Most social networks, even though they're fundamentally changing the way and scale in which people interact, still cling to the old idea of making money: Make something really cool, then interrupt it just enough with ads that people don't stop using your site entirely. MySpace was one extreme - so ad laden in its early days that it was almost unusable. Twitter, on the other hand, is going the other direction entirely.
Despite the ever changing landscape of social and ecommerce, not a single social network has yet to pair the two in a smooth and seamless experience. Current options range from Facebook custom apps to Pinterest Rich Pins, but neither, respectively, are simple or consistent. Though multiple attempts have been made to mimic a natural experience, as it stands today, no platform provides native “social purchasing.”
Social Purchasing in a Nutshell
The idea of social purchasing has been around for quite some time. The current approach simply defines it as a social platform driving sales. With a few snippets of code and detailed analytics, online merchants can easily track conversions that are steered from most sources, including social media. But this is not true social purchasing. Marketers and retailers alike have dreamed of the day when a consumer can checkout with ease from a Pin or Tweet. Similarly, APIs such as Facebook Connect have infiltrated shopping carts to make a buyer’s journey quicker and easier (aka the sweet spot to conversion). But even with custom configurations and shopping cart integrations, this approach favors an e-commerce experience and not a social one.
Enter Twitter + Stripe
Recent buzz speculates that Twitter may soon be the new owner of payment platform Stripe. This announcement comes at the heels of some distressing data for Twitter: Pinterest-driven revenue was 4 times that of Twitter in 2013. When you consider Pinterest’s momentous gains, Twitter stands to lose serious ground (and money!) in the social purchasing wars as Pinterest is much better positioned to monetize the presences retailers already have on their site. Twitter has also struggled in 2013 with financial loss prior to its public offering, though Q3 revenues have nearly doubled. Acquiring a payment platform opens a new revenue stream, and could kick start interest all around from retailers, marketers, and consumers. This translates to more targeted users, higher engagement, increased conversions, and further monetization.
Now, let’s be clear: Twitter wasn’t exactly built with commerce in mind, but their developers have worked steadily over the years on features that make sense for the social media giant. They have the rare gift to take existing ideas and retool them successfully for the platform; trending topics, promoted tweets, and Vine are all great examples. Moreover in 2013, Twitter has focused on marketing-centric features that could assist in building an ecommerce infrastructure. Twitter Cards capture emails and other custom information with one user-authorized click from a Tweet, and high impact photos now display within the feed and timeline. Couple these with Stripe and you have a winning combo for ecommerce revolution.
What This Means for Ecommerce and Social Media
Advancements such as those mentioned seem small in the grand scheme of things, but it’s exactly these incremental changes that could propel Twitter to ecommerce stardom. Traditional ecommerce relies on email marketing, display advertising, organic SEO, and even social network pushes to reel customers into a central website. These tried-and-true methods will always remain a part of an ecommerce strategy, but with the addition of an enhanced method for directly monetizing social engagements. Marketers know the best way to convert leads is to offer good content (a product), provide an intuitive experience to access said content (ecommerce platform), and deliver that content seamlessly (shopping cart/logistics). Twitter + Stripe blends all three steps, with an added benefit of social reach to potentially influence other shoppers within Twitter, natively. Add increased mobile traffic to the equation and boom! A new unified approach: The Social Ecommerce Platform.
Of course, there are several hurdles Twitter must combat to make ecommerce successful within their platform:
Security: With large retailers such as Target experiencing compromised systems, there may be initial apprehension from consumers to purchase via Twitter.
Privacy: While consumers are willing to give their info to retailers through a website, they seem less-than-enthusiastic to hand their information over to social media networks, despite apparent gain.
Mobile: Twitter Cards tackle the transaction, but how will a user input their information on the mobile web or mobile app prior to the transaction? Will the experience be identical to the desktop? Will it be simplified?
Influx of Ads and Spam: No one wants their feed to be cluttered with advertisements. Twitter should develop best practices, or perhaps like Instagram, initially control the flow of offered products to counter overflow of ads and the huge potential for spam. Another possibility: a product must be a promoted tweet. Although not in the same context, this strategy seems to be working all right for Facebook.
Similarly, marketers must also take into consideration where the consumer is at in the buying cycle when developing a social e-commerce policy. If a retailer can nurture them through purchase, then SOCIAL brand advocacy will be much easier with a tweet instantly available.
Why Ecommerce, Why Now?
Some data may suggest that display ads are becoming less effective. This news isn’t all that shocking when you consider how often people are bombarded with ads of all varieties, and often times, ads are not native and highly intrusive. Though Twitter isn’t abandoning display ads, securing a new revenue stream still benefits their bottom line, especially when you examine the increase in online purchasing year-to-year. Black Friday sales were up 19% from 2012, and poised for larger growth in 2014. Integrating e-commerce is a win-win for Twitter. It gives the network a well-needed edge over other platforms, notably Pinterest.
It could take some time before Stripe is fully integrated and an ecommerce strategy is developed, but rumor of the purchase sends an unmistakable message throughout the tech community: Twitter is taking lead nurturing and ecommerce very seriously. Along with some strong data to support the rise of social purchasing, no one can afford to ignore the growing social audience.