Article | 14 min read

Social selling: Definition, benefits, strategies, and best practices

Strengthen brand credibility and customer relationships online through social selling.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Last updated January 11, 2023

Instead of cold calling prospects, give social selling a try. Social selling is the process of finding and connecting with interested customers through social media rather than bothering those who may not even know your company exists.

Consumers are increasingly influenced by what they see on social media and are more likely to make a purchase when someone they follow and trust promotes your product or service. This influence will continue to grow if your company regularly interacts with followers in a down-to-earth way. That’s why businesses that prioritize social selling are 45 percent more likely to reach their sales quotas.

Below, we’ll discuss what social selling is, why it’s important, and best practices on mainstream social media sites:

What is social selling?

Social selling is a sales methodology that uses company social media channels to interact with potential customers and generate leads.

Most brand-based social selling occurs through messaging on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, LINE, and WeChat. But it can also occur through chat features on a company website or via influencer partnerships.

This type of selling is not about closing deals fast—it’s about playing the long game. By commenting, liking, and sharing customer posts, companies can build natural social credibility and generate “free” advertising to influence buyers down the line.

It’s ethical selling sans cold calls.

Social selling examples

Check out the following examples to see how brands use social selling to connect with social media users IRL.

Example #1: Justice for Moose

An Australian Shepherd named Moose got his back-to-school-themed BarkBox with the words “Moose smells” scrawled across the illustrated locker. Followers jokingly shared their outrage, and BarkBox replied with an equally humorous duet showing the package designer in detention.

Source: BarkBox on TikTok

Example #2: Sometimes, it’s better to celebrate than sell

Take the time to celebrate with your fans when they share their excitement about your products or a life event—this is the perfect opportunity to connect with no strings attached.

Glossier on Twitter

Glossier on Twitter

Example #3: Empathize with the public over the loss of beloved fictional characters

Emotions boiled over when This Is Us fans learned that their favorite fictional dad Jack died after a faulty Crockpot caused a house fire. Of course, it wasn’t a real fire, but fans were upset nonetheless. That’s why it was an excellent move for the Crockpot social media team to take to the internet and sympathize with fans while educating the public about the safety of the kitchen appliance.

Crockpot on Twitter

Crockpot on Twitter

What is the Social Selling Index (SSI)?

What is the Social Selling Index (SSI)?

If you want to know how your company is doing in terms of social selling impact, you’ll want to consult the Social Selling Index (SSI). LinkedIn first developed the SSI in 2014 to measure a company’s social selling strategy.

The scoring system is based on four elements, which LinkedIn measures every day:

  1. Establish a professional brand: Optimize your online profile and publish meaningful content while keeping the needs and interests of your ideal customers in mind.
  2. Find the right people: Connect with people who may realistically buy from you in the future by leveraging the research tools available on your preferred social media channels.
  3. Engage with insights: Share your thoughts on industry trends and current events to establish yourself as a thought leader and build credibility.
  4. Build relationships: Strengthen your relationships with people in your network through ongoing positive interactions.

LinkedIn typically utilizes the following factors to determine your score in each category:

  • Profile completeness
  • Endorsements
  • Published articles
  • Connection request acceptance rates
  • Post shares, likes, and reshares
  • Message response rates
  • Profile views

The individual scores from each area are combined to create the total SSI score. The average score varies widely based on your industry and network, as it’s ultimately a comparison that visualizes how well you’re social selling compared to your peers. Regardless, strive to reach an SSI score of 75 or above.

What is a social selling leader?

Social selling leaders on LinkedIn generally include anyone who attained a minimum SSI score of 75. People with this skill have prioritized building relationships, sharing knowledge, and establishing themselves as thought leaders in their industry.

While only LinkedIn associates a score with social selling performance, all those actions can help establish salespeople as influencers across social media platforms.

Even without focusing on direct deals, social selling is emerging as a top strategy for boosting revenue and company growth.

Humanize your online interactions

Check out our State of Sales report to learn how to use conversational sales to keep customers engaged.

Benefits of social selling

Benefits of social selling

There are several sales psychology tactics businesses can use to increase revenue and grow their customer base. Social selling, however, could be the most influential of them all.

That may sound like a grand statement. But research over the past few years suggests that social media has a 100 percent higher lead-to-close rate than outbound marketing.

Let’s take a look at the specifics of how social selling can benefit you.

Discover more sales opportunities

We established that social selling increases your sales. But what are the actual numbers?

To start, more than 4.26 billion people around the globe use at least one social media platform, and that number is projected to rise to 6 billion by 2027. That’s well over half of the world’s population.

Of those customers, the average buyer reports spending 20 to 40 percent more money on brands that have interacted with them on social media. That’s a lot of opportunity, and your company shouldn’t miss out on it.

Build a relatable brand

We take product recommendations from our friends and family because we trust them to give us reliable information. When sales reps can build that same relationship with customers, it’s far easier to create brand loyalty. The best way to foster connection is by being relatable and going the extra mile to engage with customers.

In fact, 77 percent of Twitter users report a more positive feeling towards companies that reply to their tweets. Additionally, 71 percent of customers with a positive social selling experience are more likely to recommend that brand to others.

In a world of aggressive online content, brands that create a personal connection stand out to the consumer, making it easier to sell, upsell, and cross-sell.

Meet customer expectations

Social media is so ingrained in day-to-day life that most buyers expect businesses to have a social media presence. They’re even a little suspicious of those that don’t.

Even if you aren’t ready to interact with customers via social media, at least create profiles on relevant platforms. It boosts brand visibility and fosters trust with potential customers.

Stay competitive

Ninety-one percent of retail brands already use at least two social media platforms, and that number grows daily. In recent years, social media platforms reported over $8 billion in ad revenue.

The social selling market is thriving, and it’s time you joined in.

Social selling statistics

Social selling statistics

We’ve already covered many benefits and social selling statistics, but here are some additional key stats from our 2022 State of Sales report:

  • 71 percent of companies agree that sales teams must be data-driven and capable of personalizing sales conversations across digital channels.
  • 25 percent of sales leaders believe adding conversational sales capabilities to their teams would be beneficial.
  • 78 percent of respondents say that conversational sales will be crucial to their companies in the coming year.
  • 72 percent of sales leaders have noticed that reps who are tech and social-savvy tend to outperform those who aren’t.

Strategy: 6 best practices for social selling success

Social selling best practices

  1. Create social listening alerts
  2. Connect with prospects
  3. Share content
  4. Reply to followers
  5. Track engagement
  6. Get your message across

The specific platforms and strategies that connect you with consumers will vary based on your offerings, values, and ideal customer. But there are a few best practices that apply across the board when social selling.

1. Figure out where your customers are

You can use surveys to determine which social media platforms your customers traffic the most. Or, if you know your key demographics, you can likely figure it out on your own.

Here are some of the most popular social media platforms and the demographics that use them most often:

2. Practice social listening

Social listening is a crucial part of social selling. Whether people are expressing their frustrations with your company online or showing off their newest purchase, you need to know about it.

This enables you to address issues early and engage with your customers, solidifying your relationship with them. Here are great ways to monitor your brand through social listening:

Google Alerts

Create an alert on any topic to receive email updates anytime it’s mentioned in the news or on a blog.

Search operators

Search operator example

Search operator: “brand name”

Example: “smb”

Google your company name using [ “brand name”] to see when your business is mentioned online while excluding results from your own site.

Twitter advanced search

Use Twitter’s advanced search feature to find any mentions of your company’s name or related hashtags.

Instagram hashtags

Type in any branded or unbranded Insta hashtags and click “follow” on any you want to monitor.

3. Connect with prospects

Reach out to potential customers and start building rapport. You can do this by:

  • Commenting on a topical Twitter thread
  • Sharing an Instagram story
  • Initiating a conversation with promising connections on LinkedIn

The initial non-sales-related contact helps you form an authentic relationship with potential customers. You’re simply starting a friendly conversation with them, so they’re less likely to be on guard.

4. Share content

The best way to get your brand in front of consumers is to share content on your social media profiles. Get ahead of industry trends, share your thoughts on industry reports and news, or highlight some of your customers and their successes. The key here is to be relatable and avoid bombarding your followers with constant over-branded posts.

Some examples of content that’s currently popular on social media include:

  • Short videos with trending sound on Instagram and TikTok
  • Lengthy and informative videos on YouTube
  • User-generated content from everyday people rather than just influencers
  • Humorous comments and tweets
  • Kind and inclusive images and messaging

5. Get your message across

Strike the right tone with your target audience and vary your interactions. Show that you’re there to support your customers, hype them up, and provide support if they need it.

You don’t have to reply to every comment on your posts, but try to say something of value whenever possible and read what your customers are saying. Worst case scenario: you’ll better understand your customers’ opinions. Best case scenario: you’ll get the opportunity to make a meaningful connection or resolve an issue.

Just be sure to tread carefully when trying out viral challenges. Make sure the topic aligns with your brand, relates to readers, and has a unique spin. Always keep your messaging on brand and ensure you have preset tactics for dealing with angry customers or a publicity crisis.

6. Track engagement

Give the people what they want! Every social media platform offers some form of analytics for business profiles, and you can use this data to find out what your customers do and don’t like.

Businesses can track social media engagement by visiting the analytics dashboard on all of their active profiles, regardless of the platform. Make an effort to review this data regularly and plan out content that will grab the attention of your followers.

When you find something that works, lean into it.

What are the best networks for social selling?

The best network for social selling is the platform your customers use the most. That being said, the most popular platforms tend to be LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Learn more about how you can capture your audience’s attention on social media and begin to strengthen relationships.

LinkedIn social selling

LinkedIn might not immediately come to mind when you think of marketing, as it’s primarily used for connecting with people and employers in your industry. But it is an optimal platform for forging relationships and building a network, making it one of the leading sites for social selling.

LinkedIn naturally connects you with those who might support your company. And its formatting tends to make people respond more professionally, so their recommendations carry more weight and credibility.

Here are a few suggestions for social selling on LinkedIn:

  • Gather endorsements: Ask your connections to endorse your page, products, and skills.
  • Extend your network: Utilize LinkedIn’s built-in search feature and use your contacts to find mutual connections.
  • Discover your SSI: Allow LinkedIn to analyze your company’s social selling skills and give you points for improvement.

Facebook social selling

It can take some time before your social selling efforts pay off on Facebook because you need a strong following first. But once you grow your presence, this platform becomes one of the most effective ways to engage with your customers. Facebook pages are easily editable and user-friendly, and they can be customized to comfortably suit most brands. Additionally, with about 2.93 million monthly active users, many of your customers are likely already on the platform.

Here are a few suggestions for social selling on Facebook:

  • Regularly update your page: Keep your hours, contact information, address, and listings up-to-date. If someone shares a post from your page, you want it to be accurate.
  • Engage with other businesses: Create relevant content and interact with other businesses to expose your brand to new markets and boost traffic.
  • Respond to your followers: Acknowledge your followers’ comments, mentions, and reviews—whether they’re good or bad—to create a loyal and engaged customer base.

Twitter social selling

Twitter is the most fast-paced and complicated of the platforms, but it offers some of the best opportunities for starting conversations and connecting with consumers on a personal level. When done right, it can generate a lot of revenue growth and provide opportunities for competition analysis and social listening.

Here are a few suggestions for social selling on Twitter:

  • Create automated tracking lists: Follow existing customers, strong prospective customers, and competitors via a Twitter Stream to reinforce your brand and track your competition for new promotions or marketing tactics.
  • Develop a Twitter Brand persona: If you’re catering to a younger market, keep your tweets simple, humorous, a little sassy, and not heavily hashtagged while staying true to your company values.
  • Engage sparingly: Monitor how often you’re interacting, and cross-reference with other social media platforms you’re using to ensure you connect with customers without over-engaging.

Instagram social selling

Social selling statistics

Instagram is, by far, the most visual social media platform and has recently trended towards helping businesses make sales by introducing a shopping feature, placing user-generated content on the Discover feed, and pushing Reels to new audiences. This platform is quickly becoming a driving force in social commerce.

Here’s how you can get started with social selling on Instagram:

  • Collaborate with influencers: Work with people who already have large followings to help drive traffic to your website and add a level of credibility to your brand.
  • Start recording: Instagram Reels help you extend your reach to new audiences, allowing you to start new conversations and show off everything you have to offer.
  • Engage authentically: Comment on relevant posts and share content to form connections without appearing spammy or fake.

Optimize your social selling toolset

Go the extra mile to perfect the customer experience, boost brand loyalty, and build a strong public image. Integrate your social media channels with Zendesk Sell to capitalize on social selling opportunities and deliver better experiences. By playing the long game and focusing on social selling, you can cultivate lasting relationships and make sales when it makes sense for the customer.

Humanize your online interactions

Check out our State of Sales report to learn how to use conversational sales to keep customers engaged.

Humanize your online interactions

Check out our State of Sales report to learn how to use conversational sales to keep customers engaged.

Read report