The History of Social Selling

Did you know that you would have 45% more sales if you used social selling? 

While this is a promising statistic, not many know what social selling is, or its interesting history. While social media, data analytics, and lead generation are key parts of social selling, it isn’t the same thing as social media marketing and advertising.

The truth is, social selling has also been the basis of trade.

Social selling has everything to do with customer relations, and if done right, can completely do away with cold calling and emailing.

Keep reading to learn about the history of social selling, its effects in the modern day, and how it can help your business.

What is Social Selling?

Despite social selling having a long-standing history in marketing and business growth, it’s often misunderstood. As mentioned, most link it to social media advertising and marketing. While social selling does require some social media know-how in the modern day, it’s quite different from typical social media marketing techniques. 

In simple terms, social selling is all about establishing trust and relationships among you, your business, and any potential leads.

Today, social selling involves the utilization of social media channels to network and make meaningful connections with your leads. It also ultimately does away with cold calling and emailing, especially when you can slide right into someone’s DMs on LinkedIn.

Done right, social selling can help your business reach its sales and establish long-lasting relationships.

But, there is a fine line between social selling and bombarding people with random DMs. Spamming is not at all part of social selling.

Social Selling Before the Internet

Social selling looked very different before the internet morphed into what it is today, however.

Previously, selling things meant picking up a phone or knocking on someone’s door. From there, you’d need to pitch your ideas, products, or services. You of course ran the risk of immediately being hung up on, or having a door slammed in your face.

Thanks to these analog-style marketing techniques, sales representatives would spend hours on the phone trying to establish new customer relations.  Many businesses also mailed out flyers.

While all these methods definitely lead to success, it was often based on luck.

The term “social selling” was only established well after the internet boom. But the basic essence of social selling has always been a part of marketing and business practice.

As you can probably guess, social selling also has its roots in Referral Marketing, a.k.a. Affiliate Marketing. It’s all good and well to make one good connection.

But if you can’t keep that connection happy, there’s no chance your business will grow. Satisfied customers recommend your business. 

The Evolution of Social Selling

With the birth of the internet, everything changed, including how businesses marketed themselves. Instead of cold calling, sending out flyers, or knocking on doors, marketers jumped on the email hype train.

In the beginning, companies could email absolutely anyone. As time ticked on, though, governments introduced anti-spam and opt-out laws to prevent this.

As the internet evolved, though, so too did marketing techniques. How people view buying and selling also shifted.  

With the rise and establishment of social media, like MySpace in 2003, and Facebook in 2004, came the discovery that would change sales completely.

In 2006, after research conducted at the University of British Columbia, Nigel Edelshain coined the term “sales 2.0.” The research found that when there were similarities between buyer and seller, a chance of a successful sale was more likely. 

The term “sales 2.0” quickly morphed into “social selling” and it was the first time that the science of “social selling” was put into practice. But, with the major strides of online networking, the way we buy things has changed.

Social Media and Its Effect on Social Selling

Social selling has evolved to accommodate the many changes of the internet.  But, thanks to the evolution of the internet and social media, we now have several ways to buy and sell things. It has also given us important data regarding customer habits, along with the ability to predict customer trends. 

Each social media platform has had its own effect on social selling. 

While there are several social media platforms, each with their unique influence on social selling, we’ll only be covering a handful. 

Facebook

Facebook is without a doubt the most popular and well-known social media platform. While it’s not the first platform, it has become synonymous with social media.

In just three years since its launch, Facebook was worth $15 billion. Adding to its allure was the addition of Facebook Pages – which still exists within the platform today. At its launch, Pages gave businesses a brand-new way to communicate and build relationships with their customers. 

It also put major emphasis on “Likes.” When people liked a brand’s page, it showed their interest in said brand. The more likes you garnered, the better. Thanks to Pages, Facebook became a platform that every business HAD to be on.

While Pages was a huge success, Facebook revamped it two years after its launch. This revamp included the ability to run promotions and contests. Again, this put Facebook at the forefront of social selling. 

That wasn’t all, however. A year later, Facebook added “storefronts.” This allowed businesses to sell directly from Facebook, making their businesses far more accessible. Not only did this increase revenue streams for businesses, but it also expanded their networks. The more people interacted and shared that business’s page, the larger their network became.   

Facebook’s effect on social selling didn’t end there, though. Two years later, the social media platform introduced “Featured Posts.” These posts were sponsored business ads that would appear in people’s newsfeeds. This ultimately increased the business’s network, allowing them to reach new people.

Facebook continues to shift and evolve, with social selling following suit. 

Instagram

While Instagram started as a platform to share photographs, it quickly morphed into a social selling machine. All thanks to the birth of Influencers. While much younger than several other social media platforms, it has had a profound effect on social selling.

It was acquired by Facebook in 2012, just two years after its launch. A year later, it had amassed 100 million active users. Despite that though, it wasn’t a platform for businesses. That came in 2014. 

2014 was the year that Instagram released its entire suite of business tools. These tools ultimately gave businesses the necessary analytics to see how people were interacting with their brand’s Instagram pages. And from there, Instagram’s social selling viability only grew.  

In the years that followed, Instagram improved these tools to include in-depth analytics. These included data sets for reach, impressions, and even demographics. Instagram also allowed advertisers to place short ads on the platform.

With the rise of influencers on the app, Instagram became a desirable platform for many businesses. Collaboration between brands and popular influencers has become the norm and has increased with the release of Instagram Stories.

Stories have also allowed brands and businesses to curate their own voice. It has allowed them to be far more creative with their marketing strategies and ads.

Twitter

One can’t mention social media without mentioning Twitter.  While very different from Facebook and Instagram, Twitter has had its own unique influence on social selling.

Since its launch in 2006, Twitter has amassed well over 200 million active users. Thanks to these numbers, and their uniqueness, Twitter is an ideal platform for businesses to interact with their customers.

Twitter is known as a microblogging platform, and while your tweets are limited to a certain number of characters, the hashtag is what makes the difference. Hashtags allow posts to go viral overnight, and all businesses on the platform strive for their hashtag to appear on the trending section of the app.

Despite the social selling potential the platform had, it only released ads and promoted posts four years after its launch. However, thanks to this potential, Twitter has always been a great place for businesses to engage with their customers. 

Over the years, Twitter has released several tools to help businesses grow their networks and interact with customers. Twitter Amplify is a great example of this.

It allows creators and publishers to monetize their video content on the platform. Alongside Amplify came promoted videos.

Twitter has also recently released a Twitter Widget and embedded features. Both have quickly become key features for content marketing.

LinkedIn

While LinkedIn is predominantly used in a professional setting, it is indeed a social media platform, just like Facebook and Instagram. It’s actually one of the oldest social networks on the web, having launched in 2002.

Despite it being associated with businesses, LinkedIn took a long while before it had any influence on social selling. Despite it taking some time to grow and meet the user bases of other platforms, LinkedIn continued to shift and change for the better. 

In 2005, it released Groups and Premium Business Accounts. These gave companies and recruiters the ability to analyze their reach in major depth. A few years later, LinkedIn released targeted advertising.

And following the Influencer hype train, LinkedIn released its own influencer program in 2012. This program allowed members of the LinkedIn team to share curated content with LinkedIn users. This quickly evolved, of course. A year later, companies and users could pay LinkedIn to sponsor their content.  

But the biggest step LinkedIn took to secure its position as a social selling platform was the introduction of its Sales Navigator tool. This is a sales funnel managing tool specifically for B2B organizations. 

Of course, this tool has changed over the years, all for the better. Thanks to this, LinkedIn has become a great platform for social selling. 

The Four Pillars of Social Selling

Thanks to the uniqueness of all the various social media sites, social selling works a little differently on each one. But no matter which social network you use, the four pillars of social selling will help you succeed. 

1. Have the Right Branding

The first pillar, and step in social selling, is all about having the right branding. If you don’t come across as professional, knowledgeable, and up-to-date with trends, B2B firms won’t want to work with you. 

This all boils down to building a brand that people like and can relate to. Having a relatable brand also shows people that you’re an active participant in your industry – a major plus for social selling.

2. Have a Focused Target Market

As with any form of marketing, targeting the right people is extremely important. Having a defined target market is key to social selling, as it aids in generating leads.

Depending on which social media platform you’re using, there are several tools that you can use to help you focus your market targeting.

3. Content Is Everything

In today’s world where everything is run by social media, content is everything. The type of content you post, and how often you post it, will affect your social sales. Believe it or not, you’ll only reach about 60% of your connection base if you only post 20 times a month.

By posting fresh, trend-worthy content frequently, you and your brand will become a recognizable face in your industry.  

4. Build Long-Lasting Relationships

All this boils down to the last and most important pillar: building long-lasting relationships. One of the best ways to do this is by engaging with your prospects and consumers on whatever social network you use. 

The needs of your client base should also be at the forefront of your agenda, with selling second.

Social Selling Strategies

Depending on which social media platform you’re using, the various strategies you use will be a tad different. But, like the four pillars of social selling, there are a few universal aspects of most social selling strategies.

For example, all your strategies should revolve around interaction. The main goal of your strategies should also convert your prospects into customers. To learn more about the secrets of successful social selling, take a look at this article.

The Benefits of Social Selling

Now that you know all about its history, you’re probably wondering how social selling can help your business.

There are actually several benefits of social selling, especially if you follow the four critical elements of the practice. Social selling benefits your brand and company as a whole, including your employees.

These benefits include:

  • Increases brand visibility
  • Builds strong relationships between buyers and sellers
  • More affordable than PPC marketing
  • Generates warm leads
  • Increases your web traffic
  • Shortens your sales cycles

When it comes to your employees, social selling can:

  • Help boost their personal brand
  • Make them thought leaders in the industry
  • Further their career prospects

Socialize to Generate Leads

Now that you know about the history of social selling and its evolution, why not start using it to build meaningful relationships with prospective leads?

If you’re looking into social selling on LinkedIn, LinkedIn Prospect can help you. Our tools can help you generate meaningful leads and connections, with limited effort. Register for your free trial today.

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