'Social commerce' featured in almost all the 2011 social media prediction articles. But what exactly does this phrase mean? Is it about having a Facebook shop like ASOS? Or is it more about group buying services like the ones offered by Groupon? What about enabling users to share content, or ratings and reviews?
It seems the term means different things to different people, but those who embrace some element of social commerce in 2011 will fall into four camps:
1 / Those who can't afford not to
created a Facebook shop
because it couldn't afford not to.In December 2010, its Social Networks and Forums category was the third biggest source of traffic to the brand's website, accounting for 14.62% of all traffic to ASOS.com
Social networks have also helped to develop advocacy and encourage brand loyalty for ASOS - 65.5% of the visitors coming to its website via social media channels are returning visitors rather than first time shoppers.
With Facebook alone responsible for 12% of all visits to the website, ASOS couldn't afford not to engage their audience in this space. Many other savvy retailers who have been building social engagement over the last few years are in the same position: the figures speak for themselves.
2 / Those with innovation at their core
2011 is the year innovators will adopt social commerce tools in a big way. TM Lewin
is a good example of this. Its soon to be relaunched new site is an evolution of the e-commerce and community sites it has run in the past, with a more seamless mix of products and social content.
The pressure on e-commerce 'real estate' is huge and incorporating social commerce elements such as recommendations, sharing tools, ratings and reviews etc must be agreed across the business to avoid unbalancing the site's user experience, risking established revenue.
In the traditionally slower to adapt B2B
space, RS Components
(another client) is using the DesignSpark
community (a community that is separate from its main site for electronics engineers) to more deeply engage customers around product discussions.
3 / New brands
However, we are seeing true innovation in social commerce dominated by start-ups and new brands.
Think of Threadless and Groupon and cast your mind back to the distant past of 1995 when Amazon was a start up, ntroducing reviews and ratings. In 2011 it will continue to be ahead of the curve.
A more recent example is The People's Supermarket
, a social supermarket 'for the people by the people' whose vision is being reported widely by the press and bloggers. What's nteresting is how they are using social media to amplify their message. When you arrive on The People's Supermarket website you are immediately drawn in by a blog about hop volunteers, including photos of people taking part.
It leads you to ask 'why would I work for free at a supermarket?' You are engaged; you want to know more. The social tools on the site aren't particularly radical - Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and their blog. What is interesting s the authenticity of the conversations on these social channels.
The People's Supermarket is real; not a concept dreamed up by an expensive PR agency. Social media is very good at reflecting this fact. This is an area where many apparently well thought out social media strategies derail: when planning a concept ignores existing organisational culture.
There's no danger of this for The People's Supermarket. A shout out on Twitter for some volunteers for a shift the next day and within an hour a couple of people have responded. Their Facebook page has real activity too - not 2 weeks ago but half an hour ago. When they had a party last week to celebrate their six month anniversairy they promoted it on Facebook and then put lots of pictures on Flickr after the event - a great use of online-offline promotion.
4 / Those who adopt because they feel they should
Engagement with social platforms is important, as is bringing social tools into the ecommerce user journey, but not at the expense of core businessm values.
Rushing in without strategic thought, often with little existing social presence or reason for consumers to "care and share" will lead to some significant and expensive failures in social commerce in 2011. These will shape the space in a very predictable way, allowing innovators who have learnt from these mistakes to drive greater innovation.
Mark Jennings is account director at social media agency FreshNetworks, London