By Liam Patton is a director of digital marketing agency Mayfly.
Social media commerce presents business leaders with one of the biggest ecommerce changes and opportunities since the emergence of online shopping. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram are becoming stand-alone direct sales channels, meaning companies will need to evolve how they engage customers via social media.
Growth in social media commerce
Paypal predicts that the number of British businesses selling on social media will double in the coming months. This will see over 600,000 more businesses targeting the 8.4 million consumers already shopping via social platforms in Britain.
Although social media commerce is growing in Britain, it’s still lagging behind the global average of 35% of businesses now selling via social media. These companies are successfully using these channels to generate 45% of their total sales volumes, with these figures expected to grow rapidly, as platforms become more shoppable.
During the past decade, companies have capitalised on the global popularity of social media to advertise their products and services. This is changing and companies will no longer simply use social channels to drive reputation, awareness, referrals and recommendations. New features will make it easier for consumers to buy direct within platforms.
For example, Instagram has launched Checkout, which enables users to buy within its app. Snapchat has created a ‘shop’ button for powerful influencers such as Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian West to sell their products. There has also been the emergence of Facebook Marketplace and Facebook Pay, while video sharing app TikTok is testing shopping features.
These new features are evolving social media platforms into commerce hubs, altering the whole online shopping journey. Consumers will no longer be redirected by an advert to a company’s website to make their purchase. The whole transaction will be completed in the social media platform and it is for this reason that companies need to adapt their social media strategies.
Cashing-in at checkout
When a consumer who clicks on a social media advert is redirected to a company’s website, it creates a lucrative opportunity for cross-selling and up-selling. The consumer becomes emerged within the company’s website. It’s the equivalent to them walking around in a physical shop. They naturally see other products and through sophisticated algorithms, they can be targeted and retargeted with suggested products based on what they like. This creates multiple opportunities for them to add to their baskets before they checkout, which is suddenly minimised if the shopper remains with social media and doesn’t visit the website.
To overcome this, companies should adapt content strategies to ‘build’ their shop within social media platforms. Content, whether it’s photos or videos, needs to feature a wider array of products. This approach appears to go against the grain of everything businesses believe-in when it comes to social media. It seems too product-focused and salesy. It shouldn’t be. Companies should continue to put consumers at the heart of their content strategies, but not be afraid to be more direct when it comes to sales.
How consumers view and use social media today is very different to a decade ago when many platforms were in their infancy. Consumers are much more receptive to sales messages when scrolling through their feeds and platforms are moving more towards becoming direct-selling tools because this is what shoppers want.
Companies should create the equivalent of a window display in their social media posts. For example; provide consumers with full clothing suggestions to complete their outfit, offer inspiration for creating a whole room interior, recommend a range of products for a full beauty treatment regime or make-over, or provide a menu of food and drinks for entertaining at home. The key is to keep the content timely, relevant and unique.
Influencers – changing from amplifiers to advocates
Social media is already a competitive and highly monetised space. Companies have to work hard to ensure their content is seen by their target audiences. This will become even more challenging as social commerce attracts more businesses to sell via social.
To stand-out from the crowd, businesses will need to invest in influence. Working with the right influencers will drive awareness of products and services. However, to be effective, the influencer marketing strategy needs to shift from amplification to advocacy. Companies must work with influencers who have a genuine affiliation with their products and should be involving them in product research and development.
Consumers are, and will become, even more questioning of what influencers are telling them and what the influencer’s motivation for promoting brands is. People see straight through simple paid-for placements and partnerships, which can prove meaningless and even damaging for brands.
Build brand equity and create goodwill
As selling becomes more commonplace in social media, businesses will need to worker harder to maintain, grow and engage their social media fans. This will need to involve initiatives which are truly distinct to sales activities and are more focused on sharing brand values.
A fantastic and recent example of this was when the CEO and founder of fashion brand PrettyLittleThing went one a one-man gifting spree on Twitter. Umar Kamani ran a short campaign – #PrettyLittleWishes – which saw him gifting everything from vouchers to clearing credit card debts and arranging a trip to Disneyland Paris for a child battling leukaemia. This was very audience-focused and says much more about the brand’s personality beyond its clothing. It creates goodwill, which translates into brand equity. It’s important though that companies are authentic when doing this. They can achieve this by using social media to understand what matters to their fans and even asking their communities to decide what goodwill looks like.
Amongst the evolution of social commerce, businesses should embrace one of the earliest principles of best-practice social media engagement; create conversations. While social media users are increasingly receptive to sales and platforms are becoming more commercial, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are still places for entertainment, sources of information and making connections.
Companies must inspire consumers to talk through posts and shares. This is possible by being on-trend, quirky and creative. Businesses should ensure they have real-time data and insight about their audiences to deliver planned and reactive content that’s original and inclusive. This will elevate brand awareness and increase the likelihood of sales, which is crucial as direct-selling starts to occur more within the confines of the platforms.
Social media is becoming more sales-orientated and users’ shopping and scrolling habits are changing accordingly. It’s important that companies evolve their social media strategies in line with these trends by not being afraid to sell, and without losing focus on the fundamentals of social media platforms.