Is Social Media for Selling?

by Ken Mueller on March 6, 2013 · 20 comments

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One of the common statements made about social media is:

Social media is not for selling.

The conventional wisdom is that while traditional media channels are OK for a sales pitch, social media really isn’t. In fact, when I work with clients and speak to groups, there’s a good chance they’ll hear me say,

“No one wants to be sold to.”

And in a sense, that is true. We both actively and passively tune out the thousands of marketing and advertising messages with which we are confronted each day. Ads and commercials are seen as interruptions and intrusions on our lives. And with social media that becomes even more of a problem. We expect ads on traditional media channels. Television and radio commercials are the norm. We know that we’ll see ads on the highway, or in magazines or newspapers. We understand that it’s part of the price we pay.

But on social media, we are there to be social. To connect with friends and family, and yes, even businesses. But on our own terms.

Having said that, it is possible to sell on social media, you just have to be careful how you do it. The other day I saw the following item in my Facebook news feed, and thought it was an appropriate means of using social to sell:

daves ace hardware Is Social Media for Selling?

 

My friend Dave Warren of Dave’s Ace Hardware out in Wisconsin took to Facebook in his usual personable way. He used a bit of humor, and the impending snow storm, to get rid of the last snow blower he had in stock. I’m guessing that this might have been his last chance before having to go with a deep discount, or mothball it until next winter. And sure enough, within a short period of time he had gotten several calls and the snowblower was out the door.

It’s not that you can’t use social media for selling, you just have to be careful how you do it.  It’s all in your approach. In this case, Dave had a need and figured that at least one of his customers could help him out and meet their own need: snow removal. It worked. And a big part of this is Dave’s personality and demeanor; people don’t mind the occasional sales pitch from Dave because they like him based on how he presents himself regularly, both online and in person.

A lot of it depends on your business category. For those in the entertainment and hospitality industries, it’s not only acceptable to sell, it’s expected. If you own a restaurant, tell us about your specials for the day. We want that. If you are a movie theater or entertainment complex, tell us what’s playing and when. We want that. We don’t really view that as “selling.”

In fact, much of this comes down to what our definition of “selling” might be. I firmly believe that providing good customer service and experience online is a form of marketing and a form of selling. Remember, not all sales tactics require a blatant call to action. Not all sales tactics involve showcasing a specific product and asking people to buy it, though Dave shows that that can be done in a very tasteful way.

Truth be told, the social eco-system does a pretty good job of policing itself. Those who sell too much or too hard will hear about it from their customers, either directly with real feedback, or indirectly with a drop in numbers.

 Is Social Media for Selling?
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18 comments
dbvickery
dbvickery

I've definitely erred on the side of "not selling". Part of it is to build the relationships with the hope that I am invited to share what I do for a living. Of course, we are all drinking from the social media firehose, so few of us have time to invite yet another pitch from anybody!

When I do share, it's a gentle prod like "hey guys, I'm cool with you liking our fan page...we are pretty astounding, you know". If I include product screenshots, it's usually sports teams because folks are passionate about their home teams. It isn't a sales pitch so much as it is "if you think this is cool - imagine the same for your brand".

I've definitely built more brand awareness as a result - no conversions yet. EIther people aren't in the market for what I'm selling...or I'm TOO low-key.

shahzebit
shahzebit

well it depends up on your features whether it is going to be successful or not, a colleague of mine started buddy bid a first facebook auction list currently its under development but i wont prefer going social media for selling a business or business brokerage services i would prefer some local business broker eg companysales.co.nz  and should be pretty old business broker not a some yesterday born kid :)

TomMartin
TomMartin

I've always disagreed with the "you can't sell" on social media. Social is just a virtual version of real life... and folks have been selling in real life via smart networking for quite some time. 

Selling on social is just more elegant than most companies attempt. You don't rush up and say "hey buy this" instead, you seduce the person into wanting to buy. Here is a great example of a brand selling on Twitter vs one that tries to just barge in and say, "hey I'm here -- come follow and I'll give you stuff" http://ow.ly/itmft  might be worth a peek. 

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

This is perfect and timely for me, Ken. I'm testing these very waters out with a bit of selling on social media! I'll let you know how it goes or if I totally tick off everyone. My next post is about "going shopping" so watch for it! And, really? If that's the way I'm heading to change it up, I have to muddy the waters and look into it! Thanks!!

Latest blog post: We're Drowning In Marketing

susansilver
susansilver

I think about this a lot, but I did have an an experience recently. I am a community manager and I saw two people talking about company. They were discussing the recent release of a PDF, but the friend had not shared the link. I jumped on the opportunity to get involved and sent him a tweet to the store. Only a few minutes later, I received a tweet that they were happily reading their copy.

I like to believe that I directly influenced that sale.

vniven
vniven

Ken, you nailed it.  

"Selling" is otherwise called "helping another solve a problem" when it's done correctly - offline or online.  

The cool thing about doing this in public on a network like Twitter is that everyone else sees you helping, which only improves brand image and loyalty.

Unfortunately, way too many brands today are caught up in trying to be "interesting" or publishing "attractive content" or recruiting "influencers and advocates" in social media, instead of spending their time seeking out people who need their help - and helping them by sharing information, answering questions, leading them to resources, etc.  

I think this is because marketing controls most social media interactions today, not sales or service.  Not knocking them, that's what marketing is supposed to do - attract customers.

But I look forward to a day when all departments are empowered to connect with customers and prospects over social media as freely as we use email to do the same work, today.  The term "social selling" will disappear at that point - I mean, who says, "email selling", today?

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Thanks for this Ken! I get pretty touchy whenever I hear people toss about the word "selling", and when all I had read was this headline my initial response was "then the definition of selling needs to change" and voila! You work your way around to that point. In my sales training, we were always taught not to "jump to the provide". It isn't all about product or making the sale right then and there. When I do in person sales calls, I do not even bring along product. I engage the person in conversation to learn more about them, and then if suited, I offer to draw together some resources for them which I provide in a follow up. When I see people just jumping to "buy this!!!" without having earned the right to do so, I get more than a little offended. In the social space, I guess that liking someone's page or following their tweets may be seen as being given permission to be sold to. I usually do not like product dumps in my social stream, but what your friend Dave did was great- tied in to a need, and offered value to the customer (even if I cringed at the first line). I am more welcoming of businesses that provide me with a service- such as updating their daily menu or telling me who is teaching which yoga class that day. It is still selling, but not in a hard fashion- it is providing me with valuable information which may influence my decision to buy.  

Shonali
Shonali

I think you're absolutely right in that it's all about HOW you do it. And it differs depending on the kind of business you're in. For retail businesses, how they use social media to "sell" is very different than how you and I use it. Right?

LizJostes
LizJostes

I'm pretty sure the cake photo I took yesterday reaffirms this as well as tops this. :-) 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@vniven You make some valid points, for sure. A big part of what you are talking about is listening. Understanding what people are saying, and even being more proactive about getting them talking so that you can listen even more.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@RebeccaTodd We often forget what social media is about. It's more about the "social" than it is the "media." People expect to be sold to in traditional media, but that's not why they are on social media. As marketers, we have to find ways to be more social.

Latest blog post: Can you sell on social media?

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Shonali Very true. You and I need to be a lot more subtle. I see  a lot of folks in our field ending every blog post with a "hire me" call to action, and it's a real turn off.

Latest blog post: Can you sell on social media?

vniven
vniven

@KenMueller @vnivenExactly. The fine art of active listening - with respect for the other person's context.  

As in real life, often the hardest part of social selling is that first introduction to someone you don't know, but who appears may benefit from your assistance (whatever form that takes).  What exactly do you say? 

We recently put up a Pinterest board of examples of people who know how to prospect for customers successfully on Twitter (in our opinion + based on the results we can see).  You can find it by searching Pinterest for "10 Ways to Introduce Yourself". 
The board displays real first-time engagements we've observed in the wild but had nothing to do with, other than helping the sales/marketing pro find the opportunity in the first place. We compiled it so that our users could learn from each other.  

There's a lot of learning left to do, but it's really cool to observe first-hand how social networks are humanizing (is that a word?) the selling process.  

vniven
vniven

@KenMueller @vniven  Exactly. The fine art of active listening - with respect for the other person's context.  

As in real life, the hardest part of social selling can be making first contact with someone you don't know, but who appears will benefit from your assistance (whatever that may be).  What exactly do you say? 

We recently put up a Pinterest board of examples of people who know how to prospect for customers successfully on Twitter (in our opinion, based on the results we can see).  You can find it by searching Pinterest for "10 Ways to Introduce Yourself". 
The board displays real first-time engagements we've observed in the wild but had nothing to do with, other than helping the sales/marketing pro find the opportunity in the first place. We compiled it so that our users could learn from each other.  

There's a lot of learning left to do, but it's really cool to see first-hand how social networks are humanizing (is that a word?) the selling process. 

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

@KenMueller While I do know enough of my history to know that media evolved as a way to sell, and not to entertain, I am sceptical in even how traditional media sells to me. I know that I do not watch any live tv- I DVR or stream everything, commercial free. As you alluded to in your post, we are inundated with advertising now, and most people block it right out. Because I am an ass, I in fact take agin companies who market to me too aggressively  Send me en ee emm sales pitch and flag it "urgent"? You are OUT- just because you need to make your quarterly doesn't mean I care.  Hah even though I am ranting, I agree with you- but to me, it isn't about social media vs traditional, it is the whole state of sales and marketing! Rant over! 

LizJostes
LizJostes

@KenMueller If all I did was take a pic of the cake, it would have been passed over. But because I was being goofy (and outrageous), it garnered TONS of engagement and gave the chef a lot of social press, too.

BTW, Klout doesn't recognize those updates that get crazy, through-the-roof engagement. Have you noticed that?

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