04th May 2011
I was recently asked to provide some thoughts on social commerce for a digital marketing publication, so here they are, in a short and hopefully succinct blog post. Essentially, I see the term ‘social commerce’ as fairly fluid.
Where to start
Understanding how customers think, how they make purchasing decisions and how they want to interact is critical for any brand looking to monetise social commerce. Without this basic level of insight, it’s impossible to engage effectively with existing, ex- or future customers or to understand truly how they perceive a brand and the impact it may have on a company’s reputation.
My colleague, Steve Richards, has recently written a blog for Econsultancy, looking at the opportunity for the 2012 Olympic Sponsors and social, he illustrates the point around reputation and the impact it can have – specifically around Nike: http://bit.ly/jcZPTx
Social commerce – a definition
The term ‘social commerce’ still has a level of ambiguity attached to it. For some, it clearly means commerce in a social space – i.e. selling products via twitter and facebook where as, for others, it’s engagement with customers across the social sphere: reviews, forums, blogs etc is also considered social commerce, providing it can create genuine business impact, either from a reputation stand point or to drive sales. Companies such as Dell and eBay have already clearly defined it as the former. Conversely, for airlines, such as Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic, the key to social commerce success is heavily routed in reputation management and enhancement, essentially building a positive relationship with consumers.
For any brand wishing to engage in this area, defining what social commerce means to your organisation has to be the key priority, supported by an appropriate engagement strategy. There is also a reputational risk of launching a ‘social commerce’ platform designed purely to sell products – HMV is the latest brand to be criticised for its efforts in setting up a social shop through Facebook, the views on this approach vary, of course, but NMA’s Ilana Fox is strongly against such approaches: http://www.nma.co.uk/opinion/hmv-trying-to-sell-via-facebook-is-so-not-cool/3025833.article
Consider the platform
With convergence moving at such blistering speed, consumers are punishing those brands which can’t keep up, the importance placed on the platform is now critical. Over a third, or roughly speaking, 200m users use Facebook mobile and over half of Twitter’s 165m users also use it on a mobile. The challenge for brands is no longer around creating engaging content or social shop fronts, but rather about creating content and systems which can easily be consumed and used across a multitude of platforms. It’s no use, for example, just having a Facebook shop if you can’t then use it efficiently on a mobile device.
Driving recommendation from within
Employees are also consumers – they engage in the same social spaces as your customers and want to share their opinions. Empowering employees to be active in social media, within a robust social media policy, will help positively promote brands externally. From a reputation point of view, employees are extremely valuable, if empowered in the right way, employees can be the best kind of advocates – not only do they want to positively promote a brand or product, but they also have the knowledge and insight to back it up.
Old rules still apply
Positive recommendations have real business impact, both in terms of reputation enhancement and for driving sales. It’s important to keep in mind that consumers use social spaces as an extension of their offline lives – they make recommendations, criticise and share opinions. Brands which are intrinsically social, not just in their marketing activity but across all business practices, will have far greater success in social commerce and build better long term brand affinity with consumers. Taking HMV once more as an example – the company is currently struggling on the high street, it’s no longer seen as a ‘cool’ brand by consumers. The people it is trying to attract to the high street are also the people using Facebook, so by simply launching a shop through the platform which acts as little more than an online retail site, it is unlikely to see a dramatic change in fortunes. If social is genuinely a lifeline for the business then everything it does needs to reflect this – the way it communicates with customers, the way you are made to feel in store and through customer services.
Consumers need to feel connected to a brand in social spaces in the same way they do in the physical store and with falling sales and a reduction in its high street presence, it is unlikely consumers will want to connect with the HMV in social spaces anymore than they do on the high street.