As marketer's understanding of the way that social media affects the traditional buying processes has grown, new ways of working to engage consumers have emerged. Businesses have struggled to understand how to maximize engagement via social media, which is inherently personal and traditionally works on an individual level. Recent changes have encouraged businesses to promote their brands on social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. And the growth in mobile devices, specifically smart phones, has made a whole new level of engagement possible.

New ways of thinking

Back in 2008, Dave Evans proposed a new paradigm for the social media sales funnel. If we combine this with the marketing AIDA model, a full circle of buying and referring can be noted that breaks away from the traditional linear AIDA model.

Social Media Buying Cycle

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Each element of the model can be explained to gain additional insight into how digital marketers can utilize tactics to generate maximum sales.

Attention

Before you can start to sell your offering, you need to gain consumer's attention. This might be done on or offline, via an advert, blog, social media post or sponsorship. Once you have gained the consumer’s attention you can deliver your key marketing messages.

Interest

Your marketing messages should stimulate some level of interest in your product or services by demonstrating the features and benefits. The need may have to be established, too. New products may be a disruptive innovation that consumers are not aware of. Additionally, the offering may satisfy a need indirectly, such as further education as a route to getting a better job.

Desire

Your marketing message needs to convey your value proposition to your customers. In other words, you have the right product at the right price. This will be key for gaining positive feedback, as most people will rate a product on whether it performed as specified and that the cost was appropriate for the performance.

Action

The customer needs to be sufficiently convinced about your offering to perform an action, ideally making a purchase, but your objective might be to get consumers to take a test drive or attend an open day. User generated feedback is often seen as essential to decision making when buying online, with much research to support this.

Consumer reviews are significantly more trusted -- nearly 12 times more -- than descriptions that come from manufacturers, according to a survey of US Internet users by review site EXPO. A high product rating will increase the likelihood of purchase for 55% of consumers. Additionally, the availability of product ratings was a factor for 59% of UK shoppers, as was the availability of user generated or consumer product reviews (57%).


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Use

Once an action has been taken, the consumer will use/consume your product or service. This might be an instant, one-off usage or may extend for months or years.

Opinion

As the consumer uses the offering, they will develop an opinion as to whether the product or service met the need established in the interest phase and whether the value proposition was correct. So it is important that your presales marketing information and branding is reliable, accurate and does not set up false expectations.

Talk

Once consumers have started to use your offering they can be encouraged to give online feedback and share their opinion of your offering. This is often done immediately post sale if appropriate or by a timely email requesting the consumer leave a comment for others on the service or product page. This can vary from a simple Facebook “like” button or star rating to a full feedback form. More detailed forms will allow prospective customers to drill down into reviews that meet their requirements. After the process the consumer is asked to share the review with their network of contacts via social media.

Importantly, the user generated comments and feedback can attract future consumers’ attention, interest and desire, fueling the sales pipeline. This occurs in the “zone of influence.”

Generating informal/unsolicited feedback is more difficult, where the consumer posts comments or videos directly to their social networks. These networks need to be monitored so that negative feedback can be addressed and positive feedback promoted.

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How to increase engagement, talk and conversions

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Step 1: Maximize the zone of influence

The difference between the AIDA model and the social media buying cycle is that the latter continues the conversation, facilitated by social media. This cycle can still occur offline, but it is easier online and more importantly will remain on record for others to find in the future (see Twitter example above).

Businesses can nurture and promote this by helping to amplify the “talk” section of the model. This feedback loop, where customers “talk” to prospects about your offering and brand experience is known as the zone of influence. It is here that digital marketers should focus their attention to gain brand engagement. This is not a social media campaign, but a strategic approach to maximizing what customers are saying about you, to keep you connected day-to-day.

Step 2: Mobilize the zone of influence

The full integration that is now possible with social media, mobile websites and mobile devices means that brand owners can accelerate the benefits and conversion offered by the zone of influence. To do this, mobile websites or apps should be available and make use of the inherent technology in mobile devices such as cameras, geo-location and Bluetooth.

Zone of Influence Examples

Many businesses proactively encourage product review sharing in the zone of influence successfully on their websites.

Some of the tools used include:

  • User generated content and calls to action to create and rate products.
  • The ability to share products and reviews via social media.
  • Customer-to-customer direct engagements where a prospect can ask a product owner a question about the product.

These two screen shots illustrate zone of influence tactics in real life situations:


Wiggle

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Comet

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Conclusion

Successful facilitation of as much online “talk” about your products or services via your website, mobile site and social media will increase your conversion rate. Customers like to see ratings from and engage with other product owners before buying. This engagement is more trusted than corporate communications, and so should be promoted as much as possible.

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