Social commerce isn’t anything particularly new in itself, but what we mean by the term and its role in all things digital is rapidly changing. Last year we saw the introduction of “buy buttons” across a number of the major networks and social advertising is coming into its own.
Gone are the days when social media was a place users demanded protection from promotional content. Times have changed. User habits have shifted, ads have become smarter and social media has become a genuine influence in people’s buying decisions. So is 2016 the year social commerce becomes the driving force of your marketing strategy?
The shift in user habits
The rise of social commerce hasn’t been a perfect fairy tale. The fact is users don’t log into YouTube to do their Christmas shopping, they don’t use Instagram to compare products and they certainly don’t open up Facebook to be bombarded with ads.
So what do people turn to social media for? Well, normally it’s to consume content (media) and engage with other people (social), which is a world away from the kind of high-intent Google search that triggers an AdWords auction, for example.
So channelling social for commercial purposes has been a challenge for marketers and the social platforms themselves. But we’re getting there. In 2014, 53% of shoppers aged 18-34 said they use Facebook to keep up with the latest in online shopping. While 25% of millennials admitted they would check out a product their friend recommended.
Over the following year referrals alone from social media sites increased by nearly 200% and the that growth looks set to continue. So, while people aren’t doing their Christmas shopping on YouTube (yet) a shift in user habits has paved the way for social commerce to get serious.
Why have users suddenly come around to social commerce?
Actually, it hasn’t been all that sudden. The social giants need to monetise their platforms and that can only mean one thing: advertising. But, in order to do that, they need to make sure their ads become effective sales leads.
Facebook always had the ace of connecting you with just about everyone on the planet up its sleeve. But even that’s not enough if your ads aren’t hitting the kind of targets you need to make a profit. So Facebook and co. have been working like mad to create ads that get results.
The truth is users have had little choice in the matter. Either they accept the ads or they ditch the platform for something else. Facebook and its rivals need to make sure the latter doesn’t happen, though, so their ads are becoming less intrusive all the time. Better still, their ads are becoming more engaging all the time as well. Which means users won’t be ditching platforms in the future because of ads; they’ll more likely keep using those platforms because of them.
Leveraging social commerce in 2016
So, while users have had little choice but to suck it up as their News Feeds and other content streams show an increasing number of ads, a better future is on the horizon. The aim will be to have ads that are refined and engaging enough that users won’t even notice they’re ads in the first place. Because that stigma still exists; if people realise you’re trying to sell to them, they’re not going to like it.
And despite buy buttons cropping up across most of the major platforms, social isn’t the direct seller many still want it to be. But you can be smarter than that in the meantime. Because, if digital has taught us anything, it’s that the modern consumer journey is made up of various micro-moments and social has a key role to play in these.
So we can’t turn around and say 2016 is the definitive year of social commerce, because 2017 will be an even bigger year and 2018 bigger still. But now certainly is the time to take social seriously as a platform users welcome into their consumer lives. That’s the key difference that has emerged over the last couple of years and this will be the shift in user behaviour that makes social work for in an entirely different way for commercial brands.