Selling with posts, tweets and pins

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are powerful selling tools. Charles Orton-Jones knows how to get the most from them


Here’s a cracking lesson in how to sell via Facebook. Sally’s Cottages is a holiday lettings agency with 300 cottages in the Lake District and Cumbria. Last September, the business had 6,000 “likes”. This has rocketed to 58,000 in a year. The customer reaction has to be seen to be believed. A single prize giveaway of a free cottage for a weekend got 6,558 comments, 3,255 shares and was seen by 425,000 people. Facebook is the biggest referrer of business. Referrals for the first six months of 2014 were 39,853 compared with 6,049 in the previous 12 months, a rise of 559 per cent.

Who said Facebook can’t be used for selling? Founder Sally Fielding reports: “When we ran the competition, we maxed out bookings for the cottage we were promoting for the rest of this year. That demonstrates the power of social media.”

Her method? She says: “We do Facebook advertising which helps us to gain page ‘likes’, but it is through posting interesting stories which invite our Facebook fans to tell us about themselves which get the best response. The images that we use on Facebook are crucial and whichever image we put up on Facebook has to tell a story – we find this really dictates the level of interaction we get. For example, people love pictures of water and mountains, but aren’t as responsive to a festival or a localised event.” Ms Fielding does all the commenting herself because, as the owner and boss, she wants to have a personal connection to users – and it works.

This anecdote shows just how powerful social media channels can be for selling. Yes, it’s easy to laugh at Twitter when Harry Styles of One Direction gets half a million retweets for uttering drivel like “Love everybody”, but channels such as Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, Vine and Google+ all have big commercial potential.

Snapchat is the social media phenomenon which baffles businesses. The messages self-destruct in seconds, leaving no trace. So how can it be used to sell?

Selling via social networks remains a Wild West – you are free to experiment to your heart’s content

A recent Co-operative Electrical campaign gives a valuable pointer. The goal was to target students. Vouchers for £30 off a laptop were pinged out as picture messages on Snapchat. James Kirkham, co-founder of the agency behind the campaign Holler, says: “If the brand has a product they want to create an event around, then a tease and reveal promotion through Snapchat is a viable marketing opportunity. This might be a snap of the forthcoming new product range, a fleeting glimpse of the limited edition canned drink before it goes on sale, a moment of an exclusively designed dress before anyone else.”

POWER OF IMAGES

Pinterest is probably the most overlooked social media site for business. Interaction is lower than on Facebook; users simply pin or add a single line of comment under a picture. Not much room for creativity. No matter, says Phillip Smith, the UK manager of Trusted Shops, which helps 17,000 retailers sell online. “Pinterest is definitely the unsung hero in product selling,” he says. “While customers don’t have direct access to buy, the demographic is right for customers who have time to kill and money to burn. If you showcase your best products and spend time designing boards for different product types, customers with specific interests will be engaged, driving high-quality traffic to your site.”

The cost of putting images on Pinterest is negligible. In August, Pinterest launched a business analytics platform, offering audience insights, advice for increasing impressions, clicks and repins, and traffic and engagement metrics.

Making the most of data will be at the heart of all successful business campaigns. In addition to monitoring activity, via Facebook’s in-house charting set, Google Analytics and other standard traffic-monitoring tools, you may need to track what people are saying about you online. Sentiment analysis programmes read Twitter and Facebook to gauge the mood around events, people and firms. Since it requires machine-reading of the English language there are sceptics. Air France uses Spotter to monitor Twitter; Viralheat, Semantria and SAS Sentiment Analysis are also names worth researching.

But selling via social networks remains a Wild West – you are free to experiment to your heart’s content. Airline KLM certainly is. A new scheme called Meet & Seat allows passengers to link to reveal their Google+ and LinkedIn profiles when they book a ticket. Other passengers can see this information and then request to talk to them or sit by them. KLM says the idea will “build a sense of community among its customer base, while encouraging brand loyalty among its most frequent users.”

It might. It might not. But the beauty of social media is that the cost of participation is so low and the potential gains sky high. So why not plunge in?