*This article was written by Aaron Orendorff, Shopify Plus contributor.
When it comes to ecommerce on Facebook … there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is data shows that worldwide social commerce revenue has grown from $5 billion in 2011 to $30 billion as of last year. And as BI Intelligence’s Social Commerce Report discovered, “Social-driven retail sales and referral traffic are [now] rising at a faster pace than all other online channels.”
In other words, the state of the Facebook-meets-ecommerce union is strong.
Except for one thing: just because Facebook loves ecommerce, doesn’t mean Facebook loves your ecommerce. That’s not meant to be harsh, but if you’ve had any experience in Facebook advertising, you know that even big wins fade fast.
Facebook ads and promoted posts have a notoriously short lifespan. As AdEspresso recently demonstrated, when the “frequency” of ads and promotions go up — that is, as your target audience is exposed to them more and more — CTRs decrease and CPC increases … considerably:
What’s an ecommerce store to do?
Two words: go native.
Instead of dominating your audience’s Facebook stream with heavy-handed pitches or, worse, simply dumping all your store’s regular onsite content onto a company page, treat Facebook the way Facebook’s users treat Facebook: a conversational platform meant to be — above all — human.
To do this, you have to go beyond ads and promotional posts. Not abandon them altogether … but start mixing in two native additions that very few ecommerce stores are using: (1) Facebook’s trending topics and (2) Facebook-specific flash sales.
According to the most recent data, 1.13 billion people log onto Facebook every day.
That’s an enormous market. However, even as Facebook’s own stock prices soar on the back of those 1.13 billion users, organic page reach is plummeting:
Naturally, this has a lot to do with Facebook’s business model, which is becoming more and more “pay to play.” In Jay Baer’s words, “Clear-eyed business observers have been raising the alarm about building your house on rented land for years, but Facebook has still been able to pull off the greatest Gillette scam ever (you give away the razor, and then sell the blades).”
The answer lies in connecting your products to exactly what those 1.13 billion people are talking about most through trending topics.
For example, in September Microsoft made big news when it announced Windows 10 was now running on 400 million machines:
Smart publishers and content marketers were quick to capitalize on the announcement, creating a symbiotic relationship between the news, reporting the news, and driving traffic to articles commenting on the news.
As an ecommerce site, what you might not know are two things.
First, if the search itself is modified slightly — from “windows 10 400 million devices” to “windows 10” — Facebook automatically populates the newsfeed with products matching that description immediately below the News, About, and Pages boxes. In fact, it does this with all searches:
Second, Facebook now includes a Shop tab at the top of the page for search results — including those auto-populated by clicking a trending topic.
Shockingly, even for a topic as ripe as Microsoft’s announcement, not a single product was listed:
Other trending topics fared no better. Android Andromeda? Nothing. 2017 Jeep Compass? Nothing. Snapchat Spectacles? Nothing. Even the Black Moon event, which is virtually begging for ecommerce products related to astronomy, teaching, and learning? Nothing:
So why should you care?
Because trending topics represent a golden opportunity to merge ecommerce with Facebook natively.
For instance, take something deeply pop-culture related like One Direction’s Harry Styles. Harry’s most recent trending top — and there are certain topics you can always count on — was “harry styles man covers.” Here’s what the first page on Facebook looked like:
That’s a lot of Harry Styles for an article on Facebook and ecommerce. But did you notice what was missing?
That’s right: not a single product was served up with keywords tied to that topic. No fashion products, no hair products, no magazines or memorabilia, and no demographically targeted products. Nothing … absolutely nothing.
The implications are obvious.
By monitoring the trending topics that touch on your products, integrating those keywords into your posts, hashtags, and above all your product titles and descriptions you can capitalize on a huge portion of those 1.13 billion Facebook users the way Facebook intended: joining in the conversion.
Ever since Woot blew up the internet in 2004, ecommerce has had a love-hate relationship with flash sales. On the love side stand enormous benefits like unloading overstock, rapidly expanding your customer base, as well as creating both buzz and goodwill. After all, everybody loves to get a deal.
So where’s the hate?
Nick Winkler — in The Guide to Successfully Running a Flash Sale — puts it perfectly. Flash sales, if executed poorly, can easily “can cost you money and face”:
“That’s why your flash sale, if you even run one, must stand out, be intelligently targeted, and used as a trust builder that generates recurring revenue rather than one-off margin killing sales.”
And recent data bears this out. Groupon lost a full 80% of its stock value just one year after its IPO. Likewise, Zulily — whose market cap was once $7 billion — was acquired in 2015 for just $2.4 billion. Even ecommerce king Amazon faced backlash and scorn when its first Amazon Prime Day was roundly declared a “flop”:
Logistical success and customer expectations aside — which are both covered The Guide to Successfully Running a Flash Sale — how should you approach running a flash sale on Facebook in particular?
Two tips stand out … especially if you’re going native.
First, get personal. If you do create Facebook ads, flash sales work best when they’re targeted (i.e., retargeted) at existing customers. This is because you shouldn’t be counting on the ads themselves to do all the work. By targeting existing customers — and encouraging them to share about it themselves — you enter their relational circles as a trusted source.
Linking up your hard-earned CRM data to Facebook is the best way to start this process:
“Jon Loomer, Facebook marketing legend, recommends that advertisers take advantage of the fact that CRM lists are already familiar with a brand, and invest in page likes ads. However, this is more of a top-of-the-funnel approach. If you’re looking to boost conversions, it’s a prime time to share special coupon codes to turn those past buyers into VIP repeat buyers.”
Simply replace “special coupon codes” with “flash sale announcements,” and your CRM is a goldmine for incentivizing your customers to come back … and come back big.
Also, don’t be afraid to message your fans directly. While Facebook Messenger certainly has an inhuman side, especially when it comes to marketing, as long as you’ve got a healthy relationship with your audience — and your flash sale really is enticing — killer deals are one of the organic social-post types Facebook thrives on.
Above all, don’t make your announcements bland:
Instead, write directly to your target audience and always include user-generated images when possible (just like this mock up):
Second, generate buzz. By creating ads, updates, and sharable posts in the seven days leading up to your flash sale, you build anticipation and excitement.
This kind of buzz is especially powerful when you combine it with scarcity. Instead of saying something like, “Unloading old stock,” highlight the exact quantities left: “Just 100 necklaces remain” and update your image accordingly.
Remember to always highlight the sale’s timeframe during your promotion — both in your ads and when you ask your audience to share it themselves: “Friday from 11-MIDNIGHT … and last time we sold out in the first 27 minutes!”
Lastly, native buzz is all about giving your Facebook audience something special.
I mentioned above that one of the two fatal mistakes companies make on Facebook is dumping their store’s regular onsite content — especially inventory — into their page.
The same no-no applies to flash sales. Rather than use your Facebook Page to simply promote your on-site sale, create an inventory and a discount only your fans can access. This ramps up engagement on Facebook and gives your non-customers a reason to follow their friends over to your page.
Going Native with Ecommerce:
Remember: just because Facebook loves ecommerce, doesn’t mean Facebook loves your ecommerce.
Even campaigns that kick off with a big win … fade fast.
That’s why it’s vital to go beyond ads and promoted posts with your Facebook ecommerce strategy. This doesn’t mean abandoning sponsored content, but it does mean adding two native approaches to your marketing mix: (1) Facebook’s trending topics and (2) Facebook-specific flash sales.
Because going native is the only way to treat Facebook the way Facebook’s users do: like a genuine conversation between humans.
For more on how retailers can leverage Facebook as a direct sales channel, register for our upcoming webinar.
Aaron Orendorff is a regular contributor at Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Shopify Plus, Business Insider, Content Marketing Institute, Copyblogger, Unbounce, and more. Grab his Ultimate Content Creation Checklist at iconiContent or connect with him on Twitter.