By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

Just as the Internet opened up a new world of exploration for buyers, the proliferation of social media has created equally incredible opportunities for the online buyer. Particularly significant about social media channels is that they are interactive, include heavy peer influence, and conversations and interactions often happen in real-time.

Data shows that approximately 71 percent of purchasing decisions are influenced by social media referrals. These aren’t only friends and family persuading your buyers where to shop or what to buy. Social media channels, including forums and online communities, are filled with strangers whose opinions are considered equally, and sometimes more valued by your buyers to those opinions of friends and peers.

If this sounds odd that a perfect stranger can have so much influence, consider the popularity and persuasiveness of online product reviews. How often have you changed a buying decision after reading reviews from other customers? Influence within social media works the same way.

As the final part of tracking the buyer’s journey, social media is an important component. In the analogy we used of planning a road trip, we said that some of your pit stops would be influenced by people (often strangers) you meet along the way. In the buyer’s journey, social media is where much of that unexpected influence occurs. While you can’t control this engagement, there are things you can do to better use social media along the buyer’s journey:

  • Encourage advocates, your loyal customers, to share their experience on social media (for example, provide social media sharing links alongside customer reviews so customers can easily share their opinions on Facebook or Twitter; or ask them to take a picture of them with your product and sharing on Instagram).
  • Reward advocates for unsolicited mentions of your brand in social media; this can be as simple as a public thank you or a retweet of their comment, to sending them some type of swag or branded product.
  • Monitor conversations and respond (even if the comments are disparaging, research shows that buyers appreciate when a brand publicly responds to people’s comments).

Mapping the buyer’s journey comes down to this: understanding as much as possible about who is buying, anticipating what their needs are, knowing why they are buying, identifying where they look for information, and determining how they are influenced along the way to making their final decision.