With the holidays quickly headed in our direction, virtually every marketer realizes that, now, more than ever, social media MUST be an integral part of any campaign. It’s no longer the trendy thing to do--it’s simply a necessary component of doing business.
* 66% of Black Friday purchases resulted from social media interactions.
* 52% of social media users are willing to pay more for brands that they trust (and brands who participate in social media are more trusted).
* 80% of those who interacted with a brand’s social channel ended up buying from that brand.
* Gift recommendations from social media users are twice as likely to lead to a sale.
When you combine those convincing numbers with the fact that 61% of holiday shoppers research their gift buying choices through social media , it creates a compelling picture that merchants ignore at their own peril: The holiday sales war can easily be won or lost on the social media battlefield.
With every big company bombarding social media users with daily deals and requests to “like” and “follow” them, how do you make your holiday campaign stand out from the pack? Here are a five simple ways to brighten your selling season:
#1: Ramp Up Your Responses
Brands only respond to, on average, half of the posts on their social media pages. This is a big mistake, as 80% of users who receive a response will end up making a purchase. Not only that, but, when a brand is proactive about communicating with “fans,” 28% of them will end up buying specifically because of that outreach. Staffing up to enable real-time engagement with potential customers can be the most powerful and profitable move you could make.
#2: Think “Offsite”
The whole idea of social media is flow, so use that concept to optimize your social media leverage away from the actual website. For example, Experian Marketing Services notes  a Brazilian retailer’s success with displaying his Facebook “likes” total on an LCD screen in the store--shoppers could see, in real time, how his Facebook fan numbers were rising. Similarly, when asking new customers to register at your site, allow them to log in from their social media sites. It makes it much easier for them (they don’t have to remember separate passwords, user names, etc.), so they’re more likely to do it. Data suggests  that social log-ins not only spike sign-ups from 30 to 50%, but also increase the accuracy of the user’s information.
#3: Respect the Relationship--and Your Brand
If you’re more of an upscale brand, don’t start marketing like you’re suddenly Walmart by throwing out a steady stream of random discount offers. The idea is to continue the relationship with your customers you had before the holidays and deepen it. As Charlie Cole, VP of Online Marketing at Lucky Brand, told Forbes , “Every consumer at this point is receiving 7, 10, 15 emails a day from stores that are taking advantage of the medium and sending every single day to make forecast. Think long-term, respect your customers, and maintain the relationship that pre-existed prior to holiday.”
#4: Enable Swift Sharing
If you go to the trouble to create customized content and offers for your brand (and you should), take the extra step and make sure these messages are easy to share; you want your customers to spread the word to friends and family who could also be potential new customers. Always add social share icons to emails and items on your website, and also keep your tweets as short and sweet as possible, so they can be easily retweeted with an additional message, and still stay within the Twitter 140-character limit.
#5: Email Still Rules
Social media may have become crucial in terms of making buying decisions, but email marketing still is the most effective direct online marketing tactic, according to Experian Marketing Services . The marketers they surveyed last year reported that almost 96% of those who used email marketing said that those campaigns were successful. Over half said they were extremely or very successful. Flash sale deals, such as those instigated by Groupon, were a big reason for that success. Whatever your approach, again, always use email to also drive leads back to your social media platforms for later marketing opportunities.
No matter what your social media plan  of attack is for this holiday season, remember that, just as everybody likes a gift that’s hand-picked for them, all consumers like to be empowered to buy your products the way they like to. In the words of Ian Gomar , chief marketing officer at Sears, “…we’re aiming for the complete liberation of our customers: whatever the media channel, communication vehicle or shopping venue, we will be there, ready to engage with them and let them shop--their way.”
[Image: Flickr user Arti Sandhu ]