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October 26, 2016
October 26, 2016

Many online business owners suffer from an affliction I like to call COS, or Chronic Overestimation Syndrome. Symptoms include insisting that:

  • Every piece of content you publish needs to be “shareable” —products, posts, photos, wishlists, hints
  • You MUST be all over social media, establishing multiple channels: Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube!
  • Email campaigns must be executed with great frequency (and thus impunity)

This most often leads to dilution of resources, a fractured brand message, cluttered user experience, and mild disappointment.

Let’s take a look at each of those assertions.

First, consider sharing functionality. I’ve had many clients insist they need buttons and counters appended to product pages on their e-commerce site.

Some of my arguments against these are:

  1. If the point is to sell product, why eat up valuable visual real estate that distracts from that goal?
  2. Furthermore, why ask (tacitly or otherwise) for any other action other than to add a product to a cart, or read more details about it?
  3. The ratio of page visits to social shares is typically below 1%
  4. In the case of counters, why in the world would you want to display your lousy statistics?
  5. Any research I’ve found puts the percentage of sharing (in general) via buttons at about 30%, versus manually copying and pasting links
  6. Buttons and icons are often ugly, and command design resources to get them on brand, or can’t be customized

Second, people often think they need to be “on” as many as five or six social media platforms, and are compelled to jump into the Next Big Thing (how’s Meerkat working out for you?). “On” typically means they EXIST in that space, but that’s pretty much it. There’s a great misunderstanding about what it takes to brand-build on even a single social platform, and it’s decidedly not obviously stock photography with some drop-shadowed text and a campy semi-inspirational message that gets one or two likes. It’s a confluence of thoughtful strategy, on-brand messaging, timing, a clear voice, and great creative execution.

Third, used too frequently, email campaigns do far more harm than good. Marketers often choose to rely on overmarketing to an underdeveloped email list as their main mode of outreach and feedback. Pounding the life out of an old, unsegmented (and/or possibly ill-gotten) list will quickly lead to a high unsubscribe rate, spam flags, and a bunch of annoyed users. Businesses will often react by trying to squeeze ROI out of an underperforming list by over-discounting and sale-training their customer base when a smarter play is to take a harder look content and cadence.

When businesses do these things, they wildly overestimate how much customers actually want to engage. “Please bombard me with lots of superfluous stuff when I engage with your brand,” said no online shopper, ever. Keep it classy. User experience that leads to trust (and conversions) is a courtship best thought of as a candlelight dinner with Barry White on the turntable, not yelling at a club with Smirnoff Ice. And, you can’t walk into a relationship asking for instant validation (sharing), bragging about how awesome you are at everything (social media overextension), or blathering on about your broken family dynamic (email abuse).

Worse, needed resources—be they content creation, approvals, updates, design, data mining, etc.—multiply and get spread out over so many initiatives, that no single one of them gets a foothold.

So, here are a couple of tips for a pragmatic approach to user engagement. Start slow, and don’t think you need to push or ask for everything AND the kitchen sink to convert sales and build a loyal base.*

Social media: Only take on as many platforms as you can sensibly manage with a clear strategy, brand message, and strong creative that remains consistent across all of them. I always recommend starting with two, max—then grow. Also learn how social platforms restrict your content distribution outside of paid programs, and consider what you’ll need to invest to really make them work for you. Also, resist the urge to jump on the next big platform, unless there’s a really comprehensive strategy for pushing Snapchat videos. And you probably don’t have one.

Sharing: Ask for a sale on product or category pages, and don’t worry about shares or likes or signups. Simplify your customer journey to make conversions easy. Reach out to customers post-sale to share their experience with your site, or with your product. If it was good, you’ll get way more marketing mileage out of a testimonial or feedback than you will a shared product photo.

Email: Break users into a cadence gently. At first—weekly, max. If you get the stats and (most importantly) the quality content to support sending more often, then test.

*Except if you’re Amazon, in which case you sell in spite of vomiting gobs of content on to dreadfully designed pages.


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