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How to Convert Social Media Talk into Sales

Social media salesThere's lots of talk among businesspeople about whether you can convert social media engagement into sales. After all, "likes" don't pay the bills. But regardless of their direct impact on the bottom line, these platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, offer unprecedented access to potential customers around the globe. As a result, there's no question that a shrewd social media strategy is integral to any modern-day marketing plan.

"Consumers are able to see products and services in use in real time," says Brittney Borowicz, marketing manager at Grid Connect Inc. in Naperville, Ill., "which can help in their decision-making process about whether or not to buy a specific product or service."

If you believe that social media engagement can lead directly to sales, the question becomes: How do you turn followers into customers? Here, experts offer a few tips:

Make friends

Too many companies approach social media as they once did TV or print advertising. They bombard potential consumers with messages about why they should purchase a product or service. Maybe they get clever. Maybe they use colorful images or some sort of gimmick. They're still just pitching a product. Most people on social media find that annoying and tune them out.

"Converting people on social media to sales is about establishing a digital voice that makes sense and then 'genuinely' reaching out to offer answers or promotions," says Tim Welsh, who is in charge of digital strategy for Standing Dog Interactive. "If your brand doesn't feel like a friend offering advice or a hook-up in its tone, it will turn off your audience and they won't be as inclined to do what you suggest."

Offer incentives

One way to form a friendship with followers is to offer discounts and contests. For example, Welsh once set up the geo-targeted social listening function on Twitter and learned that an entire office of people was hungry. He was marketing for a local restaurant, reached out, and offered 20 percent off a catering order if the staff took photos of the food and posted them on social media. "We got that sale, numerous engagements in the following months from that company," adds Welsh, "and great user-generated content."

Answer questions

People often turn to social media because it's an easy way to get answers to questions from varied sources. So, be the source. Float Plan One, an app related to boating safety, has been responding to questions from potential customers on its Facebook page, and then adding the questions and answers to the FAQ page on their website. "Not everybody reads your product description in detail or views your video," says Dan Fendel, founder and CEO of Float Plan One LLC. "But people who find individual issues interesting can be given more than a short answer and broaden their interest and curiosity through those answers."

Locate the cool kids

You have to find the people in your sector who have the ear of the social media community. Then, you need to follow them yourself and share news of your business with them. For example, Fendel looks at the pages that commenters like and finds people to add to his PR program. When the company recently launched, he sent more than 1,000 packets to "influencers," such as safety experts, bloggers, and insurers, Fendel says. "Because our program offers such influencers a free trial of our service and a discount code for their audiences to use once they discover that they're willing to endorse us," he adds, "the info we get from social media results in a geometric increase in conversions -- even if the social media contact him/herself doesn't buy the service."

Provide great content

Experts suggest offering interesting how-tos, videos, noteworthy photos, and a joke now and then. Make sure everything is of the highest quality, and then learn to bite your tongue when you feel like throwing pitches into your comments. "A good rule is the '80/20 Rule,'"says Borowicz. "Provide value 80 percent of the time while promoting your products and/or services only 20 percent of the time." Useful information never goes out of style, and neither does entertainment. Providing a little bit of both when appropriate can go a long way to getting a potential consumer to trust you. Sometimes, that's all it takes to make a sale.