12 Dec 2013

You’ll never sell products on Social Media by Martin MacDonald

Last week I asked Martin MacDonald if he would be kind enough to contribute a post to our blog…it’s only the second time I’ve ever asked a non employee to contribute to our blog……but Martin, well, I have so much respect for him…and then he was nice enough to write a nice post for our blog….and so now it’s time to meditate on Martin’s words and thoughts about marketing and experiences through social. Thanks Martin!
Jim Boykin


You’ll never sell products on Social Media

By Martin MacDonald

The way that we shop has changed immeasurably in the past 15 years.  Search engines have allowed us to get our products in front of consumers at the very point in which they are purchasing, and ecommerce companies have built empires fulfilling this demand.

While social media traffic has skyrocketed over the past decade, we haven’t really found our feet yet with selling through social media.

We’ve rubbished the perceived quality of traffic from Facebook or Twitter.

We’ve studied ROI of every channel and decided that social media marketing just isn’t worth it (mainly).

That’s not what a good marketer does though – a good marketer looks for opportunity in whatever medium they are presented with.

They study messages on any medium that resonate most with the audience, and tailor their marketing to the channel.

What is Social Media Good for then?

Inherently as a platform social media is better at sharing experiences rather than conspicuous consumption.

Lets stop thinking of our customers as consumers, we should think of them as experiencers!

In the travel industry for instance it’s normal for merchants to try and incentivize their consumers to tweet or share socially after the person has transacted, or while they are browsing.

This simply doesn’t make any sense because the consumer in this case would simply be advertising the fact that they have made a purchase (consumerist) whereas the actual point at which they’re more likely to share the socially is during our post the experience itself as in when they have used your product (experiential).

Another example is the post checkout “share this product” button on Amazon. How many times have you ever seen anybody tweeting or posting on Facebook via this button? I can’t remember a single occurrence of those shares.

Now think about how many times you’ve seen people tweeting sharing about an experience that they’ve had with a product that may well have been bought on Amazon.

It boils down to one key truth: in this age of austerity bragging online that you’ve bought something isn’t cool.

Broadcasting that you’ve had an experience however, IS cool.

You’ll never sell a product on social media.  You can sell experiences.

That’s what we have to leverage as marketers in 2014.

But how can I use this in my marketing?

That’s the million-dollar question of course, and in truth it’s going to depend very much on what you’re selling.

To use a well-beaten adage, if you’re in the waste disposal business its probably going to be tough to focus on the experience, but for most of us, the products we sell are much easier to frame in an experiential frame.

Online travel for instance, instead of asking customers to share socially at checkout, why not invite them to share your message while they are experiencing your product?

Invite them to share details about the hotel the day after they checked in.  Ask them to tweet about their experiences, while they are experiencing it. In travel we are particularly lucky, most of the time we know exactly when our customers are engaging with our service, and we should be using this information!

Tangible product retailers: instead of trying to leverage people to share the fact that they’ve bought something, why not give it a week and try and get them to share if they’ve had a positive experience using or owning your product?

Those are the messages that people are more likely to broadcast to their social networks.

Lets not forget that social media has never really worked as a call to action, in that sense it would be interruption marketing along the lines of offline or ATL marketing spend.

Where it does work is in the discovery phase, and that’s what we will be focusing on by shifting our aims from selling products, to broadcasting an experience message!


Martin MacDonald is Director of Inbound Marketing at Expedia, and has been working in SEO since the late 1990’s.  During this time he’s worked in Gambing, Entertainment and Travel verticals & speaks at conferences globally.  You can catch up with him on twitter.com/searchmartin and he blogs at WebMarketingSchool.com