What is social commerce, exactly?
Wikipedia has an answer that’ll put you to sleep:
Social commerce is a subset of electronic commerce that involves social media, online media that supports social interaction, and user contributions to assist online buying and selling of products and services.
Yawn! It’s funny how dated “electronic” sounds as an adjective in 2017.
That’s no accident. The distinction between online and offline is blurring more and more every day. People now carry mobile devices with them almost all the time, and expect to have Internet access all the time, too.
The “electronic” aspect has gotten increasingly hidden from sight. Our laptops, tablets and phones all can work for hours after a single charge, and so it’s quite easy to forget the role electricity plays in the sending of text, pictures and videos across the electromagnetic spectrum.
People have always been social, and so commerce has always been social, too.
We’ve always asked our peers for recommendations, referrals and reviews – for everything. But there’s a reason why “social commerce” is a term when it wasn’t before.
- Online reviews are a form of social commerce.
- Message boards allow for social commerce.
- Fashion and gadget bloggers are all a part of social commerce.
- Facebook is a part of social commerce.
If it involves buying and selling things, and people get input from others, it’s basically social commerce.
I’d make the case that people are so fundamentally social and so embedded in our social contexts that none of us ever really make “non-social commercial decisions”.
Consider the #dressingroom in the social media age.
Today, it’s possible for someone to go into a dressing room, and instantly post pictures or videos of themselves wearing the clothes. They can do this on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and via all sorts of private or semi-private messaging apps such as Whatsapp or Telegram.
You can actually check out the #helpmechoose or #helpmedecide hashtag on Instagram and see what kind of people are asking for feedback on their purchases in real time. And those are just the people who are comfortable asking in public. It’s not hard to imagine that there must be countless more such decisions going on in private.
What retailers can do to encourage social commerce?
1. Be active on the relevant social media
There are many, many social media platforms to choose from. Which should you be on?
It depends on where your customers hang out.
Generally, Instagram and Pinterest are where users are in more of a ‘buying mood’.
Over time, people have grown to use Twitter as a customer service channel – so much so that Twitter itself has acknowledged this.
In all cases, you always want to be sensitive to what your customers’ expectations are. Nobody wants to be bombarded or interrupted with something unrelated to what they’re doing.
2. Contribute to existing communities – be useful and go the extra mile
Whatever it is that you’re doing, there’s probably a relevant subreddit for you. Just Google “reddit <your niche>”, and you should find a few relevant subreddits.
First, just spend some time hanging out in your relevant subreddit – maybe it’s /r/malefashionadvice or /r/sneakers. Get a sense for what the community likes and dislikes, what sort of content is encouraged and discouraged, and so on.
Then, once you’ve posted some constructive comments, consider doing a self-post talking about your product and invite feedback from fellow redditors.
Redditors in general are quite a wary, skeptical audience who don’t want polished or misleading sales pitches. You have to win them over by sharing your personal experience and knowledge. Show them what’s going on behind-the-scenes, as Eric Bandholz of Beardbrand did.
Here are some examples of brands that have done well on reddit:
- SEJ – 10 examples of brands succeeding on Reddit
- Contently – 5 brands that rocked Reddit (and what you can learn from them)
3. Host your own events – and encourage visitors to share
It can be easy to forget sometimes, in the age of social media, that people still ultimately value having good experiences with other people in real life – being in the same place at the same time for the same reason.
I’m always surprised when I go to a marketing event and there isn’t a designated hashtag for people to use. Having an ‘official’ one allows people to discover each other and have conversations. And it allows you to engage with your fans, too.
Put an official hashtag on your poster(s). Run contests and giveaways for whoever posts the best pictures or videos.
Some events have designated photobooths with professional photographers, which is a great idea. People happily queue up to take pictures at these things, and then tag themselves and their friends on Facebook.
Commerce is intrinsically social. People talk. People share. Technology is evolving to a point where it enables people to do this at a supercharged rate.
Retailers are going to want to keep paying attention to how this develops, and encourage it where they can.