How social media helped enhance Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales (but can backfire too!)

Word of mouth marketing has long been important to the retail market and social media is therefore a natural sales driver since it encourages just that and has become even more so this year with social media used to further boost Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in the past few days.

In the US social media based coupon code aggregation website CouponFollow, which finds codes as they are shared on social media networks, predicted that there would be an 18% rise in the number of Thanksgiving related coupons being shared on Twitter compared to last year. Adobe Digital Index found that, in the US, Amazon was the most referenced retailer for the traditional two-day period of discounts with 450,000 posts associating it with Black Friday, followed by Walmart with 300,000 posts. Meanwhile social media analytics firm Socialbakers found that ShoeDazzle and Macy’s had the most brand interactions on Facebook on Black Friday while Walmart attracted the most new Facebook fans.

But that was just in the US. In the UK retailers this year joined in the traditionally US targeted marketing stunt of offering huge discounts to customers on the first Friday following the American Thanksgiving holidays.

The likes of Amazon, Asda, John Lewis were just a few of the big names who joined in on the fun offering huge discounts to drive shopper footfall and orders whilst this week Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day before Christmas, also saw retailers trying to further boost sales with special deals and offers.  Pre-event experts were expecting between £450 million to just over £600 million to be spent on Cyber Monday – a figure which would make it the busiest online shopping day ever.

Last year social media was estimated to have driven about 2 percent of total visits that led to purchases on Cyber Monday. Conversion rates through Facebook and Twitter remained flat between 2011 to 2012 but Pinterest more than doubled in referral share.

This year that number is likely to have risen significantly as retailers use the marketing opportunities of the two shopping days to drive hype and excitement around the deals via social media, whilst customers have increasingly realized that monitoring such sites could result in big savings for them and have also been eager to share special deals with their friends. Certainly there was a lot of conversation going on. Results from social intelligence provider Crimson Hexagon said that Black Friday generated more than 4 million tweets last week. Of these 43% were positive conversations with 30% expressing excitement about the promotional event and 13% hunting for deals and sales.  

However what these figures do of course show was that although millions of people were talking about Black Friday it had its risk too — with more than half posting negative tweets about the promotional event. The truth is that as with any type of marketing via social media it inevitably has its risks. Supermarket giant Asda for example heavily promoted its Black Friday discount event online ahead of the day and on Facebook received nearly 30,000 responses to a competition it ran to guess the price of one of its best Black Friday deals. On Twitter the retailer invited shoppers to share their pictures of the event on the day itself. What it seemed not to have anticipated however was that the tactic could backfire for whilst there was excited chatter about the bargains to be had and the images of initially orderly queues posted at first Twitter was soon awash instead with complaints, talk of fights and the chaos that ensued at some stores as shoppers literally fought for bargains.

On the same channel PC World chose a more dignified approach, supplementing instore discounts with an online tech auction offering a tablet, television or Lumix camera at massive discount by asking customers to tweet in suggested bids of between £1 and half the price of the product – with the winning bid the one that matched that picked by the retailer.

The earlier figures showed how much Black Friday got people talking but it also showed these weren’t all positive conversations. The research showed that 35% of Twitter conversations were negative with 13% bemoaning the mayhem it created, 11% moaning about having to work on Black Friday, 5% disagreeing with the principles of the event itself and threatening to boycott it. 4% concerned about lack of money or spending too much and 2% criticising extra hours worked.

The research showed a further 21% were holding neutral conversations about the event.

We all love a bargain and being able to share such news via social media is key for retailers looking to build on its power of word of mouth. Just remember that shoppers share bad as well as good news online too.