A Look at Social Commerce, Content & User Intent

Ah, social media.  It’s a digital landscape that changes more than a baby’s diaper.

Lately, brands are rushing to SnapChat to buddy-up to the ever-shifting focus of the younger crowd.  Twitter is tweet-begging for a buyer.  Google finally stopped shoving Plus down our throats.  And Facebook tries trying commerce again with Facebook Marketplace.

Social media has been in a long, slow dance with e-commerce ever since it was born.  But for every attempt at social commerce, there seems to have been ten that were whisked away quietly in night, never be seen again.

Remember #AmazonCart on Twitter?  How about the buzzword F-commerce, the early Facebook attempt at storefronts?  Buy buttons have popped up all over, but even those that seem to make sense (like Pinterest’s buyable pins) haven’t taken flight.

In fact, earlier this year, Custora reported that social channels only accounted for 1.8 percent of 2015 holiday shopping sales, and that was a decrease from 2014.  Yes, you read that right, even with all the flashy attempts to merge commerce and social media, sales from those channels decreased year over year.  That’s not promising.

What’s the Problem?

No one has cracked the code that gets people buying by habit on social media.

The irony is that Facebook is all about context; they know it’s the key to social media triumph.  That’s why content-driven advertising makes sense there (even if the users don’t always like it), and why they reward your good content with better performance.

But shopping ads haven’t fared as well.  I liken it to the modern-day door-to-door salesman.  She knocks on your door when you’re in the middle of binge-watching The Walking Dead and asks you if you have heard about underarm deodorant for dogs.

The lack of context there means you’re trying to insert a shopping experience unnaturally into a person’s feed.  Users respond to the unwelcome invasion the best way they can, ignoring it.


Social Commerce Post

(This image is from my personal feed.  It’s a seemingly lovely company that I’ve never heard of, with an ad that is perfectly fine.  Except, I was watching a video of my nephew’s first holiday pageant a minute before.  Oh, and I don’t have a dog. #context)

Companies, especially the SMBs I work with, use Facebook shopping ads because they know someone who heard about someone who read that they do well.  Demandware reported that in Q2 2016, social media only made up 2.7% of traffic to commerce sites, and just 1% of orders.  There’s nothing to get excited about.

So, if shopping ads are already out of context, how does adding a direct social commerce element fix it?

It doesn’t.  Until we (well, really Facebook) can change the mentality of users to include immediate purchase intent, its only power in the buying process will be awareness.

What’s Next?

Chatbot chatter has been all over lately, because nothing says “buy now” like talking to artificial intelligence.  Perhaps it addresses the issue of context, but I don’t know that our “machines” are advanced enough to inspire consumer confidence to purchase from them or to interpret context enough to be effective.

Don’t get me wrong, the concept is cool and in the long run I think it’ll have major implications on the way we do business – but, that’s the long run, as in, the very long run.  We haven’t even perfected technology enough to keep me from looping endlessly in an automated phone system when I call my insurance company, or remove the delay on conference call lines so we can finally stop talking over each other.

Is 2017 Social Commerce’s Year?

My crystal ball is broken today, but my best guess is probably not.

I haven’t seen any indications, anecdotally or empirically, that point to social commerce being ready to take off.  The prospect is exciting, but the current implementation is feeble.  We’ve been trying it for years now, and until the platforms can restructure their experience to make shopping fit the context of their users’ intent, it’s unlikely we’ll see a shift in where consumers are purchasing.

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