How to Sell on Facebook: Promote, Personalize and Engage

In today's digital world, "Facebook commerce" (or F-commerce) is a bit of a buzzword that describes all aspects of using the social media site to profit - everything from advertising to facilitate sales on your own ecommerce website to selling directly to your fans on Facebook.

What ecommerce business owners need to know before venturing into the world of social commerce, though, is that selling on Facebook is a different experience than what most expect it to be.

Chris Bennet, founder of Soldsie, a company that helps businesses leverage Facebook and Instagram, says Facebook is a new way of selling. Businesses have to fully embrace social to be successful, he says. "It's not just about the revenue. Social commerce is also about your brand and customer engagement."

Use Facebook to Promote, Personalize and Let Customers Share

"In the early days of Facebook commerce, a business would focus on sales conversions directly on the Facebook page," says Josh Constine, the resident Facebook expert at TechCrunch. "With time, we've seen this change. People don't usually log in to Facebook to shop."

[Related: 5 Best Ecommerce Software Platforms for Small Business]

Using a Facebook app to sell products is a smart idea, but Constine says it shouldn't be the core component of your social commerce strategy. An even better idea, he says: Use your Facebook page to promote your products, then lead customers to your central ecommerce website. "Social commerce is evolving toward using Facebook logins, personalization and sharing to augment the customer experience on your website."

When customers visit your website, many are already logged in to Facebook, so it's easy to obtain important customer information for your business - names, email, geography and other useful data. Leveraging Facebook logins on an ecommerce site helps a business use the customer data to personalize the website experience and offer product recommendations relevant to that specific person.

How-to: 16 Tips for Ecommerce Holiday Season SuccessAlso: 7 Email Marketing Tips to Boost Holiday Sales

Another area where Constine says he sees the Facebook connection growing in popularity is encouraging people to share a purchase. On the purchase confirmation page, instead of focusing on the receipt, businesses increasingly suggest that people to share their purchase and invite friends to join that commerce experience.

"For example, when people buy tickets, they can share and tell their Facebook friends they just bought tickets to an awesome show," he says. "That will encourage their friends to purchase tickets and join them at the concert or event."

[Related: 10 Open Source Shopping Carts to Run Your Ecommerce Business]

Constine says a business should have a comprehensive strategy that uses a Facebook page to sell products and focus on the marketing opportunity of that page to reach people in newsfeeds and to send relevant promotions and offers.

Selling Directly on Facebook? Build an Audience and Engage With It First

Soldsie's Bennet says Facebook is appealing to small business owners because it's both effective and efficient: It's not expensive to get in the newsfeed of your Facebook fans. "People want to engage with your business, and Facebook makes it easy to do that," he says. "Think of your Facebook page as an easy way to communicate directly with your customer."

Reference: A How-to Guide for Facebook Business PagesMore: 14 Creative Ways to Use Facebook Business Pages

But before you can sell to your customers, obey the golden rule: Make sure your fans are engaged before you push product. It takes only minutes to install an ecommerce app on your Facebook page, but it takes much longer to build your channel to a point where people are engaging with you. Without this engagement, Bennet says people will not be interested in buying from you in social channels.

"Businesses that invest in the marketing aspect of Facebook commerce tend to have more success," he says. "Business owners have seen success in selling through Facebook comments, which leverages the engagement your brand has with fans. The more people who like, share and comment on your photos increases the visibility of your products."

Using a Facebook page to sell product turned out to be a positive business decision for Jenny Boston. The company started with two ladies designing their own accessories and selling at flea market sales on Cape Cod. The first Jenny Boston boutique opened in in 2008; today the Jenny Boston team has successfully launched a total of six stores.

Owner Kristen Maynard says Jenny Boston launched its first Facebook sale in October 2012, offering more than 30 products that sold well in the retail stores. On Facebook, Jenny Boston posts product images and descriptions and lets people purchase by writing "sold" in the comments.

Jenny Boston successfully runs weekly Facebook sales allowing customers to purchase simply by typing "sold" in the image comments.

"People started posting 'sold' and asking questions right away. Every week since doing our first Facebook sale, it's a little bit better and a little bit bigger," she says. "When November hit we couldn't believe how many orders were coming through the Facebook page."

Jenny Boston runs a Facebook sale each Wednesday, featuring new products that will be available in store the following day. Maynard says the Facebook-only sale drives Thursday in-store foot traffic. During the holiday shopping season, the boutique also offers a seconds weekly "themed" sale on Facebook.

Analysis: Can Facebook Replace Traditional Business Websites?Also: How to Use Facebook 'Offers' to Market Your Business

"What sets us apart from other retailers on Facebook is that we had a large customer base before we started selling on our page. Many companies don't build a customer base first," Maynard says. "I see businesses that launch on Facebook and then open a store to sell products before they engage customers. They don't seem to have as much success."

Not many businesses can claim their first Facebook commerce sale a success, but Jenny Boston can. Social selling on Facebook has increased sales by tens of thousands while boosting the company's following more than 2,000 percent. Maynard says in-store sales are up significantly as a result, too.

Is the Future of Facebook Commerce in Auto-pay?

One emerging social commerce trend, mobile shopping, makes it easier for people to shop usimg small mobile devices. Facebook is focusing on the mobile aspect of social commerce with Facebook Auto Fill, a service announced in September.

"This new Facebook feature is a partnership with payment providers," Constine says. "It's basically a social identity layer ... on top of payment providers that ecommerce apps already use."

The goal is to put an end to typing billing details on a small screen. Entering billing information is cumbersome on a small screen; in mobile commerce it's a common reason for cart abandonment. Facebook created an "Auto-Fill with Facebook" button that pops you out of the ecommerce application to your Facebook account, where you have previously entered credit card information.

News: Facebook Tests New Feature to Encourage More In-app BuyingMore: Facebook Readies Rollout of Mobile Payment System for Ecommerce

"It lets you lets you verify that you intend to use the same credit card billing information associated with your Facebook account," Constine says. "Then you pop back in the commerce app, and your billing information is automatically filled in with just a couple quick taps on your device."

According to Constine, Facebook doesn't process the payment or earn revenue directly from the mobile commerce tool, but the social network does get to peek at what Facebook users purchase online and correlate that back to their advertising.

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

Read more about online marketing in CIO's Online Marketing Drilldown.

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