Embracing social media eCommerce and maximizing its advertising potential can catapult a business to financial success. With popular websites like Facebook and Twitter housing hundreds of millions of users, savvy companies now use these media platforms to communicate with their customers in a more regular and personal way than ever before. Social ecommerce offers a special hope for small businesses wanting to compete in the global market, but lacking the big business advertising budgets.

Web advertising offers many advantages over traditional forms. Online ads are not only cheaper than magazine, newspaper, radio, television, and billboard ads, but they also speak to more targeted audiences for each dollar spent. Ads on social media sites can be designated to appear based on a member's profile preferences. Social ecommerce also provides market analysts with more efficient feedback regarding consumer responses to products.

But implementing an effective social ecommerce strategy demands time and resources. Before companies make the commitment, they must do their research and prepare their staffs for the venture.

A strong social ecommerce media presence proves to customers that a company values their interests. Providing secondary stores gives users more options for buying and hooks them at different phases of their daily routines.

Before You Begin: Social eCommerce Evaluation

Companies should explore the variety of social media platforms available to determine which ones match their needs within their allotted resources. Twitter is useful for sharing quick updates or ideas with consumers. On Facebook, businesses can create pages, groups, and communities to post information about their products and services. Blogging sites such as Blogger, WordPress or Tumblr allow daily posts that surpass the traditional static website because of their ease of updating and the ability to refine posts to meet SEO criteria.

Companies can begin testing the waters by tracking their customers' social media behaviors. This might start with a simple survey mailing. Next, take advantage of free social monitoring tools like Social Mention or Trackur. These tools provide data on search terms used strictly within popular social media sites.

Additionally, in order to best serve clients, companies must be in tune to the secrets of their competition. Monitor the social ecommerce strategies of competing businesses. What social media sites are they using? What content do these sites deliver? How is the consumer base responding? What do the sites lack? Knowing the techniques of your competitors will help harness more sales.

Implementing Your Social eCommerce Plan

So you've done your research, and it's time for the social expansion. A critical first step is to divide up the additional workload. Don't underestimate the extra time it will take employees to, for example, create content, censor comments, respond to questions, address concerns, search Twitter conversations for relevant groups to join, or check Google Alerts to monitor when and where your business is mentioned. Your company should plan for several workers to engage with social platforms daily. Some more tips:

Show Your Buttons

Experiment with adding social networking buttons to prominent website pages. For example, add sharing features on a customer review webpage, a product page, a sale confirmation page, or a thank you page.

Give Your Audience a Voice

Because social media has become a part of the everyday lives of millions of Americans, companies must capitalize on their social media presence by regularly engaging with their client base.

Respond to feedback promptly. Use email notifications to stay on top of all social media activity. If clients think they are ignored, they may use the social media platform to negatively campaign against a brand.

Regularly ask for customers' opinions. They want to know that they are heard. Invite them to share their product ideas and reviews.

How to Manage Your Social eCommerce Extension Effort

Managing your social ecommerce business may initially feel overwhelming. Some companies choose to seek professional assistance if they don't have the staff to pursue the social media presence they desire.
Here are a few key considerations for any social ecommerce extension:

Use Social Media as a Store Portal

Create links on your social media pages that direct users not only to your website, but to specific product or service pages where they can make purchases. In addition, consider using a Facebook app, like UltraCart's online Facebook store which transforms your Facebook page into an actual online store with buy links from specific products that can then be loaded directly into a shopping cart like UltraCart. This allows the merchant to manage the Facebook store more easily since the entire merchandise set doesn't need to be updated in two separate applications. In addition, you can get the full advantage of what social media offers: First hand referrals from those who like your products and recommend them to their most trusted friends and associates.

Social ecommercepromises greater brand exposure with increased options for consumers. One way for online merchants to take advantage of this is to setup a formal online store using a custom app like UltraCart's Facebook Online Store which keeps from having to setup and manage two separate shopping carts.

Reward Your Followers

Make your customers feel that their time spent on your social media site is a proper investment. Offer them exclusive deals to entice them to check in regularly and refer you to their friends. Followers could receive monthly coupons, view insider news briefs, or promote special contests to gain media attention. Social ecommerce takes advantage of the "word of mouth" referral, which is stronger than most ads. The ease of social media communication grows these referrals exponentially.

Merely Push Products

Keep in mind that the primary reason consumers use social media sites is to converse with their "friends" and "followers" and learn more about the world. Whereas traditional advertising attempts to manipulate consumers, social media advertising responds to its customers. Social ecommerce capitalizes on an interest in the consumer choices of friends.

Don't focus your social media plan on mere product promotion. Publish a variety of content to your sites. Your blog may post industry news or provide links to related current events. Take opinion polls not only on products, but also on any relevant newsworthy topic. Post discussion topics on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter page. Encourage a conversation between interested consumers. Make users want to repost or share their activity with their friends, eventually directing traffic back to your site.

Evaluate and Revise Your Plan

Finally, don't make the mistake of ending the social ecommerce endeavor early. Give your plan time to provide you with quality data to analyze. Use several online tools such as AddThis, ShareThis, or Google Analytics (which may require some adaptation) to determine where your site visitors are sharing product information and assess the success of your business plan.