Within the last year, marketers have raced to grow their legions of Facebook fans. In fact, it has become a badge of honor, so to speak, among brands to reach the million-person-Facebook fan count. The reasoning goes, "Once I build up a sizeable fan base, I'll figure out if, and how, I can monetize them." Many see social commerce as poised to experience massive growth in the next few years. Booz & Company recently predicted that sales from social commerce will hit $30 billion worldwide and $14 billion in the U.S. by 2015. And with a majority (58 percent) of consumers now researching products online before purchasing, it's time to close the loyalty loop and try integrating true social elements into the online purchase. What does that mean? I buy something. I tell two friends. And they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on (our nod to the 80s Faberge commercials).
But the reality is that even the savviest marketers still aren't sure how to leverage the inherently social nature of Facebook to monetize fans. Some big brands often just "iFrame" their stores on a Facebook page and claim that social commerce is "mission accomplished." Others have posted about a product, then had fans click off to a separate store website to browse and buy, and called that social commerce. Some brands are selling only fan merchandise on their Facebook pages -- they're fans, right? They must only want fanwear. It's all part of the brand struggle to determine what their Facebook presence is best suited for: brand advocacy, brand awareness, brand loyalty, brand insight, customer service, commerce, or just plain and simple ROI.
What's missing in many current social commerce campaigns is the opportunity to truly socialize the experience. Social media lets people express an important part of themselves to their friends. The car they drive, the clothes they wear, the movies they see, the places they travel, the recipes they love to cook -- these all say something important about who they are to their friends. We see that fans are perfectly willing to share their love of a brand just as passionately as they share their love for, say, a sports team, if the brand encourages them in just the right way. Facebook represents the largest community of brand advocates available to marketers, and research has shown that younger consumers are far more likely to interact with a brand on Facebook than on that same brand's website. Weaving that interaction into the purchase process is a huge opportunity for socially savvy brands.
So, it's time for brands to convert their "likes" to "loves." It's time to move fans from the "I'm interested in your brand" stage, through the "I'm engaged with your brand" stage (where most brands currently are sitting), to the "I'm going to buy and recommend your brand to my friends" stage. And the perfect place to do that is on Facebook, where connected friends spend more time online than on any other website.
Here are some ways to jumpstart your thinking about social commerce on Facebook:
- Respect the context. Don't just iFrame your store. Shopping in an online store is a lonely experience, while the point of being on Facebook is social. Respect the context, and think about how you can keep the experience social. Maybe you'll offer a subset of targeted, seasonally appropriate products related to an ongoing Facebook conversation. Maybe you'll let fans "try it on for size" with their friends. Maybe you'll show what other Facebook fans are considering and highlight those products. And wherever feasible, avoid spinning your fans off to another website. If they're interacting with you on Facebook, they want to stay on Facebook. As soon as you send them somewhere else, they've lost their social context.
- Socialize the event. For inherently "social" happenings, like going to concerts or seeing movies, let fans browse, choose, share, and invite all on Facebook. Socialize the experience, turn it into a Facebook event, and never direct the fan to another site. Close the loop on Facebook.
- Make it special. Offer Facebook fans something unique they can't get anywhere else, and allow them to share it with their friends on Facebook. Everyone loves to share a deal or an incredible new product. And when they share on Facebook, they'll also be telling their friends that they've "endorsed" you.
- Share the dream. For big ticket items, like cars, let your fans dream. Have them build their dream car and share it with their friends. Chances are, if a friend is thinking about buying a tricked out Hyundai, their friends will consider it too. We realize not all purchases will happen on Facebook, but pre-purchase comments and discussions are natural in a social community.
- Put fans to work. With your brand advocates directly connected to you on Facebook, take the opportunity to learn. Gain insights into new products. Learn from purchases made, and try out new ideas. There's a huge amount of insight to be gained from the fans that are willing to talk about what they've bought.
- Embrace the dialogue. Let fans post reviews -- even critical ones. For everyone who dislikes a product, there will be another fan who offers a counter argument. Research shows that sites with reviews that are objective and authentic sell more products.
There is huge value when a brand can showcase a person's desire to share -- whether its photos, stories, links, ideas, something they've just bought, or something they're thinking of buying. Using those "social actions" as the lubrication for commerce is a game changer. Those brands that are committed to implementing socialized commerce are at a distinct advantage, both in cultivating greater communities and increasing their bottom line. One day, we'll remember the time before friend-to-friend social commerce and wonder why shopping was such a lonely experience.
Roger Katz is CEO and founder of Friend2Friend, Inc.
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"Facebook accounts targeted" image via Shutterstock.