recognition and rarely deviated from the same order of steps for each purchase decision.
Five Steps of the Traditional Purchase Decision
- Need recognition — Consumer recognizes a need or desire to make a purchase
- Information source — Consumer seeks out various information sources to research available options
- Evaluation of alternatives — Consumer compares two or more products or brands in order to determine the best fit for their need and budget
- Purchase decision — Consumer has completed their research, decides what they want and makes a purchase
- Post-purchase evaluation — Consumer evaluates the product to determine if the purchase adequately meets their need or desire
The traditional way consumers make purchasing decisions has changed significantly. Social media has accelerated the cycle to the point in which the same instance a need is recognized a purchase decision can be made. The cycle is shortened due to the easy access of a network of trustworthy and influential friends. Your customers are quickly influenced by their friends and will make purchase decisions based on their experiences. Let’s see how it how it works.
The Social Purchase Decision
A new customer may decide to visit your store after just one engagement or conversation within their social network. Although that conversation may be between them and your business, the most influential engagements occur between their personal network of friends. Consumers trust their friends and are willing to make a purchase based off of the content they share online. A single Facebook share, Twitter retweet and Pinterest repin from a friend can instantly influence a customer into making a purchase.
It is important that you begin crafting social content that your customers will share. Networks like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter offer additional tools such as Insights and analytics to help you dive deeper into the performance of your store’s content.
The easiest way to get a high-level understanding of your influence is to scroll through your social media accounts and take note of the content with the most shares, repins and retweets. Group your posts into a few categories:
- Product-related posts and promotions
- Links to articles, blogs and community happenings
- Brief text-only updates, reminders and quotes
- Images that express your stores personality — storefront, staff, customer features
Then, determine which category receives more viral engagement than others. Likes and comments are important, but when it comes to influencing loyal customers and gaining new ones, shared content is best.
The only social network that does not have social sharing built in is Instagram. There are third party apps such as Repost and Regram that enable you to share images of those you are following while crediting the original source. However, not everyone uses these apps so the easiest way to measure your brand’s influence on Instagram is to see if others are mentioning or tagging your business as well as utilizing a hashtag that is unique to your business in their posts.
A mention or tag will show up in your Instagram notifications, but a hashtag takes some extra digging. Head to the explore tab (compass icon), type in a hashtag that is unique to your store and you’ll find every post including that hashtag. Here’s where you should interact with everyone that is posting about your store. It’s a great way to gain access to an audience of highly engaged fans.
Tactics & Tools That Will Increase Social Sharing
Although social engagement depends on your audience, there are some proven tactics that will increase social sharing among your following. Combine these tactics with the popular posting categories you defined earlier to make your social content go viral. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself what will make your loyal customers want to share your content?
- Stimulating and appealing visuals — Text over image illustrations, graphics and photos of your products and store. This type of content works best for holidays, special occasions, new arrivals, sales and seasonal store displays. When you are pressed for time, post, tweet or pin a product or display shot right from your phone. Your smartphone takes high quality photos and enables you to share them quickly through an array of social media mobile applications for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
- Memorable and meaningful quotes and statistics — Inspirational messages and fun statistics that resonate with your following. Tie quotes in with certain days of the week such as Motivational Monday, humpday and the upcoming weekend. Use statistics to show the importance of shopping local, as well as other trends related to your industry.
- Memes, ecards, humor and jokes — Show your store’s personality with funny posts, memes and photos of your staff and customers. You can find an endless amount of ecards and memes through a search on Pinterest. Set a limit on how edgy and personal your tone can be on social media and communicate that with your staff.
Incorporate these tactics into your social media marketing plan to begin increasing shares, retweets and repins. Don’t forget to measure the categories of posts and tweets that receive the most shares in order to evaluate the type of content you should incorporate in your social media marketing plan.
It is up to you to gain the same trust and influence that your customers have with their personal network of friends. Follow these best practices and measure your success to accelerate your customers’ purchase decisions and create brand advocates.