Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Commerce’s next frontier: how to navigate the world of social commerce

By Gerard Murnaghan, VP of International at Sprout Social

These days, it’s easier than ever to shop online via your smartphone. Browsing items, making final selections, confirming details, and paying can all be done with just a few taps of the screen. This level of convenience was already driving rapid growth in ecommerce before the pandemic, but mandatory lockdowns and forced high street closures around the world over the last two years have sent its popularity into the stratosphere.

As more and more consumers become confident with ecommerce, their desire to make purchases through different online channels is expanding too. One of the fastest growing of all is social commerce, or the buying and selling of goods/services directly within social media platforms. In fact, the Sprout Social Index 2021™, UK & Ireland report found that 63 percent of consumers bought from social media in the past year alone.

Social commerce is quickly becoming an essential requirement. But while several years of research has gone into optimising the now more familiar ecommerce checkout process, social commerce is the next frontier, and a relatively new option for businesses. What worked on an ecommerce site may not make an impact in a crowded newsfeed.

What is social commerce?

Social commerce is designed to take social media beyond its traditional role in the discovery process by enabling customers to complete purchases without ever having to leave the app they’re already using. Doing so not only helps to reduce cart abandonment during the checkout process (which can be as high as 86 percent amongst mobile users), but it also streamlines the entire purchasing experience, encouraging shoppers to return in the future.

Aware of this growing trend, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest recently launched revamped social commerce tools to help retailers streamline their online shopping experiences during the pandemic. Others aren’t far behind, with YouTube, TikTok and Twitter all currently exploring expansions to their social commerce offerings too.

All of this is contributing to a major rise in adoption amongst businesses. While only 17 percent of UK and Irish brands are currently using social to drive sales, a huge 79 percent of businesses are planning to participate in social commerce in the next three years. In short, if your business hasn’t started selling on social media yet, there’s a strong chance your competitors already are, or will be very soon.   

So what should businesses keep in mind as they make the leap to social commerce?

1)     Understand your social audience properly

For maximum engagement, social commerce strategies need to be properly aligned with their intended target audience.  To do this, it’s important to choose products and messaging based on this specific customer subset, rather than simply trying to repurpose website copy and sales tactics.

A great way to do this is using a social media listening and analytics tool, which can help you stay informed as your social audience grows and evolves over time. Many leading tools even offer follower demographic data, that inform customer personas by platform. Using these, in combination with post-performance data, can be a great way to decide on the most suitable products to list on different social platforms, as well as how best to position them.

2)     Support listings with promotional activity

Once new products or services have been listed, supporting them with scheduled promotional activity and/or posts can help build interest and drive traffic to the social storefront. This will inform potential customers who may have missed the original postings and can also be used to share additional product information, like walkthroughs and close-up shots.

3)     Always tailor customer social responses

One of the main reasons customers get in touch with brands on social media is to ask questions about particular products or services. This could be a request about a specific product, an inquiry about an existing order, or simply somebody wondering which options are currently available. Not only can you answer those questions by recommending a product, but you can also share a direct link to buy it, which is a win-win.  

4)     Learn what works best (and do more of it)

As you dip your toe into the world of social commerce, the best thing you can do is measure, measure, measure. Knowing what’s working can help you repeat successes as you scale your strategy over time. It can also illuminate new opportunities that might have otherwise been missed. Monitoring social analytics closely and categorising posts helps provide an in-depth look at what’s working and what’s not.

As customers become ever-more comfortable with online shopping, social commerce offers a powerful way to reach new audiences via their favourite apps, drive sales revenues and reduce cart abandonment, all at the same time. The sooner you incorporate it into your sales strategy, and – most importantly – understand how to tailor your online sales approach to align with social functions and audiences, the faster you can start to reap the rewards.