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How Small Firms Can Use Pinterest and Facebook to Sell Directly to Customers

WALL STREET JOURNAL – You see a picture on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook. But there’s something different about it. There’s a button that asks you if you want to buy the product you see.

Would you click then and there?

Social-media giants are betting you will. And some small businesses are signing on to the idea.

As social sites seek new sources of income—and people demand ever more convenient ways to buy online—they’re giving companies the option to add “buy” buttons to their posts. And some small businesses are already seeing encouraging gains from this new capability, boosting sales by leveraging the close contact they have with customers on social sites.

But experts warn that businesses should take a soft and helpful tone when reaching out, because customers can get turned off when companies try to use social media to push them into making impulse buys.

They don’t like it when companies post aggressive sales pitches in the comments on pictures at photo-sharing sites, for instance, or when companies send them pushy sales messages through platforms such as Facebook Messenger.

Customers are “in a different mind-set when on social sites,” says Jay Baer, president of Convince & Convert, a digital marketing firm in Bloomington, Ind. “They don’t go there to buy. That transition to buying can be jarring.”

Room to explore

The idea of buying straight from posts on social media isn’t exactly new. But only now is the practice becoming feasible as third-party companies like Shopify and BigCommerce—or in the case of Pinterest, the site itself—make it easier to set up the purchasing options and handle the back-end processing.

Companies pay the third-party companies a subscription fee, but the social sites aren’t charging anything yet to monetize posts.

On Instagram and Pinterest, companies post photos the way anybody else does, and people find the pictures the way they find any other photos: searching by keyword or seeing what their friends have marked as interesting—“pinned”—or otherwise shared. The only difference is that people have the option to buy items companies have posted.

On Facebook, customers arrive at company pages either by searching on keywords or by joining a group devoted to the company. Purchasable items are found by clicking the shop tab, and the transactions are handled by manually entering credit-card numbers that can be stored for later use. Facebook doesn’t charge for the transaction.

How can entrepreneurs make the most of this new setup?

The experts suggest that companies ease customers into the idea of buying on social media by gently letting them know, since the majority of online users are not even aware that they have the option to make direct purchases on social media.

On Pinterest and Instagram, for instance, users are usually looking for ideas or inspiration, not to buy. Companies should not put aggressive sales pitches in the comments to photos, where most of the conversations on Pinterest and Instagram take place.

Slava Furman, founder of Miami-based Noli Yoga, knew that yoga practitioners were posting scenic selfies of their perfected yoga positions on Instagram. Without making any sales pitches, he started posting his own photos showing customers in his activewear. Yoga fans discovered them while browsing through other yoga photos or doing keyword searches, since Mr. Furman attaches yoga-relevant hashtag search terms to his images.

After building a sizable following, he turned to an e-commerce app called Snappic that lets people buy items in his photos.

He currently gets 90% of his business from all of his social-media marketing and advertising efforts, and 15% of that comes from direct sales on Instagram.

Special content

Avoiding sales pitches is one thing. But companies should also be sure to post compelling content on these social-commerce storefronts that gives users a reason to visit, experts say. On Instagram or Facebook, that might mean streaming live video. In a Facebook shop, companies might offer a free PDF instructional guide for the product, along with a coupon.

Pure Cycles, a 20-employee urban-bicycle manufacturing company in Burbank, Calif., posts events that show up in followers’ calendars on Facebook. As with click-to-buy posts on Instagram and Pinterest, visitors to the company’s Facebook shop page can purchase items in photos. But Pure Cycles says it’s careful to add extra content to keep customers interested.

The company recently invited customers to its headquarters, where they could test-ride bikes and get free swag. It also features instructional videos and streamed Facebook Live video events where employees interact with customers. Another touch that helps, the company says: The live videos are often done by company owners as a way to make themselves more accessible to customers.

When doing a question-and-answer session, they have opportunistically referenced products in the store.

Jordan Schau, co-founder of Pure Cycles, says the human touch is crucial to show that there are real people behind the content, not a faceless marketing department.

“In terms of shopping and getting the right stuff, it’s much more impactful if we’re behind the chat,” says Mr. Schau, who oversees the social-media efforts at Pure Cycles. He’ll often respond directly to social media inquiries on his personal phone and interact with customers after hours.

“We’re not trying to actively hit people up by saying, hey, everybody, we’re having a sale on this,” says Mr. Schau. “We’re more like, hey, we’re your friend. If you have a question about your bike, we’re happy to answer.”

You can read the full story here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-small-firms-can-use-pinterest-and-facebook-to-sell-directly-to-customers-1493605265