Recently, I set an iPhone time limit on my social media use to "45 minutes".
I figured 45 minutes would be more than enough. Almost an hour? In between working at HubSpot, catching up with friends, and attending exercise classes, I had no doubt 45 minutes would be plenty of social media consumption.
Unfortunately, I learned pretty quickly that I actually spend 45 minutes on social media before I even get to work in the morning.
I know I'm not alone. In fact, the average daily social media use of internet users worldwide amounts to 145 minutes per day.
With all that social media consumption, it makes sense that more businesses are turning to social media to market to their audiences. But marketing is just one aspect of the buyer's journey -- what about sales? Can that be done within social media platforms, as well?
It's actually now entirely possible for businesses to sell products and services natively within social media sites.
Here, we're going to explore that very concept -- known as social commerce -- and take a look at some impressive examples of social commerce, so you can consider trying it for your own company. Additionally, we'll list some of the most popular social commerce platforms available today, so you can decide which one could give you the highest ROI.
What is social commerce?
Social commerce is the ability to purchase a product or service natively from within a social media platform like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter.
Since many businesses are marketing on these social media sites already, it makes sense to allow users to purchase from within these platforms without leaving the site at all.
Should you leverage social commerce?
If you sell physical products online, leveraging social commerce is a great way to drive sales and revenue to your business. Users are used to the native purchasing experience at this point and prefer to be able to quickly make a purchase right on the social media app.
Social commerce examples
- Social media checkout capabilities
- Social commerce plugins and apps
- Shoppable ads
- Chatbot checkout
1. Social media checkout capabilities.
One of the best examples of social commerce is the ability to click a product and checkout right from within a social media site, like Instagram or Facebook.
For instance, Instagram has a "checkout" feature on their app, which allows you to click on a product within a post, choose a size and color, and proceed to payment within the platform.
The first time you use Instagram's checkout feature, you simply need to enter your name, email, billing information, and shipping address. Once your order is complete, Instagram saves your information so you don't need to enter it the next time you shop.
Additionally, you'll receive notifications about shipping and delivery right from within Instagram, so you can also track your purchase without leaving the app.
For instance, let's take a look at what happens when I click the "View Products" button (bottom right) on one of @NikeWomen's Instagram posts:
Instagram immediately pulls up a page with all the details of every product included in the image.
Let's say I'm particularly interested in the sneakers. From within Instagram, I can choose a color and size and then click the blue "Checkout on Instagram" button. If I've shopped on Instagram before, I don't even need to re-enter my information. Pretty simple, right?
Plenty of other social networks have these checkout features, including Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
2. Social commerce plugins and apps.
As social commerce continues to rise in popularity, we'll continue to see more plugins and third-party apps emerge to make the process even more seamless for businesses and users alike.
For instance, one third-party app called Soldsie allows your followers to make a purchase on one of your products by simply typing "Sold" into the comments section of a post. Once they've commented "Sold", the app takes care of the rest, emailing the user an invoice to complete.
Soldsie notes -- "As fans comment, your sales trend on Facebook as each photo is shared with your fan's Facebook friends." For instance, if my friend comments "Sold" on a Facebook post of a cute sundress, I'll see the picture in my News Feed and might consider purchasing one for myself.
Ultimately, social commerce is a good opportunity to increase brand awareness while also increasing sales -- a win, win.
3. Shoppable ads.
Shoppable ads is another example of social commerce, and is currently available on both Instagram and Snapchat.
Simply put, shoppable ads allows businesses to tag products in an Instagram or Snapchat sponsored post, ideally creating a more efficient ad-to-purchase experience. Best of all, this type of social commerce helps businesses collect valuable data on which ads convert prospects into customers immediately.
The features you'll find on shoppable ads within both Snapchat and Instagram continue to improve -- for instance, Snapchat has advanced features on their shoppable ads, including collection ads, product catalogs, advanced pixel targeting, and 30+ new Snapchat partners.
Wish, an e-commerce app, successfully uses Snapchat's product catalog feature to create different Snap Ads and Story ads to showcase a large variety of their products, as shown below.
Shoppable ads are undeniably profitable if done well -- on Snapchat alone, FabFitFun lowered cost-per-purchase by 36%, while American Eagle increased return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) by more than 3X.
With shoppable ads, you're able to market and sell directly to your intended audience without causing friction in a user's social media experience. For instance, 73% of Snapchat users are between 18-24 years old. If this is your ideal demographic, why not try including your products or services directly within the ads you're creating on Snapchat? This allows users to find products of interest to them without needing to leave the app at all.
4. Chatbot checkouts.
One final example of social commerce that's critical to point out is chatbot checkouts -- the ability for a user to find and purchase a product by chatting with a chatbot within a social platform.
For instance, consider SnapTravel's Facebook Messenger bot, which helps people find hotel deals and book rooms right from within Messenger:
As you continue chatting with the bot, you'll receive better, more customized deals based on your requirements. Additionally, you can click "Open Filter" to further modify your search based on your criteria, and a new screen will open up right from within Messenger:
SnapTravel offers deals only available in Messenger, incentivizing users to book with the chatbot rather than on their website.
Using a chatbot to streamline your buyer's journey is particularly helpful for mobile users who want to find and purchase products on an app they already have on their phones -- like Messenger.
Top social commerce websites/platforms
Between its checkout capabilities and shoppable posts tool, Instagram is undeniably one of the most popular platforms for social commerce. Many Instagram users are already using Instagram as an opportunity to discover and purchase new products -- for instance, 80% of users use Instagram to decide whether to purchase a product or service, and 83% use it to discover new products. Since these users are already prepared to find and purchase new products, it's critical that they're given the option to buy them in-app.
People often turn to Pinterest for fashion, home decor, or beauty inspiration, so it makes sense that Pinterest would be a viable platform for social commerce. In fact, 93% of active Pinterest users said they use Pinterest to plan for purchases, and 87% said they've purchased something because of Pinterest.
Pinterest's Shop the Look Pins allows users to click on small white dots on various products within a post, and either purchase that product within the app or browse similar products. They can make purchases on both desktop and mobile.
With over two billion active users, Facebook is one of the most popular social platforms in the world, making it a good place for social commerce.
If you have a Facebook Business Page, you can set up a Facebook shop to sell your products and services directly within the social platform.
Facebook notes -- "While any business can have a shop, this feature best serves merchants, retail and e-commerce advertisers. We recommend it for businesses selling apparel, accessories (including bags and luggage), home furnishings, and baby or kids' products."
To upload your inventory to Facebook and create a shop section, you can either use a third-party ecommerce platform like BigCommerce or Shopify, or you can upload and manage your products yourself.
For further inspiration, try searching for major retailers and checking out how they've set up their Facebook shop. For instance, take a look at New Balance's Facebook shop:
Facebook shop is a fantastic opportunity for your business to reach a larger audience -- and, even if your customers don't end up purchasing your products on Facebook, having these products listed on your Facebook Business Page is a good idea for making Facebook users aware of the products you sell in-store.
Poshmark is a social commerce marketplace that allows people in the U.S. to buy or sell clothing, shoes, and accessories, either new or used. Poshmark makes the experience even more social with features like "Posh Parties", which are virtual buying and selling events that you can attend with friends.
Popular brands on Poshmark currently include Nike, Lululemon, and Chanel -- to sell on Poshmark, simply download the app and follow seller instructions from there.
Shopee, reportedly the largest online shopping platform in Southeast Asia and Taiwan, is a social commerce marketplace that enables users to buy and sell products ranging from home & living to mobile & gadgets.
Major brands on Shopee include Kleenex, L'Oréal, and Oreos. Selling on the app is easy enough -- simply verify your phone number, ensure your products aren't prohibited and click "Add New Product" on your Shopee page. With over 95,000 users on the app worldwide and a unique focus on the Asian market, Shopee is a good option for brands looking to expand their global presence.
How to Create a Social Commerce Strategy
1. Align the brand experience.
Before you can get started with a social commerce strategy, it's important to consider your brand experience and target market.
When customers make a purchase online, do they need to look at multiple pages on your website? Do they have a lot of questions? Do they usually get in touch with a sales rep?
If so, then your brand experience might not be suited for social commerce.
On the other hand, if your brand experience has a quick sales turnaround, from looking up the product to purchasing, then your product might perform well on social commerce.
It's important to make sure the brand experience is aligned with social commerce before creating a strategy.
2. Consider your target market and choose which social commerce sites to use.
Once you decide to move forward with a social commerce strategy, consider your target market and think about what social commerce sites they use.
Are your customers on Instagram and Snapchat, but not on Pinterest? In that case, you'll want to make sure you focus your social commerce efforts in the right place.
To develop a social commerce strategy, you'll first want to think about which sites you're going to focus on.
3. Decide which products to sell on social media.
Next, think about which products are best suited to be sold on social commerce sites. If your products require more time and thinking before making a purchase, then those won't fit well within a social commerce strategy.
However, some of your products might work well while others don't. This means you should consider which products you're going to focus your social commerce efforts on.
Ultimately, social commerce has the ability to eliminate friction in a user's online shopping experience, and catch users' at moments when their excitement over your products is highest.
However, it's critical you do market research to ensure you're using the right social commerce platforms or apps to reach your audience in the social spaces they frequent the most.
Additionally, remember social commerce is fundamentally social in nature -- if your business doesn't also engage and communicate with its followers, then your company won't get much out of social commerce as a long-term strategy.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.