Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Sophie Strong: The value exchange of social commerce

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Sophie Strong is Managing Partner of Media Experience at PHD UK and NDA’s monthly columnist.

Industry headlines are filled with news about the retail media landscape. From guidance on how to make the most out of retail media, to evolving partnerships (such as Criteo’s acquisition of Brand Crush).

However, it is important to remember the commerce space offers a vast amount of opportunity, and for that reason, we can’t forget about retail media’s cousin, social commerce.

Social commerce has the potential to play an important part for brands. From scalable audiences and evolved offerings, it is a space which offers brands lots of untapped potential.

Cast your mind back to 2020, the year we said would be all about ecommerce evolution. In just one year, we saw huge shifts in platform solutions designed to simplify the complex for consumers disgruntled by the purchase journey. Social platforms took advantage of this growing trend, with their platforms offering a huge space for product discovery and research.

So, fast forward to 2023 and we are set to reach $1.3 trillion in social commerce sales globally (source, Influencer Marketing Hub).

But what do we mean when we say ‘social commerce’?

Social commerce is a way for brands and advertisers to leverage social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, etc, to promote and sell their products. In a social commerce landscape, a user is exposed to the entire shopping experience from product discovery, through to research and ultimately conversion. It is multi-dimensional and with that comes a host of ways brands can get involved. From integrated shops to taggable influencer content and shopping feeds.

The list of opportunities and platforms entering this space continues to grow as consumer’s become more primed to the idea of shopping in a social space. It is important to highlight here that consumers have been tapping into social platforms for discovery for years, so enabling them to go through to the end purchase point is a natural evolution of their social shopping experience.

With this comes a lot of choice, but a few favourites in this area include: 

  • Shops or Product catalogues – In-platform, organic solutions which allows brands to host their products within the platform ecosystem. Currently available across most social platforms, these are a great way to create a store front in a new environment, encouraging discoverability of your full suite of products.
  • Collaboration ads – Typically available across Facebook and Instagram, this is a co-branded solution which allows brands to drive traffic and sales through to their retail partner’s site or apps (e.g. Colgate and Boots). This is a fantastic way for brands without a D2C presence to take control over the sales outcomes for their products.
  • Data integrations – access to retail partner data sets for targeting purposes, for example Nectar 360 segments. This is a fantastic way to build an understanding of who your consumers are and how to best engage with them, this data can also be accessed across other channels, allowing a more holistic cross-channel approach.  
  • Conversational commerce – an example of this would be WhatsApp shopping. This allows a brand to create that a 1:1 relationship with an individual, creating a truly personalised experience. 

Social commerce allows brands to turn discoverability into shopability. This is because you are reaching a consumer in an environment where they are logged in. This means you know who they are, and their typical behaviours in that environment. It also means we can collapse and streamline the purchase journey, as we know more about their behaviours in this space and how best to speak to them. And whilst social commerce is new, brands should simply view it as the new wave of performance. The buying tactics remain true to traditional performance buys in social environments, it’s just the signals that inform the outcomes have evolved and the creative has been enhanced through tags.

When getting involved there are a few considerations for brands to take away:

  • It is not one size fits all. Whilst there are some best practices to take away, your brand is unique, and so too is the way your consumers interact with your products. With this, it is important to work with specialists in this space to define a social commerce approach which is right for your brand. Specialists include solutions such as OMG’s Transact, a specialist ecommerce agency.
  • Be aware that not all functionality is in place. Different platforms are at different stages in terms of integrating functionality, so as solutions evolve it is important to keep on top of the latest developments.
  • Like all digital platforms, industry ad tech updates such as Apple’s IOS14.5, as well as Chrome’s upcoming deprecation of the third-party cookie means we need to think about the measurement techniques in play. This means leveraging the latest technology (server-to-server vs pixel), but also ensuring macro tactics such as econometrics are in play to build a greater understanding of the role social commerce is playing for your brands consumers.
  • Lastly, navigate the role it can play to complement other channels and outlets. As the landscape evolves, so too will the volume of fragmentation. Consider how social commerce can complement the experience for your consumer alongside your broader media and retail mix.

Social commerce is growing at pace and brands should be thinking about the role it can play in driving growth in the future for their products.