By Adam Forrest, Director of Product Marketing

Over the last five years, we’ve seen the importance of social media for retailers grow as a result of their customers spending more time on social networks, as well as the emergence of major players like Instagram and Pinterest. These new social hangouts provide major opportunity for purchases (hence Facebook’s introduction of a “buy” button), but it is critical that a brand really think about why their customers go to social channels, what are they looking to do and what type of relationship they want to have with a brand.

Social channels are a place where people go to connect with friends, share memories and get ideas – it’s not a place where people go to make a purchase. Retailers that try to mimic their online shopping process will always struggle to get people to engage through these channels; it’s akin to trying to sell your merchandise during happy hour at a bar.

Retailers need to be authentic; they can’t shout to their customers on social platforms. Instead, they should whisper to them, offering a subtle and convenient way to buy. And when social integrations are employed, a number of new opportunities arise.

Recent moves by Pinterest to allow consumers to stay on a retailer’s page when they Pin their favorite items, Facebook’s new “buy” button, and Twitter’s acquisition of CardSpring (to follow its initial foray into the commerce space) are just a few of the latest ways to engage consumers with a mash up of community and commerce. Houzz, the Wikipedia of home remodeling and design, now offers 2.5 million products for sale within their community. And, it’s only a matter of time until Waze incorporates location-based commerce into their community of 48 million drivers.

Retailers that provide the relevant assortment, in addition to personalized prices and offers to individuals on Facebook and other social destinations, drive brand engagement by rewarding their loyal customers.

We’re seeing a lot of social integrations pop up with our clients, too. One of the more popular activities as of late is an increasing number of #selfie promotions through Twitter and Instagram. What a fantastic way to generate user-contributed content to show how your products are being used.

And with Pinterest boards, consumers can see some of the ways people are thinking about a brand and how they’re using the products. Our client Pier 1, for example, found a customer that has a Pinterest board called “I Love Pier 1 Imports!” (more on that here). Talk about engagement!

Social media is part of today’s retail reality. Retailers that embrace this change, and find a way to incorporate social interactions for greater engagement, will find that the subtle whisper can take them a long way when it comes to customer experience and loyalty.

Just stay true to your brand and keep the experience genuine and natural.