E-commerce has seen explosive growth since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Here’s how social media skills will influence sales in 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted massive changes in consumer buying habits, impacting almost every kind of business, from airlines to zoos. But despite this worldwide shock, which the International Monetary Fund (Washington, DC) has called the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression1 there remains one bright spot, one area of robust and unprecedented growth: e-commerce.
One report by software company Adobe (San Jose, CA) shows that in May 2020, total online spending reached USD $82.5 billion, a 77% increase over the same month in 2019. According to this report, e-commerce spending during April and May 2020 was higher than even the 2019 Christmas season.2 Adobe’s experts estimate the pandemic has accelerated consumers’ shift toward online shopping by four to six years3, which means brands will need exceptional online marketing and social media skills in 2021. Here are some of the expert tactics and strategies that brands will need in the coming year.
Supercharge Social Media with User-Generated Content
User-generated social media content is a potent and underutilized tool that will become a necessity in 2021. Loosely speaking, user-generated content, or UGC, harnesses the influence of real consumers who organically create and spread the word about a company’s product via photos, reviews, videos, and more.
Charlie Brook, head of content for user-generated-content startup Photoslurp (Barcelona, Spain), says UGC is a strategy that would work well in the dietary supplement industry.
“Sports and nutrition brands possess a fanbase that’s eager to share their progress and the pursuit of their goals, which naturally lends itself to the UGC model,” Brook says. “Social proof of happy customers posting pictures of their results with glowing reviews convinces others to buy the products.”
Despite this strategy’s usefulness, few nutrition brands currently have a UGC strategy. Brook says brands often post erratically on social media or fail to post content at all. Those that do, though, see strong results.
She uses one of her company’s clients as an example. “User-generated content has already been a success for Bodylab (Hadsund, Denmark), garnering the company a 5.75% interaction rate. Bodylab, a sports supplement supplier, has integrated UGC from social media, such as photos and videos, into their own e-commerce store. This enables customers to easily picture themselves using the products.”
Before incorporating UGC into a marketing strategy, brands must be aware of potential legal and regulatory issues that may arise from leveraging user-generated material. John Villafranco, an advertising lawyer and partner at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP (Washington, DC), and a member of Nutritional Outlook’s Editorial Advisory Board, says one key piece of legislation to be mindful of is the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA).
“The CRFA protects the consumer’s ability to share their honest opinions about a business’ products, services, or conduct,” Villafranco says. “This means that companies cannot limit the reviews they post on their site or social media pages to only positive experiences. Brands must also be careful with the content they choose to repost. If a consumer makes a claim [about a product] and the company reposts it to their website or social media page, the company must be able to support that claim as it would an influencer post.”
Newer Social Platforms Require Unique Strategies
While certain established strategies work for older social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube, the emergence of new platforms demands a pivot in how brands market themselves. Erin Siemek, founder and CEO of Forge Digital Marketing (Naperville, IL), says brands now need to develop platform-specific strategies for video-oriented social media.
“Social media is no longer optional in promoting supplements,” Siemek says. “With the meteoric rise of TikTok and its copycat Instagram Reels, full-screen mobile content is the best way to attract, entertain, educate, and nurture an audience.”
Video content, in particular, is an important part of the mix. If brands cannot afford to produce video in-house, Siemek says, they should incentivize influencers to create fun and engaging branded videos in exchange for free product or an affiliate commission.
Siemek says many supplements brands run into challenges with cross-platform campaigns, overall marketing cohesion, and bad creative decisions. Brands cannot simply treat social media like television advertising and expect success.
“Make the customer the hero of your marketing—not your manufacturing processes, awards, or other stuff customers don’t care about. How does the product help customers solve a problem or fill a need?” she points out.
Success with Influencers Hinges on Caution
While influencer marketing can be an effective strategy for social media, experts say brands must exercise caution and be diligent in order to ensure compliance with FTC regulations and truth-in-advertising laws. Villafranco says that while influencer endorsements can be highly effective as a marketing strategy, it’s vital that influencers disclose a material relationship with the brand.
“It’s really important that influencers state the fact that their post is an advertisement,” Villafranco says. “In this way, social media advertising is very similar to any other type of advertising. This can be done using hashtags such as #paidad or #sponsored. The disclosures should be placed close to where claims about certain products are made and not hidden within a long list of hashtags.”
Villafranco says brands also need to pay attention to the content of their affiliated influencers’ posts. One 2019 study by University of Glasgow researchers found that only 11% of UK fitness bloggers were providing followers with accurate information about weight management.4 The researchers noted that the majority of these influencers were presenting their own opinions as fact without citing any credible sources.
Villafranco urges brands to follow four key rules when working with influencers. First, provide independent substantiation for any claim that an influencer makes. Second, encourage your influencers to make claims that are representative of an average consumer’s typical experience with your product. Third, ensure your influencers’ statements and opinions are an accurate representation of their actual experience. Influencers can’t make claims about products they haven’t tried. Finally, give your influencers clear disclosure guidelines to communicate their relationship with your company in an unambiguous way.
“Influencers should avoid ambiguous terms like #thanks, #collab, or #sp,” Villafranco says. “A disclosure is required every time there is a material connection with the company, including when the company sends an influencer free product.”
Smart Social Campaigns Create Growth
Social media marketing in 2021 will be an essential component of any brand’s strategy. With the COVID-19 pandemic fast accelerating consumer adoption of e-commerce, the online space is rapidly supplanting other channels. An effective social media strategy that combines user-generated content, responsible influencer marketing, and ample video content will enable brands to leverage this growth.