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Planning Ahead For Social Shopping

17:40 on Tue, 7 Dec 2010 | Social Media | 1 Comment

Aside from having an interest in search engines that borders on unhealthy, I'm a practised layman in social science with books like Freakomics, Quirkology and Tipping Point absolutely fascinating me. It's pretty fortunate for me as, in relation to e-commerce the world of SEO and social are coming close enough to be compressed into one, terrifying(?) marketing singularity.

Although it's a term that's been washing around for a while, I haven't seen many people talking about the concepts of "social shopping" directly, despite it being around in various forms such as shopping forum communities and product recommendation engines for a fair while. The term itself hasn't really caught yet and a lot judgement is passed within our industry by the terminology you use (I should actually say, the terminology you don't use judging by the games of buzzword bingo I've seen played). So although people that say "e-marketing" ring alarm bells with me, those that mention social shopping are likely in for a long discussion.

I was quite disappointed to read that Tim Kendall, the Director of Monetisation at Facebook left his post last week. He had contributed some great things to Facebook and being the biggest social player online, I was interested to see how he would lead them through the next couple of years.

On the plus side, I'm pleased to see that Google has publicly stated that it includes social signals within organic search rankings. Especially as that is what I had been saying and telling people for the last 12 months. (Phew).

Social & The Buying Cycle

In my opinion, search engines are really what has driven commerce on a large-scale on the web. They are the conduit that makes it possible to find the almost infinite variations of products, services, sizes, colours, shapes and prices that your heart could desire. It is my belief that social commerce will take online commerce to a new level of possibilities by filling in the gaps that until now, the web has inherited and simply put up with.

Image from SearchEnginePeople Post

If you aren't familiar with buying process cycle, I'd recommend you read the post on SearchEnginePeople, as it's a pretty straight-forward and simple explanation.

You can see within this cycle there are some things the web has traditionally been excellent at - such as "assessment of alternatives". Search engines provide an easy way to access hundreds of competitors, comparing features, benefits and prices or systems such as the Amazon recommendation engine provide alternatives based on socially-fuelled data.

Alleviation of risk is something the web used to be terrible at, it in fact did a negative job for a long while with a sizeable chunk of people perceiving the risk of entering their bank details online too high. Fortunately, this situation changed and retailers started working on alleviation of risk with encryption, promises on data protection and on a product- level, letting consumers add reviews, which is pretty much the point we've been stuck at for a few years now.

All of these changes happens slowly though. I remember 5 years ago a lot of clients being terrified of giving the customers the ability to post reviews online in case they posted something negative. Nowadays it's a no-brainer that product reviews will increase conversion rate and some companies have based entire businesses on collecting customer reviews (whereas others seem to have based businesses on trying to attract negative reviews).

The Human Web

The largest study done shows that the average separation between any two given Facebook users is 5.73 connections, which lands in at around the classic "6 degrees of separation". From a marketing point of view, this is a much more important concept than simply the ease of communications between different groups on the web, it's the communication within those groups.

Social groups are founded with common bonds, be it upbringing, geographic location, career, faith, interests or age, the likelihood is that your customer has a huge amount of 1st degree connections to the rest of your potential customer base.

In the mountains of research available on how people make purchase decisions, I've steadily seen "the Internet" climb up the list, usually to the number #2 position which is always behind "recommendation from friends or family". Sure, a mob of anonymous reviews on Amazon can help you make a purchase decision or alleviate fear, but it's never going to sway you as much as the family member or close friend who truly understands what you like and dislike.

A stock photo of people pretending to be best buddies

Even in its most simple form, social media integration such as the Facebook Open Graph could bring these two powerful tools of "mob review" and "friend review" together and have a huge impact on all phases on the buying cycle from awareness of need (as the purchase / review is displayed to connections), fear alleviation (a friend bought it, it must be ok) to purchase decision (I have similar need, they have done the legwork on price).

In much the same way as many companies are managing their social presence on networks, rather than trying to host their own forums and platforms, we will see integration for social discussion weaved into e-commerce sites.

Planning For The Future

While there are a lot of plates spinning from Google Merchant Centre to Facebook MarketPlace and nobody sure is how quickly a scalable Portable Identity Management solution will materialise, it is of course hard to lay concrete plans for the future. Looking at past trends, one thing you can say is that, in the end, people will always take the path of least resistance.

Not because they are lazy, but freeing up time and brain power allows you to do other things and accomplish more. Whether new ventures have been popular or not on launch, if they achieve the same and are simpler and quicker, they always eventually seem to win out.

My advice on social shopping would be:

1) If you haven't already, at least start exploring and learning how social media can affect other campaigns or parts of your business.

2) Ensure your search campaigns and social campaigns are working together, not in isolation.

3) Keep up to date with the new tools big players are offering.

4) There's some great papers and decks on social media influencing purchase decisions online in the last 12 months.

5) Make sure you consider the implications and technical requirements if you're planning on changing platform.

Comments & Discussion

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Judy • Years ago

We definitely need more smart people like you around.