Beyond the Ads: Merchandising With Social Media

In March 2014, the cyber world watched a diverse group of strangers lock lips in First Kiss. The short film went viral shortly after it was uploaded, and it now has over 100 million views on its filmmaker’s channel alone. We now know that that the participants, though strangers, were all actors, and that the film was created as part of an ad campaign for womenswear retailer WREN Studio, but that fact hardly lessens the impact of the film.  There’s a clear lesson in how powerful a social media strategy can be for retailers, but also a lesson that social media is not just an advertising channel: it can also be used to merchandise.

Connecting with customers is the heart of merchandising (in the marketing sense). From online videos to editorial photos in magazines to the in-store displays, merchandising is meant to reflect how customers see themselves, or show them who they can be. While First Kiss is part of an ad campaign, it’s focus on creating a story made it more appealing, and it gave WREN Studio a far better vehicle to share their brand message and merchandise their products.

So how can you use social media merchandizing?

Create Quality (Not Sales) Content

First Kiss didn’t go viral because it advertised how awesome WREN Studio is. It didn’t talk about WREN Studio or their products at all. Instead, the film created a narrative that connected with people emotionally. No matter what kind of content you create (editorial lookbooks and how-to photo tutorials are as popular as videos, and usually less expensive), give your customers something delightful, and something they could delight their social circles with.


Of course, while you’re delighting customers, you also have the opportunity to show your products. Launching your content from your social media profiles–or better yet, from the profiles of your brand or lifestyle advocates who have massive followings–will tie it back to where customers can buy your products. And the beauty of it is, it’s the customers themselves who spread the word, so it feels even less like advertising coming directly from your brand.

Ecommerce Integrations with Social Sites

Many social sites allow product feeds from retailers (think Facebook Shopping), and many retailers are beginning to integrate those feeds from their social channels with their sites. For example, companies like Modcloth are using Instagram feeds to bring the images customers upload wearing their products back to their product detail pages and style galleries. The extra details it adds around products have a huge impact on sales, and also function as positive reviews.

Direct Sales through Social Media

After more tickets became available to a playoff game, the Atlanta Hawks recently used Twitter’s buy button to sell them.  A limited number of fans were able to purchase the tickets, without ever leaving the tweet, and when the tickets sold out, the Hawks merely had to take the tweet down. Sure they could have just sold them on their site, but the social based flash sale created a buzz and an incentive for fans to follow them.


Pinterest is slated to launch their own “Push to Buy” button so people can buy products directly from Pins, again creating another sales channel for online retailers.

Startups like Jyllion are at the forefront of developing applications that make your social media posts shoppable on platforms like Facebook, by adding ecommerce tags that allow your customers to click right on Facebook images and buy within two clicks, without ever even going to your site. Jyllion also adds the same tags on videos, making commercials shoppable, and viral videos even more valuable to brands.

jyllion-soccer-ball copy

Tie Your Ask for Social Sharing to Products

Like great content, people love to share whatever they feel represents them and their lifestyle.  Prominently featuring social links on product and lookbook pages are a great place to start, but think about adding prompts to share in other places including reviews, pop-up windows and emails.  Making a purchase is an exciting event in people’s lives that they want to share, so the best point of contact is after a sale.

post purchase share

Social media channels do a good job of making our sponsored ads ambiguous, but people will always trust a post in their feed more when they can tie it to a relationship they have with a person.

One Last Tip: Be Mobile Ready

Not only will mobile soon account for 50% of US digital commerce, mobile dominates the social landscape. Make sure your site and your products are accessible on mobile, because that’s where most of your social merchandising is going to be viewed.