Social commerce, a subset of ecommerce, involves social media and other online media that supports buyer-to-buyer interaction in the online buying and selling of products and services.
Yet despite all the innovation and attention in this space, especially in Asia, much of what is described as social commerce may be missing the thing that truly sets it apart: the buyer-to-buyer interactions that drive trust, inspiration and relevance among consumers.
No doubt, social media is playing an increasing role in online transactions. Several studies point out that online shoppers rely increasingly on social networks to help with their purchasing decisions. According to eMarketer, 55% of people in the US bought a product online after discovering it on social.
Without a doubt, Asia leads the world in social commerce innovation. Asian social media platforms, and a consumer more comfortable with mobile purchases, have accelerated the development of social commerce. In addition, with more people working from home or in lockdown, the shopping experience is increasingly shifting online with an increased importance in other people’s feedback and recommendations.
Looking at the vastly different types of marketing loosely described as “social commerce”, we see three main areas of focus:
1. Social-based commerce: Transactions happening mostly within social platforms, from discovery to selecting and sometimes paying in platforms such as Instagram, Line, Viber, Zalo, WeChat. The opportunity here is to provide a seamless journey, all taking place without leaving the social environment.
Fashion brands have been early adopters of this form or commerce on Instagram and WeChat. Over time they have evolved their ecosystem to connect with CRM programs to offer better personalization, as well as connecting shoppers around interests for deeper advocacy.
2. Social referral: Driving traffic from social platforms such as Facebook to ecommerce platforms such as Shopee. This usually involves influencers and specially-created social ad formats. This is perhaps the most common form of social commerce since it is the most direct and “easy” to execute.
The travel and technology industries have brought this to the next level and developed robust networks of referral involving partners and multiple ecommerce channels.
3. Commerce-based social: Integrating social features into ecommerce platforms. This is commonly in the form of a 'feed' or other social features such as livestreaming, as seen on Tmall and Lazada.
FMCG brands leverage events such as the 'Nutrition Carnival' on Lazada embracing the social features as well as gamification.
No matter which area you’re pursuing, the basics of modern digital marketing still apply. We see a few commonly applied principles for getting social commerce right:
Make the most of data to segment and personalise content
Not all shoppers are created equal. From content to paid media strategy, it usually doesn’t make sense to sell the same way to all. By creating a set of assets which can be deployed based on the audience and their relationship to the brand—for example, whether they’re new or returning customers—increases conversion rates significantly.
Ensure brand consistency
Brand platform and guidelines apply in the context of social commerce as well, though due to internal structures on the client side, often times brand and commerce are treated as separate endeavors. We believe consistency is key—social commerce is no different.
Continuously testing and optimising
This applies to your ecosystem, as well as the go-to-market content and offers. Re-assess platforms, partners and tools around two to three times per year; constantly test and optimize audiences, creative (copy and visuals), ad frequency and ad placement/format.
Immersive and interactive experiences
Some brands are finding new immersive and interactive ways to generate conversions, all without leaving the social environments.
Fuelled by improvements in augmented reality and camera detection technologies the distance between inspiration and purchase will continue to shorten, upending the path to purchase.
But selling something on Instagram doesn’t necessarily mean your brand is taking the advantage of all that social commerce has to offer. Similarly, neither does a Facebook ad driving to Lazada or simply broadcasting on a “social” feed within Lazada.
In each case these “social commerce” transactions could have nothing social about them; they just happen to be taking place on a social platform. In each case they might lack the buyer-to-buyer interactions that set social media platforms apart in their potential to build trust and relevance.
While there’s nothing wrong with this, we believe that to make the most of social commerce, we need to find a meaningful role for buyer-buyer interactions as part of the transaction. Placing people (as opposed to product) at the center of the shopping experience represents a new approach for marketers.
We believe that to win on social commerce, brands must be truly social.
Here are four principles, underpinned by behavioural science nudges, your brand can use to dial up the social aspect of your social commerce:
1. Social proof: Are social interactions, especially comments, visible to other buyers? Are buyers able to see whether their friends have bought the same product?
Seeing a positive restaurant review from a friend on a website like Trip Advisor while travelling in a new city is a very powerful incentive and can increase trust levels exponentially.
2. Social advocacy: Are we making it easy for consumers to share their experiences? Is our content engaging to the point people are compelled to share it with friends? Are we incentivising it as part of a loyalty program?
Brands with high involvement either through strong emotional connections, like products for babies targeting Mothers, or strong financial connections like buying a car, have been leveraging this principle more than others.
3. Social cause/topic: Is our content, or even the product SKU/bundle, tapping into important causes or hot topics? If what we’re selling, or its content, tap into societal conversation it will get more exposure through ecommerce platform algorithms etc.
Shopping festivals like Single Day are great opportunities to be topical with your product offering.
4. Social conversation: Are we creating spaces for people to talk about their preferences, experiences and to ask questions?
Viber offers in-chat shopping experience where you can shop and chat online with people you would normally go to the store with making online shopping a less lonely experience.
To get social commerce right, you need to apply the basic principles of digital marketing: using data to heighten relevance, ensure brand consistency, continuously test/optimise, and, where appropriate, make the experience as immersive and interactive as possible.
But to truly make the most of social commerce, namely the buyer-to-buyer interactions that build trust and relevance in ways that regular ecommerce cannot, you need to take advantage of our four principles.
Do this and your commerce will become truly social.
Andreanne Leclerc is regional managing partner for social and Jeremy Webb is VP of ASEAN customer engagement and commerce at Ogilvy.