Every business owner seems to be at a different point in their journey with social media. If you've already laid a basic foundation for your business, such as creating a Facebook business page or LinkedIn profile, then you might be wondering about specific strategies for turning your efforts into revenue. Your next step depends on what kind of business you're in.

E-COMMERCE: If you sell products or services online, social media are likely your key to customer loyalty, referrals, and repeat purchases.

The Adobe Digital Index showed social traffic to online retailers doubled from 2011 to 2012. When measured by "last click" referrals, this amounts to 2 percent of total online shopping traffic, which may sound small – until you consider the possibility of continued doubling, year after year.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, applied Moore's Law to sharing back in 2008, positing that "next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before." This idea has come to be known as Zuckerberg's Law.

I predict that we'll see a similar trend in the convergence of social media and e-commerce, with the percentage of e-commerce that is socially referred continuing to double every coming year – to 4 percent in 2013, 8 percent in 2014, and 16 percent in 2015. So what do you need to know to capitalize on this trend?

Mauria Finley, founder and CEO of Citrus Lane, is a master of leveraging social for selling, without ever asking for the sale. Citrus Lane is a subscription company delivering monthly collections of curated baby products, and their Facebook strategy relies more on human psychology than hard-sell techniques for drawing new converts into the fold.

Finley said, "We use our happy customers as our advocates and let the natural triggers of envy and scarcity do the selling for us." And indeed, the Citrus Lane Facebook page is full of pictures of subscriber babies clutching their latest sold-out toy of the moment, irresistible fodder for keeping up with the Joneses.

Finley added, "We don't see ourselves as leading the conversation with our customers, but rather our job is to facilitate their interactions with each other." One recent post illustrates this principle by posting a question from "Patty," who needed help with getting her 2-year-old to sleep in her own bed. In less than 60 minutes, Patty's question had 75 comments, a testament to their approach.

TRADITIONAL COMMERCE: If you sell products or services through an offline model, social media can help you do everything from generate leads to increase foot traffic to advertise new offerings. The key is to understand your customer's habits and motivations.

Find out where your customers spend their time online and experiment to discover what content they'll respond to. What's keeping them up at night, and conversely, what do they do to escape their worries for a while?

Liz Guthridge, managing director and change management consultant at Connect Consulting Group, says she devotes time to participating in LinkedIn groups where her prospects hang out. "The groups are an underutilized feature of LinkedIn, and they're a great way to see what your clients are discussing. I'll comment whenever I can add something of value, which builds my credibility as a trustworthy resource."

In all of the hurry to get your message out, don't forget to listen to your customers and act on what they say. For example, use social media to poll your customers about what inventory you should be stocking. When a customer sees that the cupcake flavor she voted for on Monday is on sale Tuesday, she'll be that much more motivated to make a purchase.

You can also combine tracking your results from various social channels with incentivizing your customers by issuing different discount codes by channel. For example, you might offer 10 percent off using code "ABC" on Facebook and using code "123" on Instagram. These are sometimes called whisper codes and can generate useful insights as to whether Twitter is working better than Pinterest, or vice versa.

In summary, social is here to stay, and no matter if you sell online or offline, socially referred business is going to continue to grow as a driver of revenues. So it behooves you to find where your customers are congregating, to figure out what content they want to see, and to create engagement in a way that builds loyalty to your business.



Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book "Ask the Mompreneur" and the founder of the social shopping website CartCentric.com. Email her at TheJennieWong@gmail.com.


(c)2013 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at www.charlotteobserver.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services