Or… what is the point of following eBay on any social channel?

That’s basically the question I asked myself when I sat down to write this primarily speculative post. I can’t imagine ever feeling the need to ‘follow’ eBay, despite being a long-term user of its online marketplace.

I understand the desire to follow most brands or retailers. Maybe you like their tone-of-voice or content. Maybe you identify with their products or like to align yourself with their lifestyle, or perhaps you’re just after latest product news or hoping for special offers.

eBay presents a different proposition from standard retailers though. How can a business that basically acts as a platform for more than 4m different sellers listing at least one item every month run a cohesive social media strategy, especially when many of its items are one-offs gone within seven days? 

Well for a start the theoretical scarcity of its products doesn’t mean eBay can’t create content around its service and many different tools or features. Another fact you might not be aware of is that more than half of all eBay listings aren’t auctions, they’re items with a fixed price.

One of the keys to modern marketing is being able to create interesting content by telling the story of your product. Even a massive international soft-drinks manufacturer probably started from humble beginnings, and can therefore find relatable stories to relay to an audience and help create a deeper personal connection with the brand.

A major trump card in eBay’s favour is that it has access to millions of brand stories every month from its users selling unique products each with its own singular history or emotional attachment. 

Let’s take a look through eBay’s social channels and see whether it uses storytelling, or other marketing techniques, to capture its followers’ interests.


Ebay’s Tumblr was brought to my attention when compiling this list of excellent Tumblrs for brand inspiration.

The Inside Source is presented like an editorial feed with clear navigation to its four main areas of focus: fashion, lifestyle, art, design. Although the homepage acts like a blog, presenting every post in chronological order.

Posts tend to be sourced from the higher end goods on the marketplace, with links directly to the item listing found in the text and via the image. The text itself is either written up by one of the Tumblr curators or rewritten and edited from the original listing text, if it’s suitable enough.

The blog is also used to promote live-auction events, which you can register for via a link provided.

And to mix things up a bit, The Inside Source also spotlights individual eBay users and their interests. Notice the links to the relevant search results pages when an item is mentioned.

The Tumblr is very well maintained with four or five posts every day, each one with huge and attractive images. There is a definite lean towards the retro/vintage end of its marketplace, but I feel that it appeals to this platform’s audience the most.

Perhaps more eBay Tumblrs could be created to appeal to different niche audiences. Sci-fi or comic book fans. Sports collectors. DIY fanatics… the list of possibilities is as long as the number of listings on eBay.


eBay doesn’t quite have the curative edge that its Tumblr has, but then with 463,000 followers for its US account and 820,000 for its UK one, a more general approach is needed.

Tweets mainly focus on promoting high profile items, many with either a celebrity bent…

But many more with an emphasis on its charity endeavours…

For other unique items on its marketplace, eBay does a good job of hooking a follower’s interest with exciting once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to place a bid, but even if you’re never going to bid, you still may be interested to see the its current progress.

Check out how many watchers the above item now has…

eBay also regularly shares its editorial content from the site, which to be honest I didn’t know existed until looking at its Twitter account. The following tweet links to a separate site within eBay called Style Stories, a hub for fashion and make-up news and advice.

Although eBay does not offer customer service on this channel, it does link directly to its @AskeBay support channel from the description, which is definitely social customer service best practice.

AskeBay makes its opening hours clear in its own description, and even links to other support channels in case you desperately need out-of-hours help.

Help comes quickly, with personalization, friendliness and most importantly end-to-end closure on the same channel. 


eBay maintains a consistent and varied feed on Instagram. With featured product listings, inspirational images and behind the scenes photos making sure followers are never bored.

Much like Twitter and Tumblr, eBay shores up interest in listings and sellers by highlighting them with strong text and images.

It has also used the video functionality to create interest in competitions and exclusive offers.

One of the most interesting and refreshing things I’ve noticed about eBay’s cross-social-channel strategy is the fact it provided completely different content on each feed. Nothing is repeated. 

It means users need to follow every channel in order to get a complete picture of what eBay has to offer on social and in with a chance to see unique products, opportunities and experiences.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 22 January, 2015 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (1)


Grahame Palmer, Marketing Director at All Things Ecommerce Ltd

eBay is facing some serious challenges at present. 2015 was not a good year for eBay (as a corporate entity), and a large number of market analysts are looking at eBay for 2016 - and many are not seeing a very pretty picture.

In February last year, there was a 26% decline in auction activity, and it remained doggedly sluggish for the remainder of the year. eBay is set to release headline earnings for the quarter ending 31 December, in a few days' time. Most analysts are predicting an EPS of $0.43, compared to the same period last year ($0.81).

So eBay's EPS has halved (for this comparative trading period.)

Fundamentally, eBay's platform is based on a user behaviour that is in decline. The way people now like to shop online is proving to be extremely difficult for eBay to engineer on top of their existing technology. They are falling behind their major competitors (Amazon & Google) so they are chucking "sticking-plaster" ideas and solutions together (rather than a complete restructure of their operational infrastructure) in order to "gain and retain" eyeballs - which is what it's all about.

The key requirement of all these large shopping portals is to get exposure, capture the eyeballs, and keep them on-site until a transaction is effected. The more eyeballs one can attract (and hold onto), the greater the chance that the visit will result in a transaction, earning a commission fee, which is how they all make their money.

So this whole "social media" effort has the single purpose of bringing in eyeballs. In an attempt that is more "desperate" than "design", eBay is looking at any opportunity to get exposure and click-thru's, and shotgun blasting social media is an area they believe will help turn things around.

One there, they need to hang on to the visitor - so we now see competitors' products being showcased (with links), on a traders' product pages. ("Joe bloggs is selling this at £XXX, but look here... "Jenny Smith" is selling it a £YYY... and "Jimmy Jones" is even cheaper at £ZZZ !!!).

So the visitor keeps drilling down via these (grossly unfair) links, until they find the poor sod who's selling the item at next to nothing. eBay does not care a hoot who ends up getting the sale - even if the merchant loses money - because it's the TRANSACTION that matters to eBay. eBay knows that if the transaction is made at Amazon, then it's Amazon who earns the transaction fee - not eBay.

So... do what you can to get the eyeballs, and keep them (through whatever means possible) until a transaction is concluded.

This is a certain process to self-destruction. Selling on eBay is a "race to the bottom" for almost all its merchants, and as eBay now encourages and enables visitors to easily compare merchants' prices, most people go there to see what idiot is selling what they are after at a ridiculously low price.

eBay merchants are migrating in increasing numbers to Amazon, where this "see the competitors' prices" is more understated, and where the inherent "search" functionality is vastly superior. Amazon merchants are seeing better sales, and perhaps better ROI (the really important bit), than they see on eBay.

So eBay merchants are essentially, not making money. Increasing numbers are losing money, and with this support base in steady decline, so is eBay itself... hence the shotgunning of social media.

... shifting deckchairs on the Titanic, perhaps?

over 2 years ago

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