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Selling on Social Media

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18 October 2010


We continue our rotating Startupbootcamp blog series - our ten teams take turns sharing their thoughts and experiences.  This entry is by James Hobbis of Gruvi.





Usually when we are speaking with friends we do not expect to be sold something. Sometimes we will accept a friend trying to persuade us to do something. But social norms don’t allow any selling in the commercial sense to occur. Think about the awkwardness of selling a car to a friend – what price should you set, the highest price that you’ve ever seen on a car forecourt, should you discount it as a favour to your friend? What if it breaks down – do you offer a warranty?

We don’t take the prospect of selling to friends lightly.

But Gruvi is a platform that does attempt to sell things – movie tickets – and it sells them on Facebook, which is in essence a community of friends. If selling can ever occur within the context of social media in a repeatable manner then it must follow a subtle model; the persuasion model.

Poor Marketer

Persuasion works when the  “buyer” is barely buying, more being lead to an understanding. The “seller” is leading, not closing. Persuasion is something that we regularly do with our friends.  When you are at work today how often will you be invited to participate in activities; “fancy a coffee”, “is anyone ready for lunch”  and maybe “could you help me with this?" It is this behaviour that those wishing to sell via social media need to tap. It is a model of communication that traditional marketers are not trained for.

Pity the poor marketer, over the past few years we consumers have weaned ourselves of our dependence on mass media as the web has offered a more engaging alternative. Then when the marketers followed the audience online, they found that the people had become far harder to interrupt with a sales message. Take a look at you Facebook page, on the right hand side there will be a list of adverts pushing something which you may actually want, but probably don’t want today. We are used to ignoring these adverts, just as we ignore banners on web sites.

So how can marketers do their job? After all their need to bring products and services to our attention doesn’t diminish just because we are not listening.

At Gruvi we think that the answer is to identify the needs that people have and support them. We can’t claim that it is our idea, consumer service sites have been doing it for many years. Think of all those sites that help you to identify which is the best flight / hotel / mortgage / loan, we all have a favourite site that aggregates all the offers available and then present us with a shortlist. The consumer’s need was there before the sites were built, consumers were going to do that research any way. What the consumer service web site does is help to complete the research easily and efficiently. Because they have done that we are happy to make the purchase from their site. They have earned their commission.

Use the Voice of Friends

Selling on social media needs to follow a similar approach, but has the opportunity to fold in another extremely important voice in our decision process. The voice of our friends. In many consumer decisions that voice is the loudest, think how trends form. In the office that I work in 100% of us wear casual clothes, not suits. 100% of the men have short hair, not long. I don’t think that we all saw adverts telling us to do this, but we recognise the influence of the society that we are in.

When choosing to purchase a new movie ticket 57% of people surveyed said that the story line was the most important criteria, 55% stated that which of their friends were coming was the most important.  Trailing after that were considerations of cast, genre and the influence of advertising.

This is the clue for how to answer the question posed – how do you sell on social media. You don’t, but you can support people that are already persuaded to buy your product in their attempts to persuade their friends to buy it too. A Star Wars fan will always watch a Star Wars film, there is a high chance they will watch anything by George Lucas. So once you have identified them, help them to persuade their friends to join them at the cinema. Arm them with trailer’s to share, movie times, theatre locations. Make it easy for them to invite their friends along.


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