What is social commerce?
Social commerce can be thought of simply as the intersection between social media and e-commerce. Think of it as how you can use social media to drive consumer interactions and engagement as part of the process of selling.
Techniques span everything from simply having a Facebook page that drives traffic to your website, social plugins (such as the Facebook "like" buttons and social logins), user-contributed reviews on your e-commerce site, Facebook-specific promotions, and full-blown Facebook stores.
How brands can use social commerce
There's a lot of experimentation going on as brand marketers explore the new frontiers of social commerce. At times, it feels like the Wild West -- a frantic race to unlock hidden gold buried somewhere in Facebook. Experimentation is good -- after all, if we can find new ways to leverage the Facebook powerhouse to do more than drive traffic, then there's definitely gold to be discovered.
With all this frantic activity, it's worth looking again at how customers buy, why they don't, and the role that social media plays in loyalty and driving conversions. Loyalty is important because it drives profitability -- repeat customers are many times more profitable than new ones. And loyalty principles are inherent to social media success; even if loyalty is a slightly old-fashioned term, there are many lessons that can be applied to social media.
A recent PwC research paper sheds new light on what we already know: When consumers were asked to rank factors that influence purchase decisions, they were driven by price and their experience with a brand over all else. PwC notes that long-term relationships were formed by friendly, helpful service and the people behind it. This can be thought of simply as the "brand experience." Loyalty programs rank last.
The "brand experience" is the user's perception of the brand, while interacting across channels and spanning experiences that define the relationship, especially when things go wrong.
While this research confirms what we already suspected, it does shed new light on how we should view social commerce, as many social programs are focused on building the "social channel," rather than using social to serve customers better.
Many brands have social media teams focused on decoding the social media formula. These separate teams are reminiscent of the early days of e-commerce, when many companies set up a group focused on how to make e-commerce work. This resulted in stovepipes, in which e-commerce was separated from the rest of the business, and then needed to be re-integrated as it became clear that e-commerce was not a business in its own right, but a channel that needed to be integrated with all other channels. In time, I suspect that we will view social media in the same way, as a communication and engagement platform that needs to be integral to the rest of the business, rather than standalone. Social media will be key in shaping the brand experience, but will do so in conjunction with all the other channels and not as a channel in its own right.
I'm sure that some will take issue with this -- if you're selling a service that enables brands to offer Facebook storefronts (f-commerce), then this is heresy. But my perspective is different. I look at what the data tell us about how, why, and where customers want to buy.
In the light of this, let's consider five home truths about social commerce.