Sneezing Customers; Find Them and Boost Your Sales

The word “sneezing” in this case, does not refer to the common cold or swine flu. It refers instead to customers who love your product so much that they tell others about it. Being able to know who these sneezers are, and help them sneeze to other people is so important if you want to boost sales online.

In a traditional retail store, there is very little you can do to facilitate customer evangelists. The best you can do is to have great customer service and an overall great experience. But the customer is not going to pass out 100 flyers for you.

Online, however, things are quite different. They can use their social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and even direct email) to spread the word, or sneeze about you.
Charles Nicholls, Founder, CSO of SeeWhy, Inc. writes more about this below in a column he entitled, Finding the Sneezer this Christmas.

While you may be wondering about a potential resurgence of the H1N1 virus, ecommerce marketers this year are focusing on finding the ?sneezer? ? the customer that spreads offers and promotions through social networks. Research by SeeWhy shows that a full 50 percent of ecommerce marketers plan to use social networks this holiday season to distribute promotions, discounts, and in particular, free shipping offers. And a survey just published by Internet Retailer showed that almost 50 percent of online retailers plan to add social network marketing to their ecommerce sites in 2010, ahead of any other advanced online application, including Video (36 percent), Blogs (34 percent) and Customer Reviews (34 percent).

Using social network integration features to enable website visitors to share content with their social networks is still in its early days. While marketers are obviously keen to get their message to spread virally, there is danger this season that social networks will be used as little more than cheap broadcast channels, and not communication channels by which to engage website visitors and customers.

Once your customer has shared your message with their social network, it?s important to identify and recognize their value specifically. You?ve just found an advocate that can potentially be very valuable. In 2010, retaining and rewarding sneezers will be increasingly important, but many companies fail to capture their identity or do anything with it.

Social shopping

Before you can build a relationship with your sneezers, you need to capture their identities and to do that successfully requires you to integrate with, and embrace, social networks in a different way.
Most of the social network integrations in the ecommerce space are at a very early stage and offer simple ?follow me? type capabilities.

But as more sites add sharing capabilities, we need to begin to think about reward and recognition of sneezers. The key element is to capture the individual details as a first step.
For example, Facebook Connect enables ecommerce websites to offer Facebook members the ability to log in to their Facebook accounts without leaving the ecommerce site.

When they log in, the site has access to profile information about the user which can be used for personalization. The ecommerce site can also enable the Facebook user to share things they find and like on the ecommerce site with their Wall and Friends activity feeds. MySpace and Twitter have similar functionality.
It?s worth noting that the Facebook ID that is captured is not the email address, but rather a 15 digit number.

While this may not be directly actionable, it?s worth capturing and storing this data for future use. Analysis of this data can subsequently enable you to identify which are your most prolific sneezers. is a good example of how ecommerce can be inherently social.

In the top right hand corner of the screen, you can see the Facebook Connect logo which encourages the visitor to log in to Facebook.

Note also how offers you an alternate way of logging in, using Facebook. This is an elegant way of presenting a social network log in to the visitor.

When you click the login button, this is what you get.

It?s not an ideal message, because the implication is that somehow the site is going to get control of your Facebook account and access to your network. Of course, the visitor can change their settings within Facebook to prevent this or delete posts they don?t like, but this is not the point.

When implementing an integration like this, the ecommerce site needs to take great care about the context in which this ?write back? capability is used.
There are different ways to connect ecommerce sites with social networks, but common functionality that this type of integration provides for includes:

? Building a community by encouraging visitors to become fans or follow a feed

? Enabling visitors to post to their profile feed from the website

? Inviting friends to the website

? Showing who?s on the website and recent visitors

Ramon Ray is the editor and tech evangelist for