In an Omniture sponsored post, Heidi Cohen over at ClickZ has posted seven recommendations for online retailers to boost sales with social shopping.  Taken together, Heidi’s recommendations provide the basis for an intelligent social shopping strategy:

1) Build relationships with prospects and customers (allow them to connect with you on their terms with their preferred tools, whether FB, TW, RSS, IM)

2) Add social tools that encourage your content to travel (social bookmarking, etc)

3 ) Make your message consistent across platforms (consistency is key in brand-building – on and offline)

4) Listen to and participate in the conversation (even when comments are negative)

5) Ensure your Web site efficiently closes sales (conversion is key, consider offline conversion as option)

6) Maintain your competitive positioning (be wherever your competitors are in purchase discussion and decision)

7) Make attractive offers to social shoppers (promotions for social shoppers payback with referral/word-of-mouth value)

Heidi also makes three recommendations for measuring the impact of social shopping, given the “inability [beyond direct response] to effectively measure the impact of social media on branding and sales”

A) Inbound Traffic (% from social media sites (also outbound traffic to social media sites))

B) Social Media Monitoring (volume, sentiment)

C) Social Media Benchmarking (competitive volume and sentiment)

A couple of comments.  Firstly, whilst all the recommendations are sound, the last recommendation is particularly pertinent because by making attractive offers to social shoppers you help solve the problem of measurement.  For example, if you run a buy-together promotion for social shoppers, or a promotion that is only advertised with social media tools, then you can measure the ROI of that promotion as a standalone action.  Of course, this plays to the direct-response mentality that Heidi cautions us against, but in a world where marketing has become the next cost-bucket to rationalise, social media needs to talk the language of ROI.

This leads to a second point, on the branding effect of social shopping.  If it is true that direct-response is a poor measure of how well social shopping tools create choice-shaping associations in the mind of the audience (definition of branding), then we need an alternative solution to measure how well social shopping performs in creating those choice-shaping associations.

And for that we need market research that is more sophisticated than monitoring that vast echo-chamber that is the Social Web. Specifically, we need to test the impact of social shopping empirically with A/B tests, either through survey feedback or the IAT (implicit association test) measuring changes in association strength with either weighted key choice criteria or standard category-independant advertising dimensions: Entertaining, Memorable, Different, Impactful, Newsworthy, Persuasive, Relevant and Understandable.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the IAT for testing marketing, but I wonder if brands consider social shopping tools important enough to test their impact over and above direct-response of dropping traffic into the sales-funnel.