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The 4 Best Social Media Opportunities for Retail Advertisers

Cappy Pratt Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest Leave a Comment

Social commerce is a big opportunity for retail customer acquisition. This article surveys the social networks to which Retail and e-Commerce advertisers should be paying attention. These channels are no longer just nice-to-have instruments for consumer engagement, but need-to-have components of a solid customer acquisition strategy.

Why should you be paying attention? Retail revenue from social commerce increased 26% to $3.3 billion in 2014, according to Business Insider. Social and mobile commerce is forecast togrow impressively. Consumer purchase behavior is a cross-network, cross-platform activity. Successful advertisers will position their brands to capture customers across these touch-points.

Where do you get started? The main social networks for retail and e-commerce are Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Pinterest, and Twitter. All four networks are characterized by significant reach and effective ad tools. Here’s a quick summary of how these networks fit into your strategy.

1. Facebook

Facebook Quick Stats

Massive Reach

Facebook is the largest network, with 1.49 billion monthly active users globally. In practice this means that no matter how niche your audience may be, you can probably find it on Facebook. Mobile consumption makes up more than half of Facebook’s activity. You’ll need to make sure your site is mobile efficient, although you can target only desktop pathways.

Custom Audiences

The performance of Facebook’s Custom Audience tools continues to compare amongst the highest of any ad targeting tool anywhere (Nanigans has a nice case study).

Custom Audiences use either Advertiser-generated customer lists (via email, phone, or UID) or website tracking tags to create audience pools in Facebook. This creates powerful acquisition opportunities–for example, (re)targeting people with items in cart to complete the sale.

What to Watch Out For

Facebook’s scale can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing. A “boil down the ocean” strategy to identify your audience can be exceedingly costly. To avoid burning your budget, focus on what you know and who you know (your customers). That means start with Custom Audiences, build scalable ROI, and let that fund your expansion into broader targeting.

2. Instagram

Instagram Quick Stats

Sizeable Reach

Instagram now exceeds 400 million people actively using the app each month–if you are scoring at home, that audience size now beats Twitter.

Instagram launched its self-service ad tool on September 30, 2015 (we put together examples of the new ad format). The new tool is closely integrated with Facebook’s advertising technology, which is a good thing for advertisers. The usability and feature set of Facebook’s ad platform is very good.

Near-term, there is a significant opportunity for early mover advantage on Instagram (lower CPCs, less competition). Long-term, advertisers can take advantage of interesting opportunities for engagement across Facebook and Instagram as advertising features mature.

Rich Creative Format

The basic format on Instagram is somewhat unique in the social space. Instagram has a high “signal-to-noise” ratio for its content. A post takes up 50% or more screen real estate. There is no on-screen competition surrounding your post.

This format particularly suits Retail and e-Commerce advertisers. Well composed product imagery stands out, with few distractions. It is a perfect opportunity to position your product.

What to Watch Out For

The downside to Instagram’s rich visual format is the necessity for strong creative imagery. Poor creative, or even casual creative (e.g. stock white background retail studio photography) will be passed over quickly.

We recommend using a deep approach. Instead of going broad, and loading your entire product catalog to Instagram, you should select your marquee, top performing products. Carefully curate the imagery (and story!) used to present these products for best impact.

3. Pinterest

Pinterest Quick Stats

Active Audience

People on Pinterest like to buy things. In terms of overall reach, Pinterest does not compete with the other networks on this list. But, in terms of purchase activity it comes near the top (according to Sprout Social, 93% of Pinterest users purchased online in the previous six months).

Consider Pinterest a scrapbooking tool (although that’s a bit reductive). Pinterest users curate their own organic lists of products, ideas, to-dos, et cetera. This behavior suits Retail and e-Commerce advertisers perfectly. Promoting your product catalog on Pinterest encourages this user-curated cataloging activity. Pinterest becomes a strong primary sales driver, and sees some of the best earned media rates.

What to Watch Out For

Also noted in the Sprout Social link above, 33.3% of Pinterest users are men. But its still an audience that is dominated by women, although growth among men is a priority for Pinterest. Depending on your customer skew, you may see better or worse performance as a result. We have seen intriguing results from heavily male-oriented products. But female-oriented product catalogs tend to see the best results.

4. Twitter

Twitter Quick Stats


Twitter may no longer be the bright, shining star that it was a few years ago, but it remains an important piece of a social strategy. The difference between the other social networks on this list and Twitter is customer service.

People spend time on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to discover. Discover what their friends are up to, discover what public personalities are doing, discover products. People use Twitter to complain. Customer service needs to be a component of all social venues, but on Twitter, it is of primary importance.

The approach on Twitter is customer service first, customer acquisition second. Configure social listening to monitor for complaints and service issues, and dedicate time to resolution. The benefits will be felt elsewhere as a reputational boost to your brand.

What to Watch Out For

It pains me to say it, but Twitter is not the best customer acquisition channel. There are two reasons for this.

First, Twitter has become somewhat more of a broadcast channel. By nature of their operation, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest foster discussions in within each person’s community. Twitter, because of the public firehose effect, encourages messages to the world. For that reason, customer service experiences (generally of the poor variety) are more likely to bubble up on Twitter.

Second, Twitter has less audience data than the other networks. Again, by operation, Facebook encourages extraordinarily deep personal information sharing (with Facebook, if not necessarily with other people). Twitter’s audience data is very lean by comparison. Audience data is the bread and butter of a direct response marketer, and in this area, Twitter doesn’t stack up.

How to Get Started

All of the above social media platforms offer self-service advertising and social management tools. Advertisers can get started immediately with nothing more than a credit card. For the best results, however, we recommend approaching these channels with a well formed strategy, strong creative, and a thorough understanding of the individual channel.

Good luck and get social!