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How quickly does a customer go from sharing an item on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, to actually buying that item online or in a store? That depends on which "tribe" of social shopper you're talking about.

As described in the blog post that appears today on the Harvard Business Review, Vision Critical's recent white paper, From Social to Sale, revealed three tribes of social shoppers:

  • Questers share items on social when they are in the process of actively researching a purchase. These are the people who share what they already plan to buy. All three platforms have roughly the same proportion of questers: they make up 20-25% of social purchasers on each of the three platforms,
  • Leapers share items they had not previously thought about purchasing. These are the people who represent genuinely new sales for the retailer. Among the three platforms we focused on, Pinterest purchasers are the most likely to be leapers.
  • Thinkers share purchases they are vaguely contemplating but aren't actively researching. Some of these purchases may have been made eventually anyhow, but social can help nudge the customer towards purchasing one product rather than an alternative. Twitter is the platform with the highest proportion of thinkers.

While all three tribes are overwhelming likely to make their purchase within three weeks of sharing, questers are uniquely likely to make that purchase within 24 hours: a quarter of questers make their purchase within a day of sharing it online. As a frequent quester myself, I know the experience of conquest that leads from long search to sharing to immediate purchaseÛ_and after examining the patterns that take different types of shopper along the path to purchase, I have some insights on how marketers can drive questers like me from social to sale.

Take the social purchase I made shortly before we published our white paper: this pair of Jeffery Campbell Piranha shoes. I know what you're thinking: who deliberately sets out to find a pair of shoes that can double as a weapon? Not me, I'm afraid, mainly due to a lack of ambition in imagining just how awesome a pair of shoes can be. But true to my questing nature, I am pretty much engaged in a perpetual search for the perfect pair of shoes, as my Pinterest boards can attest.

In fact, those Pinterest boards offer marketers a great clue that they may be dealing with a potential social purchaser: half of Pinterest-to-purchasers report that they created a pinboard for the specific category of purchase they eventually made. When you see your product pinned to a page full of similar products, make yours stand out by engaging with the pinner.

Those Pinterest boards also have a big impact on my friends. I've had friends post shoes on my Facebook wall, text message photos to my phone, and even dream that they found my perfect red boots, all because my endless quest creates constant evidence of my obsession - and constant opportunities for friends to reinforce my urge to buy. In fact, 26% of Pinterest purchasers say that their friends' input was a big influence on their decision to purchase the item they shared. That's why it pays to engage your customers with questions, images and promotions that encourage them to get their friends to weigh in on purchase decisions in progress.

While this kind of social influence may seem particularly suited to fashion - after all, what woman hasn't asked her BFF to play fashion jury? - Pinterest-driven purchasing is even more likely to fall in the area of DIY and crafting. In fact, that's the category the Piranha shoe first drove me to: when I first saw the shoe online at full price, I couldn't help thinking that I could do something similar using a cheap pair of loafers and a nailhead adapter for my daughter's rhinestone setter. While I found plenty of creative inspiration on Pinterest, plenty of how-to advice on Etsy, and plenty of ingredients on eBay, marketers could drive crafty customers towards purchasing by combining how-tos with must-buys on a single page.

When I finally picked up the nailhead adapter and nailheads, however, it wasn't on any of the sites I'd browsed. It was when I literally stumbled across the New York storefront of the store from whom I'd originally purchased that rhinestone setter. Again, this is a common, if surprising, social purchaser behavior: we are as likely to purchase a shared item in a store as we are to buy it online. Telling your social media customers about your store locations, products and expert service is another great way to move them from sharing to purchase.

With all the ingredients for a Piranha shoe at my disposal, why did I end up buying a pair anyhow? Simple: they were on sale. Like many social shoppers, a promotion is a great way to move me from sharing to purchaseÛ_though people who have bought items they shared on Pinterest are much less likely to cite a promotion as their reason for buying, compared to Facebook- and Twitter-inspired purchases. That's mainly a comment on the dearth of Pinterest-specific promotions and a great reminder that marketers have a tremendous, untapped opportunity to drive sales by offering deals in a Pinterest-friendly, shareable form. Recently, Pinterest introduced a new service that alerts users when the items they have pinned drop in price, making it even easier for retailers to encourage social purchasing.

While I may have walked the social path to purchase, I haven't done so in my Piranha shoes. Tragically, my size 11 Jeffrey Campbells fit like a petite size 10 - something I discovered as a disclaimer on another website selling those shoes, only after I had received my pair. While 43% of Pinterest purchasers report that product information is a major driver of their move from social to purchase, I didn't have the information I needed to make a wise purchase. (And yes, I still assert that a pair of studded shoes can be a wise purchase.) Offering customers all the information they need to make a successful purchase - not just a quick one - is the best way to win and keep customers through social media.

It's too late for these insights to help me or the store that sent me those shoes. But if you have insights or stories to share about how you've moved customers from social to sale, I'd love to hear them - and if you're a size 10, a great pair of shoes to send as a thank-you.

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