Will Social Media and Ecommerce Ever Really Get Together?

Opinion: Shotgun wedding, or match made in heaven?

Are the models of social media and ecommerce really a match made in heaven? ipopba/iStock

From the outset, social media platforms have offered an invaluable resource for marketers to drive sales online and in-store by reaching the right audiences through targeted advertising. In fact, recent studies suggest that as many as 87 percent of ecommerce shoppers believe social media plays a vital role in helping them make shopping decisions.

However, while social platforms have always been a marketer’s dream, in recent years, we have witnessed multiple leading social media platforms trying to bridge the gap between social and shopping by facilitating direct purchases within their platforms. And with the introduction of more integrated shoppable ads on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, there have been whispers that 2018 may be the year social commerce gains traction.

But while social giants are trying to wriggle out of the position of middleman and get behind the counter, are the models of social media and ecommerce really a match made in heaven?

A complicated past

Social media has long provided marketers a more cost-efficient and targeted way to reach potential customers. Using Facebook user data and targeted advertising, brands can reach their exact consumer based on real data points, rather than “spraying and praying” on other channels such as TV or print.

At the same time, with talks of a retail meltdown after swathes of big-brand bankruptcies and shop closures around the world, over the past decade, retailers big and small have increasingly moved from brick-and-mortar to ecommerce.

Given these two concurrent trends, it would seem like a no-brainer for businesses to jump on the social commerce bandwagon. However, while it might seem like a match made in heaven, the fact is that this is not the first time social and shopping have had a fling, and traditionally, it has not worked out. After all, Twitter tried a buy button to drive sales through its platform, and it then gradually phased it out after it failed to hook consumers.

The big problem is that with an abundance of shopping and social options available, consumers simply aren’t using social platforms to buy products. Social media plays a vital role early on the sales funnel, as a research tool and influencer, but to date, most consumers are still not buying directly via social platforms. In fact, a recent study shows that less than one-half of Facebook users have ever bought a product after clicking on a post or a link in a post.

Moving in the right direction

In recent years, Instagram launched shoppable text in posts, Twitter toyed with a buy button and Facebook tried to take advantage of the 450 million-plus people who visit various buy, swap and sell groups with its introduction of Facebook Shop and Facebook Marketplace, where all of these transactions can now take place.

With a move en masse toward social commerce, could 2018 be the year when it finally comes together and the two parties really make it work?

The jury is still out. Many argued that the demise of Twitter’s buy button was a bad sign for social commerce as a model. And aside from flirting with direct sales, social media giants have also been scrambling to keep a foothold in the market by diversifying revenue with new applications, such as dating apps.

The fact is that while social shopping is a nice idea, the actual experience for consumers remains far from seamless. And Amazon Prime is always there winking in the background.

One of the main roadblocks is in regards to payments. Traditionally, to make a payment via an ad or link on a social media site, consumers had to enter another portal and add their payment details, which breaks the flow of a casual browsing session and also raises security issues from using third-party sites.

This is a problem that Instagram is trying to solve with its new payments feature, which allows users to register a debit or credit card as part of their profile, set up a security pin and start buying things without ever leaving Instagram.

Facebook has already rolled out peer-to-peer payments through its Messenger app, but to date, native payments for shopping are still in closed beta, meaning that users are still driven to third-party sites to actually pay for items. However, some have suggested that the social network’s recent announcement of a blockchain research-and-development department might hint at the social giant’s intentions to create its own cryptocurrency, which would allow for more streamlined payments on the Facebook marketplace, and also on its app store.

No couple is perfect

With social giants already making moves on solving the payments issue, the next roadblock to be tackled is the fact that many consumers still aren’t accustomed to (or interested in) using social media platforms for buying goods or services.

While more than 80 percent of Generation Z and 74 percent of millennials are influenced by social media in their shopping, making the leap from seeing a product on social to buying it doesn’t tend to happen immediately. Considering most social media users log in to Instagram to be inspired and entertained rather than to shop, the risk is that if too much weight is put behind shoppable ads, they may end up disrupting the user experience and being an annoyance.

However, there is hope. The marriage between social and ecommerce can work in ways other than just with purchases made directly on shoppable ads.

Since we know that social media platforms play a huge role in influencing purchase decisions, the challenge for brands is really to capture the attention of their prospective customers higher up the funnel and continue to stay top-of-mind until they are finally ready to make that purchase decision. This means thinking outside of the box in advertising campaigns and coming up with attractive ads that users want to bookmark them and take a second look.

On top of that, brands can also follow up with remarketing to nurture users’ interest and set up their ads for accurate attribution to get a better idea of the role their social ads play in driving interest to conversion.

Brands need to start looking at direct sales on social as part of their integrated strategies rather than a silver bullet solution and start targeting users with personalized ads when they are at the exploration stage, which has traditionally been a danger zone for actually closing sales.

Rather than questioning whether social media platforms will become full-fledged ecommerce sites or not, it is important to look at the positives and realize that despite their lover’s tiffs, social and shopping are a great match. And while the jury remains out on whether shoppable social ads will be the breakthrough we are all hoping for, it’s certain that social media should be part of any ecommerce business’ multichannel strategy.

Kazu Takiguchi is founder and CEO of artificial-intelligence-guided creative platform ReFUEL4.