Social commerce is becoming more popular with both brands and consumers, driven by the implementation of new features on social platforms.
But how can brands best compete in this space? I recently sat down with Mark Geden, Head of Strategic Planning for Tribal Worldwide London, to hear his thoughts on all things social commerce, and how its growth might impact the wider retail industry in the near future.
“There’s no point using Twitch to sell Saga holidays…”
For any brand that wants to compete on social, Geden suggests that, first and foremost, it’s vital to get the basics right.
“Firstly, are your customers even in this space?” he asks. “Then, consider what you are trying to sell? There’s no point using Twitch to sell Saga holidays (where the average age and demographics on Twitch is males aged 21) in the same way there’s no point trying to promote V-Bucks for Fortnite on Classic FM.”
With that in mind, he says, “it’s clear that all social media platforms are vying for their user’s money. And for these platforms the rules of ecommerce also apply – namely make it easy for them – the functionality to make a purchase and customer service are literally on display – so it needs to be good.”
Geden emphasises that social commerce should not be confused with social media marketing, as it should be, in reality, “a seamless ecommerce experience within a social channel.”
“So again, being relevant and interacting at the right point of a customer journey is important – remember those micro-moments that Google used to bang on about? This is a Google micro-moment on speed.”
“I might follow a cheese-loving chef…”
When it comes retail categories that are traditionally ‘brick and mortar’ – like home and furniture or automotive – can social commerce generate the same benefits?
Geden suggests that, yes, some form of social commerce strategy will be beneficial. However, “the big difference for large brands is how to capture consumer purchases using social media tools that have not really been made with big brands in mind,” he says.
“In addition to the above points, understand the rules of social – here the influencer is king – I’m probably not going to follow Jacobs Cream Crackers on Instagram – but I might follow a cheese-loving chef – so finding that credible and authentic voice that both shares your brand values and connects you to your consumers is important.”
Geden also says that this is where partnership strategies can be a big deal. He cites the social entrepreneur, Steven Bartlett, as an unusual case of someone who makes money from podcasting.
“Part of his success was not allowing advertisers to plonk their ‘message from our sponsor’ in the middle of his show, but instead he canvassed brands that he admired and used, approaching them directly to be part of his ‘Diary of a CEO’ which dovetailed nicely with him and his audience,” explains Geden.
“…you should find a space where the off- and on-line intersect”
Ultimately, even if brands are naturally aligned with social commerce, Geden says that its rapid growth provides an opportunity for marketers to re-imagine new shopping experiences. “Creatively playing with what this experience looks like in social requires up front knowledge about the platforms – a good rule of thumb is that Facebook is about things you have done, Twitter is about the right now and Pinterest is about things you are aspiring to,” he says. “This should help shape the context – Pinterest is an interesting example in that although it doesn’t provide social commerce per se, it does have a very snazzy visual search function which opens all manner of possibilities – especially for the home furnishing market. IKEA are already investing in this.”
“Let’s not forget, too,” he says, “the pandemic has impacted the high street irrevocably. Looking for different ways to engage customer who would have used ‘traditional’ bricks and mortar is of paramount importance right now.”
“People look for social proof for adopting and buying new things – the social commerce world is going to get big quickly and you should find a space where the off- and on-line intersect. Initially we may see, for example in the automotive space, fewer, fuller and more experience-led showrooms. Volkswagen have pioneered this already moving into the Bullring shopping centre alongside their out-of-town car dealerships.”
Ultimately, he says, “there is immediate social proof for your customer’s friends and families to see. This should help rapidly expand adoption – the shopping trolley first used in 1937 needed the store owner to employ actors to push around a trolley so people did not have to be pioneers of this wacky new shopping experience….”
Social commerce and the metaverse
Finally, I asked about the rising trend of live commerce, and whether entertainment and ‘experience’ is taking precedence over functionality for ecommerce brands, e.g., delivery or fast checkout. Geden says that, while functionality is most important right now and should not be sacrificed in place of entertainment, there are some examples of brands that play with both for an all-round better experience.
“Lego’s chatbot, ‘Ralph’, for example, is there to help people buy gifts from the Lego store and the ability to make a more entertaining character with a life of its own is just waiting to take off.”
“Although some platforms are looking to old ideas and moving them online – for example Amazon Live looks a bit like QVC – whether you consider QVC entertainment is neither here nor there, but some consumers may find this entertaining. The same with influencers.”
Interestingly, Geden is reluctant to name a brand that has convinced him to buy on social, however, he is bullish about how social commerce might evolve in future, naming the metaverse as one trend that will dramatically shape the industry.
“As more people look to social commerce, it will gain ground and bring with it the investment and adoption of the technologies to make it better,” he says. “Digital clothing may be the vanguard of a fuller immersive experience incorporating user avatars. Snap is already working with retailers in this instance. One can assume that NFTs may find a more tangible use here, in the same way it took a pandemic to get us using QR codes…”