Making social commerce work

Can you use Facebook and Twitter to sell? Maybe--but it's going to take some experimentation. Here are some ideas to try.

Despite the fact that Facebook commerce has emerged as a big disappointment for some large companies and that poorly executed strategies can do more harm than good, social media marketing as a channel isn't about to disappear.

In fact, consulting firm Booz & Co. thinks that social media is a great way to influence buyers and will eventually result in $30 billion in global social commerce revenue ($14 billion in the U.S. alone).

Given the way some companies are backing away from the Facebook f-commerce efforts, you might wonder whether Booz might need to reevaluate its estimate. And yet, a Booz survey suggested that 27% of consumers who spent at least one hour a month on social networking sites would be willing to make purchases through social networking.

It might just take more time, as e-commerce did, as people change their habits to adapt to new circumstances and capabilities. As Booz noted:

[C]ompany influence through social groups and traditional marketing models is stopping well short of the emerging opportunity. For many customer segments, shopping in the physical world has always been social: I can go to the store with you and put an item in your shopping basket, saying "This is perfect for you." Now, some companies are using social media in a similar way: as a place where they can transact business with their customers and where customers can shop with each other.

But what needs to change? Online retail commerce consulting firm e-tailing group recently published its 2011 Q4 mystery shopping study, in which it looks at what major online retailers are doing. Just over half of the companies had Facebook pages, with most redirecting people to the corporate website; 16% provided "buy now" functions. Maybe the results currently aren't incremental, as Charles Nicholls, founder of e-commerce consultancy SeeWhy, has argued.

But perhaps they could be. Combine a drive to increase Facebook fans with rewards in the form of special promotions for those who have followed a company's page for some period of time.

Some of the leading Facebook techniques that e-tailing group spotted included the following:

  • Connect with customers via 24/7 live help through chat or phone so there's a social component, much like a salesperson offering assistance to someone in a store.
  • Provide an ironclad guarantee of satisfaction to help combat fears of doing business through a social network. (The same sort of fear, by the way, that was far more common on e-commerce sites not so long ago.)
  • Special promotions, extra customer loyalty rewards points, and other perks for doing business via a given social network.
  • Opt-in mobile text updates on specials (while, presumably, remembering not to inundate people).
  • Incorporate features of the company website—like zoom and alternate product image views, shopping aids, and the like—to preserve branding and to facilitate an impulse purchase.
  • Include a location finder if there are retail sites and someone wants to go to the physical store.
  • Free and exclusive specialty content websites for Facebook fans.

As e-tailing group points out, this isn't advice you can blindly follow. Success requires experimentation and testing to see what works with your business and customer base.

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