Social Commerce

Doctor Digital, someone told me the other day I should be exploiting social commerce in my small business, but I don't really know what that is?

Doctor Digital Says

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Social commerce basically refers to the capacity to buy products or services (but usually products) directly from the brand's social media channel. This type of friction free convergence of social media scrolling and instant purchasing has been a natural evolution of how we use social media, and if your brand and your audience are actively on socials, it could be a great way for you to convert your likes and comments into sales. This market is exploding with Hootsuite forecasting it will be worth $604.5b (US dollars) in the next 7 years.

If you're at all confused about the difference with social commerce and e-commerce, the latter refers to a shopping experience via a website or dedicated branded app. Social commerce, by definition, is allowing the customer to make their purchase within their social media experience. Social commerce is not e-commerce. Social commerce is also not social selling. Social selling refers to cultivating relationships on social media in order to build your sales prospect list. But more about that in another blog post.

Social media already accounts for a significant proportion of the way consumers research and evaluate their future purchases. The hook with social commerce is there is less time to abandon the sale or get distracted as there are less clicks and actions to take. You're on a social media site, doing your research, you see a product, you click buy now and you are there. If you are on a smartphone enabled with all your credit details stored conveniently, the process is swift, and you can instantly share your new find with friends and followers to continue on the purchasing celebrations.

Before we dive into the channels and what they offer, let's have a look at the strategic side of social commerce. Like anything you invest time and effort into in your business, there has to be a solid, evidence-based and validated reason for what you choose. Expectations of massive growth in social commerce is meaningless if your customers are all retail-based IRL and don't use social media.

You need to know what your customers want, how they like to shop, where and when they like to shop, and that they are already using social media actively, using online shopping actively, comfortable with transacting on social media channels, and would be likely to buy, share and excitedly endorse once a purchase is over. If this describes your customers, then they are primed to embrace a move by your brand to social commerce.

If not, then you need to work out how many barriers exist to getting your customers to this point, and will the investment in educating them to get there be worth the outcome. It might be a very small leap to add in a social commerce facility to your existing social media platforms, it might not. You need to know this level of detail, as your time and money is precious, and deeply understanding your customers is the best way to minimise wasting either of these resources.

With an incredible wealth of customer data available through social media analytics, you’ve got a prime opportunity to tweak and target your advertising. Those finely nuanced demographics built from the trillions of data points that social media giants collect about our shopping habits really pay dividends here, offering the chance to get specific, ready-to-buy products in front of the specific people who would love them, in a way that traditional e-commerce and marketing just can't.


Social commerce is offered currently by Facebook and Instagram, and kind of by Pinterest, and coming soon by Snapchat. Let's look at each of these options in more detail. As Facebook owns Instagram, these two channels are the primary channels that social commerce is taking place on. They are also where an enormous amount of social media users already are, and unsurprisingly, the users have really embraced the convenience of this convergence on these channels.

You have to set up your Facebook shop through your Facebook business page. The shop is accessible from your Facebook Page, your Instagram profile, your Instagram Shopping ads, or shoppable stories and post. When it’s conversion time, you’ve got the option for your customers to do an in-app checkout, or open up a direct Messenger chat with your business. You can also send them to your website.

If you are using Instagram, you have to set up your shop in Facebook, which might be a catch for those people who only use Instagram rather than Facebook, but for many businesses, there is already an enmeshment with Facebook's advertising services, messaging and Instagram, and this is expected from Facebook to maximise their data gathering. To get your Instagram Shop set up, you just need to live in an eligible region and have an Instagram Business account that’s connected to a Facebook page. You also need to comply with Instagram’s commerce policies and merchant agreement. It’s also worth noting that Instagram Shops can only sell products not services.

Pinterest doesn't explicitly have social commerce set up, but in their business accounts you can have Product Pins which work in the same way of taking a customer directly to a sales point, but it is outside the Pinterest app. Given the power of Pinterest as a channel that people aspirationally save their future purchases to, and do research on them, having product pins for your key products means that when people are ready to strike, you are waiting with a seamless transaction for them. Snapchat is also preparing for social commerce, they currently have a Beta version of Brand Profiles with native stores attached, but currently only for limited mega brands (think Kardashian and Jenner) but will expand imminently.

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It wouldn't be a Doctor Digital blog post if there wasn't some contraindications to this promising diagnosis of it raining money from your social media accounts. Currently the demographics that work really well for social commerce skew towards 18 - 34 year olds who tend to be the most active online shoppers, so if this is your demographic, that is a win.

Social commerce like social media is not a set and forget situation. You need to approach social commerce with the same spirit of engagement, you need to be online to stimulate conversation, get followers to endorse your products, you need to be price competitive, and create a sense of urgency and excitement around your products. You also need to have your supply side and logistics organised to be able to deal with the influx of new customers, and be aware of pack and postage costs esp for international customers.

Finally, remember about all the eggs in one basket. While the future of social commerce is strong, the intermediary for this transaction is currently Facebook, a company with a track record of changing its algorithm and its policies while owning all your data. A highly functional e-commerce website that you own is going to mean you have a safe place to sell your goods and own the data in-house. That doesn't mean you shouldn't embrace social commerce, if your customers are there then it is a definite place to explore, but remember to spread your risk so if there is an issue, you don't get caught without any capacity to recover.

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