What Is Social Commerce?

“Social Commerce” was THE ecommerce buzzword of 2011 and if you walked through the exhibit halls at Internet Retailer, eTail or Shop.org you were bombarded with people trying to get you to jump on the Social Commerce bandwagon.

But what is Social Commerce?  You’ve probably heard the term before but can you actually define it?

I’d like to start with 2 Social Commerce definitions:

1)  Social Commerce Definition #1 (common sense) – The combination of eCommerce and social media.

2)  Social Commerce Definition #2 (my business jargon definition) – Giving your customers a platform to discuss, criticize, & promote your products online.

Want to step up your Social Commerce game? In Part 1 of What Is Social Commerce we will start by focusing on these 4 areas of your business:

  • Customer Reviews
  • Youtube
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

 

Customer Reviews

I’m still amazed by the large % of our clients that DO NOT have customer reviews. Here are the most common reasons why:

  • Our products are too “complex”
  • Our products are extremely difficult to ship
  • Our customer base is really unreasonable

Here is my honest advice to all retailers – If you are worried about giving your customers a platform to voice their opinions, YOU NEED TO RE-EVALUATE YOUR ENTIRE BUSINESS.

Your customer base is not as unique as you think it is and if you are worried about letting them review your business, you’re doing it wrong.

Customer reviews can be broken down into 2 distinct categories – Seller Reviews and Product Reviews.

Seller Reviews:

For merchant ratings, I recommend  Bizrate Insights. It’s free, easy to implement and Bizrate Insights is one of the review sources for Google Product Search.

Product Reviews:

For product reviews, the 2 most popular service providers are Power Reviews and Bazaarvoice. We’ve only heard good things from our clients about both companies so it seems like you can’t go wrong with either one.

For those of you who are still paranoid about negative reviews from your customer base, this stat from Bazaarvoice should help to ease your fears:

“80% OF THE BAZAARVOICE US CUSTOMER REVIEWS ARE EITHER 4 OR 5 STARS”

YouTube

Youtube is a great place to lose your Social Commerce virginity.

Everyone is familiar with youtube and if you are willing to put yourself out there, it can expose your brand to a huge audience.

When you first get started don’t get caught up in trying to “go viral”, just make videos about individual products that you can add to your landing pages.

Do you know your target audience?

If not, you should stop reading this post immediately and read this post - Define Your Target Audience and Their Needs from SEOmoz.

Once you know your target audience,  make videos specifically for them and make sure to incorporate their language and sense of humor into the videos.

Once your videos are uploaded to Youtube, send them to your target audience to get their feedback. Their feedback will help you find your Youtube producing groove and it won’t take long before you have the pulse on crafting the perfect videos for your customer base.

Pop quiz time! Have you heard of all 10 of the most influential retailers of the 2011 Holiday shopping season?

1. Amazon

2. Victoria’s Secret

3. JCPenney

4. Sports Authority

5. Walgreens

6. HSN

7. ThinkGeek

8. Best Buy

9. Target

10. Macy’s

There is probably only one retailer on the list that you are not familiar with – #7 ThinkGeek.

In this day and age of retailers trying to broaden their selection to expand their customer base, ThinkGeek has taken the opposite approach. They have an extremely well defined target audience which allows them to dominate their niche.

YouTube has played a huge role in ThinkGeek’s rapid growth. Check out this video from ThinkGeek promoting their Electronic Drum Machine Shirt:

I already know what you’re thinking – OMG ThinkGeek’s products and videos are soooo cool, how can I make a video like that with my boring products?

First of all, you are probably right since the guys who run ThinkGeek are ridiculously talented :-)  Secondly your videos don’t need millions of views to have a positive impact on your business.

Start with this simple goal - make videos to increase conversion rates on your product landing pages.

Facebook

Are Facebook Credits a game changer? Is the Facebook & Amazon partnership really a big deal? Is Facebook going to revive eBay?

There has been a ton of debate on whether or not most people will ever feel comfortable making purchases directly on Facebook.

The “Facebook is the future of commerce” crowd (typically the service providers) argues that retailers need to create a better shopping experience on Facebook to increase conversions. The other argument is a bit easier to sum up – people don’t go on Facebook to shop.

I personally tend to agree with Forrester ecommerce analyst Sucharita Mulpuru (@smulpuru) who concluded that Facebook is a not a direct selling channel.

Here at CPC Strategy  we have helped a few of our clients to list their products on Facebook but according to Google Analytics, their sales have been minimal and pale in comparison to any of the top 10 comparison shopping engines.

So if retailers aren’t getting sales from Facebook, what’s the point?

Retailers should use Facebook to improve conversions on their site.

Don’t understimate the impact of social proof on your conversion rates. If your customers see that you have a lot of fans, they are going to feel much more comfortable making a purchase from you. The same goes for a product with a lot of likes.

Also by default, people are much less formal on Facebook so make sure to speak your customer’s language on your fan page.

Moosejaws facebook fan page is a great example of a retailer who speaks their customer’s langauge and benefits from positive social proof by having a large fan base:

 

Twitter

Your approach to Twitter should be based off one relatively simple question – Are your customers already tweeting about you? If you’re not sure, go to http://twitter.com/search and do a search for your brand.

If your customers are already tweeting about you, then you should use Twitter as a natural extension of your customer service. Keep in mind that Twitter is completely public so it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate the quality of your customer service.

If your customers are not tweeting about you here is the typical Twitter experience for a retailer without a well known brand:

  • Sign up for Twitter and link to it from their ecommerce home page
  • Tweet only about deals and promotions
  • Stop using Twitter a few weeks later

 

If nobody is tweeting about you, it’s going to take someone who really “gets” Twitter to run your brand’s twitter handle. If you don’t have anybody on your team that is a Twitter evangelist, and you don’t where to start, follow this simple tip from 3Dcart:

 

 

Customer Service or Self Promotion?

Everyone loves a great deal but Twitter is best used to engage your customers and help them with their problems.

Keep in mind that Twitter is not a marketing platform, it’s a communications platform that can be used for some marketing.

Check out the video below from @GaryVee to learn from this guy’s mistake!

Whatever you do, don’t be the type of brand on Twitter that is all about ME, ME, ME. If you listen to your customers and engage them in a thoughtful way, you will stand out from your competitors who only use Twitter to blast out their deals.

If you already have an audience on Twitter but are having a tough time finding the balance between customer service and promoting your sales, you should consider having 2 seperate accounts for your followers.

Sears does an awesome job of this. Their main account – @Sears is used for customer service while @SearsDeals is used exclusively for promotion.

Also keep an eye out for branded Twitter pages in 2012. Right now they are just available for mega brands but Twitter will hopefully make this an option for all businesses sooner than later.

As you can see below, the Staples twitter account has a branded page which is much more customizable than a typical twitter account:

Homework Assignment

Hopefully you feel like you have a better understanding of the basics of Social Commerce and you can at least pretend to know what you are talking about at your next conference :)

In part 2 of What Is Social Commerce, we will explore some newer Social Commerce channels like Google+ and Pinterest. So stay tuned!

In the mean time we HIGHLY RECOMMEND these 10 blogs (you should also follow them on Twitter) to help continue your Social Commerce education:

 

About the AuthorRick is the CEO of CPC Strategy. He started working with online retailers at PriceGrabber and co-founded CPC Strategy in January of 2007. Today CPC Strategy manages the comparison shopping campaigns for over 100 retailers. See all posts by this author here.