Midsize business

What is social commerce and how can you use it?

Social commerce, which is also known as social shopping, involves selling products through social media. Customers can now make purchases without ever leaving the social media app they’re using.

When 30% of customers say they would prefer to buy directly from a social media site, social commerce is an undeniably powerful sales tool. Let’s talk about everything you need to know to use social commerce to your advantage.

What is social commerce?

Social commerce means you’re selling products directly through a social media platform. For example, a customer could see a photo of your product on Instagram, click the product tag, and complete the entire checkout process without ever leaving Instagram.

The global market for social commerce is estimated to be $89.4 billion in the year 2020. There’s a reason it’s such big business: It offers a number of benefits for both businesses and their customers.

1. Streamlined shopping experience

Social commerce brings the ecommerce shopping experience directly to your customers within the apps and social media platforms they’re already using. It cuts down the buyer journey significantly, as they don’t need to click through to your ecommerce store or jump through other hoops to make a purchase.

Additionally, many platforms remove even more friction in the checkout process by auto-filling customer details like payment information or shipping addresses. These factors help businesses close more sales and reduce abandoned carts.

2. Boosted word-of-mouth marketing

You’re likely familiar with the value of engagement on social media. You want people to like, comment, and share your posts.

The power of engagement is multiplied when customers share posts that are shoppable. This expands your reach, and now your customers’ audiences can purchase from you directly within their social media apps—without even needing to visit your profile or website.

You’re removing barriers to purchase, while simultaneously building trust and authority with your followers and their communities.

3. More authentic engagement

Speaking of engagement, when customers purchase from you directly within a social media app, that will play in your favor with regard to the algorithms.

Here’s the rub: When people engage with your content (like, comment, share, etc.), it signals to that social media network that they like what you’re posting. As a result, that social media channel will show them more of your content.

Arguably, there’s no higher form of engagement than actually making a purchase. So, if online shoppers buy something directly through one of your social media platforms (whether it’s a buy button, a buyable pin, or product tags), they’ll start to see even more of your posts on that platform.

That means you’ll show up more consistently in feeds, and also have an easier time being found by new customers.

Social commerce vs. influencer marketing

The terms social commerce and influencer marketing usually pop up in the same conversation, but they mean two different things. Here’s a quick definition of each:

  • Social commerce: Customers can purchase directly through your social media platforms, rather than clicking out to your ecommerce website.
  • Influencer marketing: Individuals create social media content that endorses and promotes your business and products to their own followings.

While they’re different concepts, they’re closely related. Many marketers use influencer marketing as part of their larger social commerce and marketing strategy. It’s especially effective for brands who target a younger age demographic, as 63% of 18-34-year-olds trust influencers’ recommendations more than they trust direct information from a brand.

Influencer marketing has become especially big on Instagram. Influencers can not only help spread the word about a business’ new products, but also tag the products they promote in their Instagram posts so that customers can shop directly from the influencer’s account.

Other social media platforms are starting to roll out similar functionality for influencers:

  • TikTok is testing a “shop now” button for influencer videos
  • Snapchat has tested a native checkout (powered by Shopify) for a handful of influencers

As social shopping continues to gain steam, we’ll likely see more and more features rolled out that allow businesses to leverage influencer marketing as part of their social commerce strategies.

What platforms are good for social commerce?

At this point, you’re likely picking up on the fact that, when it comes to social commerce, not all social networks are created equally. Twitter, for example, doesn’t currently offer any sort of in-network shopping options for brands.

Here’s a quick look at some of the best social media platforms for social commerce.

1. Instagram

It’s tough to mention social commerce or influencer marketing without thinking of Instagram. An impressive 70% of online shoppers use Instagram for product discovery.

The platform has rolled out Instagram Checkout to a few select brands for total social commerce functionality. However, most brands can already use Instagram Shopping, where you can use product tags that will take customers directly to your product on your website or ecommerce platform (outside of the app).

2. Facebook

Facebook owns Instagram, so it makes sense that they’d include shopping functionality on the Facebook platform as well.With Facebook Shops, businesses can create a virtual storefront directly on their business Facebook page. They upload their product catalog within Facebook’s Commerce Manager and manage all of their orders directly within Facebook—rather than through a third-party app or platform.

3. Pinterest

83% of Pinterest active users have made a purchase based on content they saw from brands on Pinterest, making it a great place to leverage social commerce.

Buyable Pins display a “Buy It” button next to a product, which makes it easy for the shopper to purchase a product without ever leaving Pinterest. Brands can also set up an entire product catalog directly within the platform.

4. TikTok

As mentioned previously, TikTok is testing a “shop now” button with a select number of advertisers and agencies. They’re also looking at introducing another social commerce feature that would allow users to zoom in on items that appear in a video and shop them from directly within the app.

5. Snapchat

Not one to be left out of social commerce, Snapchat has also tested features that make it easy for users to purchase products within the app.

They chose a limited number of influencers to test drive the option to swipe-up on snaps and buy products. That native checkout feature is powered by Shopify and is currently only available to users in the U.S.

How to get started with social commerce today

The shopping features on all of these different social media sites can feel daunting to marketers and retailers. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, pick one platform to start with.

Think about:

  • What social network your brand already has an active presence on
  • Which platforms your target customers use most
  • Whether or not you meet the eligibility requirements for shopping features

That’s right—shopping features aren’t available to everyone. On most platforms, you’ll need to have a business account (rather than a personal account), satisfy some eligibility requirements, and even apply for that feature.

Here are some eligibility requirements for some of the most popular social media networks:

After successfully applying to access online shopping features, most platforms will walk you through how to add your product catalog, add tags to posts, and get your products up and running for your audience.

Successful social commerce campaign examples

Brands have been embracing social commerce as another channel to generate revenue and some have seen success with their early campaigns, including the following.

1. Levi’s on TikTok

Levi’s partnered with several popular TikTok influencers and allowed each of them to create their own customized denim. When watching a TikTok video from that influencer, followers could click a “Shop Now” button to purchase that same denim design. While users were brought to Levi’s.com rather than being able to purchase directly within the app, Levi’s reports that their product views on the pages the influencers promoted more than doubled.

2. MVMT Watches on Pinterest

Watch and accessories company, MVMT, used Pinterest’s shopping ads and dynamic retargeting to reach more customers. As a result, they lowered their cost per acquisition and increased their conversion rate.

3. Crate and Barrel on Instagram

Less of a campaign and more of a strategy, you’ll see tons of brands and retailers utilize product tags on Instagram—such as Crate and Barrel. This homeware company tags their products in nearly every single one of their posts. While they don’t currently have the option to allow users to checkout within Instagram, they can click through to the website to make a purchase.

4. Marvel on Facebook Messenger

In one particularly innovative example of social commerce, Marvel used chatbots on Facebook Messenger to promote and sell tickets to two different films. When users commented on a post with a specific hashtag, it triggered an automated checkout bot that touched base with customers via Facebook Messenger and helped them purchase tickets. The results? 53% conversions from new users and 71% conversions from engagement to sale on retargeted users.

Where the future of social commerce is trending

Here’s the short answer: social commerce is going to get bigger and bigger. The COVID-19 pandemic is only accelerating that, as more customers move the majority of their shopping online. In fact, social media usage itself is up an estimated 61% since the start of the pandemic.

As a result, we’ll likely continue to see more platforms implement native checkout features to allow for true social commerce, where social media users can complete the checkout process without leaving the app.

If you want to see what’s coming down the pipeline for social commerce, your best bet is to look at China. China is driving the future of ecommerce and many of the social media features that are commonplace in the U.S. today started with China’s WeChat.

We’ll likely see a similar approach influence brands and purchasers here. They’ll find ways to leverage all of the features available to them to build solid, trusting relationships with shoppers—and then make it easy for them to complete a purchase.

Social commerce best practices and tactics

Eager to get started with social commerce? Keep in mind that you’ll likely need a business profile on your chosen platform so you can apply to access the various shopping features. Let’s cover a few other strategies and best practices you should know to make the most of social commerce:

  • Post user-generated content: User-generated content (meaning posts that are created and shared by your customers) are said to be more than nine times more influential than traditional content. Encourage your customers to share your product on social media and create a hashtag they can use so people can easily find content about your brand.
  • Tailor your approach: Using the same social media marketing strategy across all platforms isn’t going to drive engagement for your brand. What works well on Instagram might not work well on Pinterest. The same is true for social commerce. Not only are the features different, but people interact with the platforms in different ways. Make sure you understand the ins and outs of how shoppable posts work on that specific platform, so you can guarantee a more seamless user experience.
  • Don’t forget about video: Video still reigns supreme for user engagement, and an impressive 84% of consumers felt convinced enough to buy a product after watching a brand’s video about it. So, don’t just think about static posts as you explore social commerce. Video is another avenue worth pursuing.

Reap the benefits of social commerce

For years, many people repeated the same argument against investing time, money, and resources into social media: There wasn’t an obvious payoff.

Today? That’s no longer true. As social commerce continues to gain steam, social media is no longer only used to broadcast your message and connect with customers—it can directly influence (and even complete) purchases.

So, while it might seem like the only constant is change with social media, social commerce is definitely a trend worth keeping up with.

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