Social Media eCommerce: How To Boost Exposure and Loyalty

Written by

Darren DeMatas



Written by

Darren DeMatas


Reviewed By Our team of writers and content creators are experts in ecommerce and we fact-check every claim in our work to ensure it’s accurate and up-to-date. (Learn about our editorial guidelines.).

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Is social media sucking up all your time with nothing in return?

Social media is a critical aspect of increasing your e-commerce site’s online visibility. When used correctly, you can build meaningful relationships with customers and influencers. These relationships help you create a trusted brand that people prefer over big box retailers. I am not a social media expert, so I brought in one so we can learn from. David Amerland joins us to discuss social media for e-commerce.

In This Jam Packed 50-minute Episode:

  • How Social Media Impacts Visibility In The Semantic Web
  • How To Get People Not On Your Payroll To Evangelize Your Brand
  • Why You Need A Handful Of True Fans and Not Vanity Followers
  • What Is The Difference Between A True Fan and a Brand Evangelist?
  • How To Identify True Fans (In Actual Practice)
  • Is Sharing Viral Content Worth The Effort?
  • How To Turn Casual Commenters Into Fans
  • How To Scale Your Social Media Effort?
  • Tapping Into The Power Of Influencer Marketing
  • How Ecommerce Sites Can Get Influencers’ Attention
  • Does Commercial Content Dissuade Influencers From Sharing Your Stuff?
  • How To Create Meaningful Long Term Interactions With Your Customers Without Being Annoying?
  • Why You Shouldn’t Rely On Marketing Automation To Build Loyal Customers
  • How To Handle The Voice Of Negative Customers
  • What Is The First Thing Ecommerce Site Owners Should Do To Build Brand Evangelists?

Show Notes & Resources:

Show Transcript:

Darren: Welcome to the Pursuit of Relevance, episode #5. I’m your host Darren DeMatas. This podcast is for entrepreneurs looking to make their ecommerce business more relevant to search engines and – more importantly,  people.

So today’s episode is about using social media to turn customers into brand evangelists. With ecommerce there is so much focus on customer acquisition, but to build a sustainable business, you need to cultivate relationships with your existing customers. There are very few people out there who know more about this topic than David Amerland. So thanks again, David, for joining us.

David: It’s a real pleasure.

How Social Media Impacts Visibility In The Semantic Web

Interviewer: So a lot of times entrepreneurs and e-commerce site owners, it’s like two or three teams, maybe even five but it seems like social media can fall to the bottom of the list. It usually ends up falling on the shoulders of someone who already has ten other things going on, whether it be order fulfillment, or placing items in boxes to get shipped, or handling customer support service email. So what advice do you have, in terms of helping people win at semantic search?

David: Well, with the social web and semantic search, we are in a period of transition. We used to be, everything we did commercially used to be run by what traditionally called the four Ps, which are product, place, price, and promotion. And that was the algorithm that was used to shift anything, whether it was magazines, or toothpaste, or aircraft carriers. And things have changed. We are moving, we are now in a world where the customer base is highly voluble, very mobile, and very self-aware, in terms of its capability. So it’s very empowered. And they do their own due diligence. They don’t rely on us to give them prospectus, for instance, which will tell them how great the things we have released for them.

They don’t expect us to say, “Hey, here is a mediocre product, which you can find everywhere else, and we charge top buck for it.” Because we’re never going to say that, right? So they are very good at actually finding out, through their own experience, or reviews, or asking their social network how something is positioned, in terms of their own perception or value. So the four Ps, which used to run everything, are slowly transitioning what we call the four Es and from product now we go to experience, the hand on experience of how you do things or if you haven’t got a prior experience of your ability to deliver value, then you really have a hard sell.

Instead of place, which used to be a particular place, whether there is a store in the real world or a website address they had to go to, now you need to be everywhere. Yes, you still need a website, but you also need a Twitter account, a Facebook presence, and Instagram presence and you need to be on LinkedIn and need to be on Google Plus, for instance.

How To Get People Not On Your Payroll To Spread Your Brand

Interviewer: That’s a lot of things that you just named there, and so if you have a team that’s two people, how do you compete? Because one of the things that you said, that stood out to me, was to win that semantic search, you need more people than on your payroll. So can you explain, what you meant by that, and also, how do you get those other people, that are not on your payroll, to help you out?

David: Exactly. So the problem of manpower and man hours in specifically is the same, whether you are a very large company or an individual on your own just working from home. The only way you can solve this is by basically using the people, and I am using the word using in the best possible sense here. Using the people you come across to evangelize your product, and the only way they can do that is they’ve become either so familiar and enthused about what you do that they actually become really loyal customers and fans, or they really buy into the spirit on the way you do these things but they actually proclaim your advantage to everybody else they meet across their social network.

And if you can do that, which is exactly the way to operate, this is the only way you can scale the human connection, the relationships. Then you begin to increase and amplify your presence across the digital domain. You begin to gain in reputation value. Your trust factor begins to go up, which means that essentially all the barriers, threshold barriers, associated traditionally with any kind of commercial transaction begin to go down.

Why You Need A Handful Of True Fans and Not Vanity Followers

Interviewer: So several years ago, this is back in 2008, Kevin Kelly wrote an article about the importance of 1,000 true fans.

David: Yes.

Interviewer: Is that still relevant today? And a follow up question to that would be has that number increased or decreased because I’ve seen a lot of other posts that…I saw one the other day actually that said, “All you really need is a 100 true followers.” So what are your thoughts on that?

David: He was right in terms of what he said. The number you need really depends on the transactional value of the life of your customer. So his idea was you got a 1,000 people to give you an average a 150 bucks in a year, and if you got that, you are doing okay. If you are selling aircraft carriers, probably not very good. But if you are selling shoes or golf balls, maybe that will work. But essentially, it’s not so much the number of the true fans which you need, as the fact that you actually need true fans. And what he didn’t address in his article, because he made perfect sense what he said, is the difficulty of actually getting those true fans.

It’s not a case of saying, “Yeah, here I am, this is what I do. Love me.” Because it’s not going to work. Because people say, “Why should we? And we are very much in an attention economy. There are more and more things happening across our attention horizon. We have more and more things to action, as individuals, as consumers, as customers, as workers.

And there are still only 24 hours a day, and everything that we do is multiplying in terms of the things we have to do, the things we have to see, the things we have to consume or pay attention to.

So essentially, we begin to become very choosy to what we give attention to and this is really the connective element to all this.

If somebody gives you a real reason to pay attention to them and you have their attention, then there is an unspoken contract between you and them. They give you their attention and they expect to hear something really valuable back. If you give them that value back and they leave satisfied, well contract fulfilled. You have somebody who is happy and that happiness is expressed in many different ways.

One of them is evangelism where they say, “Hey, Darren told me this and he is amazing, absolutely brilliant. I didn’t know that until now. Now I do.” If you don’t, if you tell them something they already knew or you waste their time by giving something of really low value, well that contract is broken and it’s broken irrevocably. You are not likely to get them back ever.

Simply because, they will never give you their attention. And the funny thing, they might, if they are really annoyed with you for wasting their time, then you might get actually negative reputational value, which will make it hard to get anybody else’s attention. So that’s the real battle in terms gaining those true fans. Yes, it is perhaps, on principal, easier than ever before because we have all these devices, we have all these networks, we have all these accessibility to people. It is harder than ever because now you really need to deliver. It’s not enough to tick the box and hope that you are going to get the equivalent of feet through the door and you are going to convert X number of people as a percentage.

Interviewer: Okay. So let me ask you a thought question. Is there a difference, because I know we’ve mentioned this term a couple of times about brand evangelist. In your opinion, is there a difference between true fans and brand evangelists?

David: That is not easy to define clearly. Sometimes your brand evangelists may not be your fans in terms of they don’t actually, they are not giving you customers. They may simply buy into the value of what you are doing. And I will give you an example now. How many of us agree with Zappos and the way they do things, and we never bought shoes from them?

Interviewer: Yeah, exactly. That’s a good example.

David: But we actually love what they stand for. We love the way they work. We have absolutely no problem referring other people to them when they can shop using their network. I am not in the US. I’ll never buy shoes from them, but I have sent loads of people there and totally love the spirit, for instance, in what they do. So this is a case of brand evangelism because of shared values, and then you have true fans who really love the way you do something, and they will automatically think of you first when they come to buying what it is. So that’s a difference.

What Is The Difference Between A True Fan and a Brand Evangelist?

Interviewer: So what’s more important then, true fans or brand evangelists?

David: You need true fans to survive and you need brand evangelists to grow.

So really, if your focus, in the first instance, is to get enough money to make your business viable, you really need true fans. But you also need to try, at the same time, the small increment to get some brand evangelists because that will bring in the number of people who will be your true fans.

So you need to focus, I mean realistically, you focus your efforts always on serving the people you have, so they actually become your customers or your true fans, instead of just customers. So you really need to make sure that you understand, who they are, why they do business with you. You really take care of them. At the same time, you are trying to project a little bit outside. But your primary focus has to be on your true fans.

How To Identify True Fans  (In Actual Practice)

Interviewer: So how do you identify these true fans? So say for example, you are on an e-commerce site and you get some comments on the blog or you get some comments on Facebook, How do you turn that into a fan?

David: Well, the comments that people make usually…every time somebody makes a comment, they have some kind of intent because in digital domain, everybody’s there with some kind of agenda, we don’t have to be here. So if we are here, we are trying to do something. And as a business, you always try to identify what is it that the people who interact with you trying to do? Someone will try to fulfill some particular aspect of their needs.

Someone of them will want you to be better than you are, so that they can fulfill what their expectations are of you and some might just simply be venting because they are frustrated because something wasn’t right. If you truly listen to all of these things and you analyze them, they are telling you how to be a great business.

So really, if you listen, respond, change, connect, you are beginning to get the kind of people who will think, “Hey, that’s really cool.” And being a great business doesn’t mean the same thing as being a perfect business.

Nobody expects anybody to be perfect. These days, we understand that essentially even the slickest business in the world is run by people and people make mistakes. Things go wrong. That is expected. What is expected next is to say, “Yes, we messed up. No worries, we’ll fix it.” And actually fix it without any problem for the person who happened to be at the other end of the error.

If you do that, trust factor goes through the roof. If you don’t do it, if you fudge it, if you say, “Well, maybe it wasn’t our fault. Maybe you should have clarified it.” That is totally unnecessary. That kind of backside covering which happened for all of the 20th century, well it didn’t work. It worked back then because we didn’t have the connectivity. So we couldn’t see what was happening. Now that we can, the moment it happens, we see it and we think, “They did it to that person, they will probably do it to me.” So you end up losing more customers than ever before, while you think you are trying to protect your reputation.

Interviewer: So you would say to identify these potential fane, once they start commenting, interacting with you, the way you do that is to understand the intent behind their interaction?

David: Yes, definitely. How do we have a meaningful conversation? If we meet two strangers and say, “Hi, how are you doing? What’s the weather like?” Okay, we have got past the pleasantries and if we stick around for more than three minutes. You are trying to understand exactly who, you listen to my accent, where am I from, because you want to find a connection point. You are trying to see from into neighborhood.

You’ll see that the way I am dressed, for instance, and try to make some assumptions about how to move the conversation forward and you want style. Well, we don’t have those visual cues or those auditory cues on a common thread, but we do actually have people’s profiles and can see their comment history, if they’ve commented more than once. And also, we can analyze their comment and see exactly what it is they are trying to say. And if you are not sure, we can ask for clarification. It’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It just takes a conversation one step further, and the moment we have any kind of meaningful connection, it begins to become very human.

Is Sharing Viral Content Worth The Effort?

Interviewer: So how does this translate into say viral content? Say you see something on BuzzSumo that a lot of people are sharing or talking about, and then you share it with your own followers on Google plus, or Facebook, or whatever. And let’s just say it’s a cat photo, for example, just to make it kind of crazy.

David: Okay.

Interviewer: So you share this cat photo. A lot of people in your network, they reshare and they comment on it. Is that shooting yourself in your foot in terms of there’s no real or true conversation you can have with a true fan around this viral content?

David: Yes. Because all you have done in that situation is simply acknowledge an emotional impact that is common to all of us, and has really doesn’t, hasn’t differentiated you or me or anybody else. All we’ve agreed on this that, “Yes, this a cute cat photo.” But if you find a way to actually quantify that, and I’ll give you an example because as you may know, on Google plus is a tradition every Saturday, they call it Caturday and they share cat photos. And I’ve done that. I did it a couple of times. And when I did it, I did some analysis. I looked up why…

Interviewer: I remember that, yeah.

David: Okay. Why we shared cat photos, and what does it mean, and how it gives us a way of conversing, which is fairly safe as a first instance, and I had quite some facts and figures behind it. And whole conversation ensued because of that and it got to reshared and talked about, and I went with a trend, I went with a tradition. I didn’t break that, but also, I didn’t blindly use it simply because everybody else did. To me, the interesting bit was the starting point. Why do we all do this? And what does it show about us? And always, if a lot of people do something, if a lot of people like Lady Gaga or Madonna for instance, that means something. And the moment we start analyzing that and finding the meaning and the connectivity, everything else gets stripped away. What we’re left with is people trying, in some way, to connect with people and that’s always interesting.

How To Turn Casual Commenters Into Fans

Interviewer: So, I manage a Facebook page for e-commerce site, and pretty much every couple of days…I try to post everyday, but every couple of days when I post, I notice there is one person who almost always comments on something I put. Now how can I take that relationship one step further, where this guy is actually a true fan and he is sharing my products and telling people to buy from me? So how do we go from that, I’m a casual commenter and I know you are a casual commenter, to let’s take this person and turn him into someone who’s going to really help spread the word of my business? How do you do that?

David: Okay, this is the same way that you would with your real life customers if they walk through your shop. You try basically to understand, using the link of marketing, you say, “I want to understand my demographic.” But all that means is I really want to understand what’s important to them? So if somebody is actually commenting regularly, it means that they like what you do, in a general sense. That means they haven’t thought about it too much.

But I can look at their profile and see what else do they do. Do they comment the same way across a wide variety of subjects? That means that, essentially they are not really giving you their attention. They are going through ticking a box, every time you come up on their horizon. Do they talk about things which you are interested in? Do they talk about things to others which you post about?

Then if you do that then they’re actually interested in what you do, and that interest can be cultivated. So the next thing is to basically get into a conversation about a certain post with that person. And the moment you do that, and there’s a real conversation not, “Hey how are you doing? What do you think of this today?” Because that’s…the moment there’s actually something to discuss, and we all have things to discuss of value, in terms of what we do, whether it is reputational, or commercial, relational.

There are things which we need to understand about the value of how we do them and the impact they have. And everybody is interested in that because we all work in this environment. And I’m using work here in sort of general meaning of the word. So nobody has a conversation. They begin to understand you better and you begin to understand them better, but more than that, a real relationship has begun to develop where you are part of their attention horizon now. You begin to become a fixed point, and that’s when you begin to convert a casual commenter into a fan.

Interviewer: So you’re basically saying that you find these people who are very interested in a general sense of what you are doing as a brand on social media or content marketing, and then you find these individuals and you start having individual conversations with them?

How To Scale Your Social Media Effort?

David: Yes. Exactly. The moment, I mentioned this and I frequently mention this in commercial environments which are multinational corporations who have social media teams. I can sense that figuratively, they begin to pull their hair out by the roots because they think, “However are we going to scale this thing?”

Interviewer: Yeah.

David: And the answer is, you can’t. And that’s exactly why it has the value it has. It’s a very real relationship which means that for you, in order for you to actually embark on that course of action, you have a reasonable expectation that it’s something which will be reciprocated because there is an affinity there. So you just don’t just go around saying, “Hi, how are you doing,” to all 100 commenters on your thread.

You pick, one, two, three, four, or five and you begin to cultivate them. Once you’ve done that, you begin to go to next five and then next five. And if you do that, then it begins to scale and that’s how it scales. It scales incrementally because you [normally] have five true fans. They don’t go away, they are true fans. And you have five more. Suddenly you have ten. And then you have 15, and then 20, and then 25.

Then you get to the magic figure whatever the figure is. And suddenly, you’re made. You got a ready made audience which is only your audience and that’s how you have done it. And because it’s so hard to do, it is authentic. It has real value and no one can take it away from you because somebody who needs to take away from you, one of two things will happen. You need to change, in which case, the contract between the unwritten contract between you and your audience is broken. So the trust is gone. Or somebody has to become you and if they become you, they can’t. There is only one you. That’s why people are there. They are for you. And it’s how it works.

Interviewer: So outside of mega brands, what are some companies that are doing this really well in terms of just taking these one on one conversations and amplifying it into a cumulative effect that actually builds trust?

David: We have in the U.K. there’s a John Lewis Partnership and that’s actually a really big concern, but they are doing it very well because they do it…

Interviewer: What’s the name of the company?

David: It’s call the John Lewis Partnership. And they do it well because they have a constant dialogue of sorts going on both online and offline. The way they behave offline ties in very closely with their ethics, and values, and principles to the way they behave online. We talk about Panera, which is a bread company, baking company. They have also cafes now and they do it very well. On the international scale, we have Coca-Cola which does it well in specific areas with specific markets. It doesn’t do it well globally.

But in the U.S., in the U.K., Australia, it does it exceedingly well. And they’re very good at essentially starting conversations about the sentiment of their product, not their product at all. And then amplifying them. And they are doing exemplary job when they do it right.

Tapping Into The Power Of Influencer Marketing

Interviewer: So what kind of strategic approach can a company take to taking these casual commenters and to turning them into true fans or evangelists? Do you research their cloud score, or see if they have a blog, or how do you start it in a way where it’s strategic, or do you just go with the first person who’s commenting or how do you make that decision?

David: Well, I think you…it’s a multi-layered question you’ve got there. So let’s unpack it a little bit. The moment you start looking at cloud score and follower numbers, you’re not really talking to people as individuals, but you are talking to people’s potential influencers.

And influencer marketing is an entirely different sort of kettle of fish because there you need to identify an influencer who’s network you want to get access to, and who’s approval you need to get in there, and who’s endorsement will help you amplify your presence. And you need to establish an alignment of presence with that influencer. And that’s totally valid strategy, but it’s entirely different. When you are looking at your own fans, you need to look at them as individuals.

You need to say, “Okay, who are they? What do they do?” Look at their profile. What do they share? What do they talk about? What do they say they are interested in? You do that kind of research. In the online world, we are fairly open about so many things. So essentially, you can gain access to information which normally you would have needed a focus group and the research company to actually give to you.

And you can find it out yourself, and you say, “Okay. Now, these are the people I can work with. I think there’s an affinity there. They resonate with what I do.” And that’s where you actually go forward. And everything is a little bit of a trial, trial and error. You see how it resonates, you see how the conversation goes, how it develops, led from that become better and move on and succeed every time.

Interviewer: So yeah, you mentioned that it was a multifaceted question. So I really want to go into the other direction with the influencers.

David: Yes.

Interviewer: So what are the most effective ways to get influencers to help spread your message?

David: Okay. There’s usually a misconception about what influencers do because they tend to have large followings. And everybody thinks, “Well, I just need to get his attention. He’s going to tell his followers and his followers are going to follow.” And this is not how it works. That’s all.

Interviewer: It doesn’t work that easy.

David: No, because the followers are not really sheep looking for direction.

Interviewer: I personally hate the word followers. Personally, I do.

David: I know. We use that word you think…it’s a misnomer really, but the people who, for a lack of a better word, follow somebody who’s a perceived influencer, are really looking for a shortcut to their online existence. They are looking for value which comes from a trusted source. So that influencer has a network because he provides content, he provides activity, and perhaps a certain guidance, in terms of direction that is trusted, and people use it as a shortcut to their own online experience, which is why they tend to, more or less, do a little bit of what he says.

And I am saying more or less. It’s a very fine balance. If you ask somebody, who is an influencer, say, “Hey, why don’t you just tweet my product or tell your people to follow, to borrow, buy this thing?”

Well he is not going to do that because if he is not convinced of the value of what you do to him and those people who look up to him expecting a shortcut or in terms of value, then he won’t do it. He is only going to be shooting himself in the foot, and losing credibility, and losing trust, and losing the trust of the people who follow him. But if you can establish an alignment in the value of what you are doing. If for instance, let’s say somebody’s passionate about the environment, and about climate change, and saving the planet and you happen to bring out a new green product. Okay, you want to sell that product, no problem.

You can’t say, “Hey, I want to sell this product, it’s green. Why don’t you sell it to your people?” That’s not how it’s going to work. But if you start a conversation which establishes a set of values where you actually both are thinking about the same thing. And that conversation is convincing enough in terms of what it really is, it’s not about the product itself. Then at some point, he is going to say, “And here’s this and actually this works.” And it maybe a product and it’s up to you whether to purchase or not, but the set of values behind that product is exactly what we are all thinking about. And that kind of endorsement is actually what translates into money in the bank.

How Ecommerce Sites Can Get Influencers’ Attention

Interviewer: So are there any real huge mistakes that e-commerce site owners make when they are trying to get influencers’ attention in terms of…just not necessarily just get their attention, but get them to share their content or to prove that there’s some sort of alignment in values? Are there certain things that just kill that relationship from getting even started?

David: Yes.

The easiest mistake and the most common one is that somebody sends you an email or tweets at you and they are saying, “Why don’t you share this with your network?” And that’s it.They usually get blocked or ignored and they never gain access to you ever again, because it’s a huge insult to the intelligence of the people who you represent, never mind your own.

You could ask, “Why should I do that? Just because you ask it’s not good enough. Because you are expecting me to endorse you, which means I’m putting my own reputational value at risk without you giving me sufficient cause.” So that’s the first mistake.

The second mistake is to think that if they themselves follow an influencer and promote or agree with everything they say, he is going to go back and say, “You’re supporting me.

Well, I am going to support you back.” That is ridiculous. It just never happens. Because this is not how it works. You have free will. If this is what you think you should be doing, great. I am not obliged to reciprocate, unless you give me that cause, that value, that alignment. Everything has to be driven by certain amount of logic and a certain amount of intelligence. So really find that alignment. It’s like a conversation, in many ways. A high level conversation admittedly, but that’s what it is. So find that alignment where I suddenly notice what you are doing and I think you maybe of value to the people whom I usually post stuff to, and then sometimes you will find influencers will do it automatically.

Because they are always aware of their own responsibilities sometimes, to act as amplification points for instances of value to their web. And in some ways, as influencers, they tend to address inequalities, if you like.

Everybody loves the underdog who has a really great story or a great product getting a bit of a chance simply because they happen to come across the right person saw that opportunity. Well influencers do that all the time.

We tend to keep our eyes open because the web is full of such opportunities. But don’t think that by blindly following is saying, “You’re doing a great job. Keep on doing [it].” That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to reciprocate.

Interviewer: Well, no one’s going to deny the importance of content amplification in today’s environment in terms of SEO and brand discovery. So in your new book SEO Help, you mentioned the need to get your content in front of influencers to have them promote. I think you actually said, “What are six ways you could get your content in front of influencers?” I think you had that specific number in your book, but what are some…you told us what we shouldn’t do, what should we do to get your content in front of influencers?

David: Well, every influencer works under the same and greater pressures that every other individual does. There’s not enough time to do as many things that they do. They are always conscious of the weight riding on their shoulders, in terms of the value and the integrity of the content they share. So they’re always looking for shortcuts. They are looking for trusted sources themselves. So if you become a trusted source of information, and it doesn’t always have to be information which has to do with you.

If you bring something to the attention of an influencer who then he can use it to share to his network because it perfectly fits in with what he does, and he hadn’t seen it, and it came from you. He has suddenly noticed you. A relationship has begun. And we see that relationship, it takes the same curve, development curve that every relationship does.

It begins very tentatively and everybody establishes value and trustworthiness and where they stand in the social order of things. And then it goes one step further where you say you know, “We also do this and it’s a great product and there’s no obligation to do this, but if you want more information on that, we’re willing to share it with you and you make a decision.” And then you have the opportunity to get somebody to promote what you do. The proviso in all of this is that you have to be top-notch quality.

There has to be alignment between you and them. So you can’t cultivate somebody as an influencer because they happen to be strong with the environmental change lobby and you do, I don’t know, diesel guzzling tractors, for instance. And then they maybe the best diesel guzzling tractors in the planet, but it doesn’t align with what they do.

Does Commercial Content Dissuade Influencers From Sharing Your Stuff?

Interviewer: Yeah. It’s funny. I was talking to Eric Ward about this kind of topic before, about just getting your content in front of influencers. And so with e-commerce sites, it’s a little bit different because your website exists to sell to people. There is no disguising that fact. And I think a lot of times that discourages influencers from sharing your stuff because then if they go to your website say, there is an interesting article that they wrote on their blog and they get sent to your blog and your blog is one little compartmentalized bucket around everything, “add to cart” buttons everywhere. It really turns them off and they’re less likely to share that so.

David: Well, that’s two problems you have identified there and then, straight away.

First of all, your blog or your website shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t be a compartmentalized buy buttons everywhere because that’s a huge turn off anyway. It’s a very hard sell. You should make it easy for people to buy, but you shouldn’t be over bearing with it. So if that’s the first impression somebody who gets there, well then you’re losing out that social component entirely because people’s reaction, initial reaction is going to be adverse.

The second thing is that the content which you share should be good enough to be shareable. Irrespective of what you do. Case in point, Evernote, okay. Everybody knows that they have a free…it’s a freemium model.

They have a free product, but they also have a paid product. Now I have been using Evernote since I don’t know when. And really, I don’t need the paid product because although I use it, I also use Google Keep, which is free. So I don’t need the extra [Inaudible 0:31:16] which I get with the paid product, but I willingly pay them money because I believe strongly in what they do and I want them to keep on doing it. And the only reason I did that is because they have fantastic content in their blog, which actually is helpful. And they never push their stuff. Never said, “Buy our product.” I totally appreciated that.

So I made a willing decision to give them money, which I didn’t have to give them. Simply because…sure it’s a huge amount of money. I think it’s I can’t remember now because it’s on a standing order thing, but I think it’s either or $80 or $100 a month, or a year something like that. So it’s not a huge dealbreaker. But it goes to show that if you do things right, people will actually meet you halfway without you even asking.

How To Create Meaningful Long Term Interactions With Your Customers Without Being Annoying?

Interviewer: Interesting. So in your article on Forbes, you wrote about creating a customer loyalty ecosystem.

David: Yes.

Interviewer: And how it’s rarely worth pursuing a single sale and that companies really need lifelong customers. You mentioned earlier that you need true fans to survive. So how can you create meaningful long term interactions with customers without being annoying? So say, I found this guy…let’s go back to the guy, because it’s a real example. I am actually thinking…my wheels are spinning what am I going to do with this person who’s always commenting on Facebook. How do I not cross that line where I am annoying him, where maybe I mentioned him on Facebook and I say, “Hey, so and so, what do you think about this?” How can I cultivate that relationship without being annoying?

David: Well, we tend to annoy people or get crossed wires with them. If we don’t understand, at all, who they are or what they’re about, and this is where the prior research comes in. Every company worth it’s salt these days, looks very closely at the people who constantly associate with it, or occasionally buy from it, or buy from it every now and then. And tries to understand exactly what it is that they want to do. Not just to buy. Obviously they buy some stuff, yes and the company sells some stuff and they want to sell more of that stuff. That’s perfectly logical, but in order for that to happen, they need to establish the emotional connection with those people. And it’s like a bike shop. Right? They want to sell bikes. And they’re in the U.K. They don’t ship anywhere, they sell only locally. At the most, probably a 25, 30 mile radius.

And yet, they’re going to all the trouble to create really great content on global dirt bike and offer trails. And they love it. They don’t just do it because they have to. Obviously they do have to, but they absolutely love it and it shows. So they have understood what is really important to their customers. And they provide a service. Not just a product.

A product is what they sell. But the service is everything else that surrounds it, which says that, “Hey, we’re like you. We love dirt biking, we love dirt bikes. We’d love it if you’d buy them from us. You don’t have to but here it is.” And people do.

They go there and they buy dirt bikes because they get all this great information, and the shop itself is run by two brothers I think. And they’re really passionate about it.

They actually form personal connections with their customers because they’re just like them. If you’re a company now, it’s hard to scale this, but not impossible. Because really it relies on finding the common ground between you and those who come to buy with you. So to take it back to your example, you say you have somebody who obviously is giving you their attention.

You have to understand why. What is it that motivates them? Look at the their profile. Look at what they do. See what they’re interested in. See what you’re interested in. Where is the commonality? And the moment you find the commonality, then you begin to have the kind of connection and conversation which you realize is that, “Hey, you’re like him and there is that connection. And that’s great and that begins to develop the relationship.

Why You Shouldn’t Rely On Marketing Automation To Build Loyal Customers

Interviewer: I know there’s a lot of…customer loyalty is just super important when it comes to e-commerce because you really need to get those lifelong customers and not just the one and done sale. So there’s so many marketing automation tools out there. Do you need software to do this? Do you need software to build a customer loyalty program?

David: Well, my gut reaction always to say, “no.” And usually, the reason I say no is because the moment any kind of marketing automation software comes in, we tend to rely so much on it that we lose entirely human contact. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we clearly understand what we wanted to do in terms of the human connection, then having automation in place that allows us to establish some of the same values and some of the same sensations is absolutely fine. And I’ll give you an example now. I shop from Amazon quite frequently. And Amazon hasn’t got any human content, right? It’s a conglomerate with massive algorithm, so everything’s automated. And I was going from place A to place B. I had a driver, so I was in the back of the car trying to buy a book from Amazon on my phone. And I’d forgotten I already bought that book because I’ve got about 50 books in my stack to read and I meant to read that one and I thought I hadn’t bought it.

So I get to Amazon and I get to the page where I’m going to buy the book, and Amazon says, “You have already bought that book and not paid.” And it reminded me. It saved me ten bucks, used automated software to do that. But this is what else happened. Amazon really wants to make sales. right? So if I was stupid enough not to remember the books I have already bought, it’s my problem, not theirs. They could have made a sale and I would have thought, “I’ve got two of these, what an idiot.” But they didn’t do that. They thought, “What’s important to our customers?” They should have a sense of trust when they come to the page so they won’t make a mistake, and we try to safeguard them. So based on my profile, they see what I’ve bought. They tell me, “Hey, you bought this and not paid.” And there’s a link there to go to my account to see if I want to. So that makes me trust Amazon more, even they’re automated.

Because I trust them more, I’m more likely to go there and make other purchases, because I know there is a safety valve and a safety factor in the operating that way. But in order for them to do all this in an automated way, They’ve done the hard thinking, the thought, “What’s important to our customers? Not to us. We want to sell more books, for instance, but also we know people make mistakes. They buy books which they bought before because they forget they bought them, and then we’ve got a problem because they think, ‘Oh, we bought it from Amazon and it’s totally faceless, and it doesn’t tell us.’ But if we tell them, they’ll buy more books with confidence because they will have the confidence that we have their backs.” And that’s brilliant.

Interviewer: So I guess the lesson here is to figure out what your customers need and then figure out the technology to do that versus trying to figure out how to use technology to then do it the other way around basically.

It’s, “Here’s the technology, how do I make it work for my customers?” It’s, “What do my customer need and then what technology do I go with?”

David: Yes. That’s exactly right. And that’s what we mean by working smarter instead of harder. By all means, let’s use…we have smarter and smarter algorithms, we have semantic technologies coming in, which scan all sorts of profiles and makes all kinds of connections. Let’s use them selectively to achieve a very specific desirable outcome, with a human moment to it. So it actually allows us to make that connection.

Interviewer: So are there any standard things that every e-commerce site should do, in terms of customer loyalty, say, for example, you buy your product, here’s the packaging information, the shipping information, and then maybe you have, two weeks later, an email to say, “Hey, hope you got it. Can you leave a review?” Is there just certain things that just it’s expected for people to do now?

David: Yes, definitely you should have an email asking for feedback, saying, “Could we have improved the experience in anyway?” Not everybody’s going to avail themselves of it, but some people will. And that becomes invaluable feedback. And the other thing is you should somehow always try to make your company vulnerable, and this goes against everything we’ve learned up to the end of the 20th century, where everything we did was trying to bullet proof the company because customers were “evil” and they were only good enough to give us their money, and go away, and stop troubling us. Now everything we did back then is you had returns policy, it was on the web somewhere but could you find it?

And if you did find it, what did it say? “Oh, you can return anything you like within 24 hours with the receipt, undamaged, not in its original packaging.” All this stuff. They created all these obstacles because they thought people are going to take advantage of you. What does Amazon do on this? They say, “Just return it.” And sometimes they don’t even bother returning it. The moment you return it, they send you…I can’t remember what I bought now, I bought some kind of lighting for a study. And the bulb was damaged. So I sent them back the damage bulb because I put it up and this bulb went out. And within three days, I had another reflector back. Not even a bulb.

Interviewer: Without even sending it back?

David: Yeah, yeah. They just sent another thing back completely. I thought, “Okay, that’s amazing because whatever hit they took with me on that particular transaction, and I’m pretty sure they lost money on it.” In the course of a year, I spent 2, $3,000 on Amazon. So to them, having my custom no words asked, no questions asked, is of huge value. And that’s what exactly with they’ve worked out. So and then to me, the fact that they trust me to such an extent. Well, I’m really careful about complaining about anything. I’ll check everything to see that you it hasn’t been my fault. And so far, purchases are fine.

But it goes to show that the moment you trust somebody, they tend to trust you back.

How To Handle The Voice Of Negative Customers

Interviewer: Yeah, I think you brought up and interesting point about being vulnerable and companies need to do that, which is different from what we’re taught as marketers. So an example I have that I had to deal with recently was we had a customer who ended up…they bought a product from us twice already, and they bought a similar product the third time and it actually wasn’t…they actually bought the wrong product.

And they went on social media and they went on forums, and they just literally started slamming us for selling them bad products and etc, etc. And so it’s we became really vulnerable to that because the customer made a mistake, and so that vulnerability, we were really exposed as a company, to being vulnerable and it wasn’t even our wrong. And so being vulnerable is a good thing but it could also hurt you, to some degree right?

David: It can. But I think, the thing is the moment you are [inaudible 00:42:07] you are vulnerable. Look at Amazon say, “Just sent it back.” If you had that kind of vulnerability with your customer, that they felt that okay, they made a mistake. It’s their mistake, not yours. But if they can just rectify it very quickly, it stops being a problem. If they can’t, then there are other issues which go into place. There’s the ego thing, will have to acknowledge that they have made a mistake, which makes them look like fools. There is the perhaps expectation thing, where they expected you to safeguard them from making a mistake and you didn’t. So now suddenly, their fault becomes your mistake.

Interviewer: Yeah, I think that’s what happened.

David: These things are exactly that. They happen because a miscommunication is easy to become magnified because there’s not sufficient communication in place afterwards. So having as open and transparent a relationship as possible, gets freed of a lot of these things, and then if you get the odd person who is really, really weird, no matter what you do, they’re going to find a fault, they go public with that.

Well, if you have ticked every single box, in terms of transparency, if you’re open, if you’re honest, if you’re completely vulnerable, you make it easy for people and you still get that guy, that guy is actually helping you. Because he’s making the case for you. He’s saying, “We do all these things and we can’t please you. We can’t do anything more.” And people see that. They’ll say, “Yeah, you are right. You do all these things, that’s amazing. What other company does that? What’s wrong with him?” So something which would have hurt you potentially becomes an opportunity to actually showcase your virtues, if you like. Which is a good opportunity to have. But you really have to be that open, that transparent, that good, if you like.

Interviewer: So what are the chances that we take this guy, who was very vocal on social media and forums, what are the chances that this guy turns into a brand evangelist [or a fan]?

David: Well.

Interviewer: We did everything you could possible do. We sent him a return label, so he didn’t have to pay for shipping. We sent him the right part that he wanted. So what are the chances that this guy is…It just seems like, people are more likely to thrash you than to praise you as a company, so.

David: Well they go into the kind of downward spiral, if you like. Because let’s not forget, it’s a very unnatural way of communicating and it is not a lot of bidirectional flow of information. Everything happens simply amplifies their own misconception. So if, for instance, you say you are wrong and then you respond to something which tries to fix it, but you haven’t clarified the points of thinking,

“You’re only doing it because you’re wrong. So that makes me more right. So I am going to say more about this. So essentially, you need to establish a human connection. You got to say it’s people. At the end of the day, we’re people just like you. And we really want you to be happy. That’s what we want. And we did this, and we did that, and you actually use logic on this. You can show exactly what you did, the steps which you took. The reasoning behind them. And say how logic fares and humanity fares and that kind of thing. Most people will respond. And if somebody doesn’t respond to all that, then you really…there is never really a customer to begin with.

Interviewer: So that’s a lot of great advice. I know we’re running out of time, so I have one more question I’m going to try to squeeze in. Do we have time for one more question?

David: Yes, absolutely.

What Is The First Thing Ecommerce Site Owners Should Do To Build Brand Evangelists?

Interviewer: Okay, so we went over a lot of information here today. So what is the first step an e-commerce site owner can do to start creating that culture that is conducive to creating brand evangelists? What is the first thing you should do?

David: Get your passion across for what you do and why you do it, the same way that you would if you were in person.

We have this bad habit of the moment we get to the web and everything becomes digital, we begin to distance ourselves as people from the website because that’s machine code, and it shouldn’t be. It should be a very humanizing experience. So walk through your online presence with very humanized, very fresh eyes, and think, “I don’t know anything about this product. Don’t know anything about this company, I’m just a person. Does it convince me? Do I get a sense that there are people behind it? Do I get a sense of the people who are behind it really care, they’re really passionate about what they do? Do they really want my customer and they are prepared to give me value for giving them my money?” And if you successfully answer those points, then you begin to become very accessible to your potential audience.

Interviewer: Okay. So that’s actually very similar to how you establish trust and authority in terms of that first step is to just really take a look at your company as a human entity versus you know pixels on a page.

David: Yes. People like doing business with people, and this is becoming clearly the winning factor for every kind of business. It doesn’t matter what the scale of business is. So if you manage to address that successfully, then you’re onto a really good path for growth.

Interviewer: All right. Thanks so much, David. I really appreciate you spending time with us today, and what can our listeners expect from you in 2015, any new projects going on with you?

David: Yes. So I actually got…I’m working on two books at the moment. One on communities and one on trust. So the timeline on these will be near the middle and the end of the year. So along those lines, they’ll be coming along. And I’m also working a couple of web televised events with Social Media Today and use on that Social Media Today page or my website usually.

Interviewer: All right. I will definitely look forward to those two books coming out, and I’ll check out your Social Media Today videos. So thank you so much again for joining us, and have a great week.

David: You, too. Thank you for the opportunity.

Interviewer: All right. Bye-bye.

David: Bye-bye.

About the author

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Darren DeMatas
Darren has an MBA in Internet Marketing and 10+ years of experience marketing retail, manufacturing and Internet marketing corporations, 7-figure brands and startups online. Follow him on TwitterLinkedIn

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