Understanding Social Media eCommerce

Acknowledging the limitations of social media can help a company build a more effective strategy


Social media marketing has developed as rapidly as the medium itself, with almost every business understanding the need for interaction on some of the world's most-visited sites. And, as social media and eCommerce become ever more interconnected, leveraging the potential sales value of a strong social presence has never been more important.

A report by eCommerce site Shopify - who, as part of their business model, offer Facebook 'shops' - analyzed data from 37 million social media visits, from which 529,000 orders were generated. Unsurprisingly, Facebook dominates. The Californian giants account for an average of 85% of all orders from social media, with nearly two thirds of Shopify social media traffic coming from the site - 23.3 million visits. Its reach is matched by its conversion figures, with 1.85% the highest off all prominent social media sites by some distance. Given how dominant Facebook is in almost every available measure, the numbers are to be expected.

However, just as important as understanding the benefits of marrying social media with eCommerce, is appreciating its limitations. Social media is more effective for building awareness than driving purchasing. Conversation on social media very often leads to searches that in turn lead to sales, but the direct effect is extremely difficult to quantify. Conversation and sharing is, on social media as in face-to-face interaction, a sales driver, but the difficult part is proving it; social is very rarely the final link in the chain.

Google Analytics' 'assisted conversions' function - defined as 'interaction that is on the conversion path but is not the last interaction - can help marketers understand the disjointed conversion process. For example, it includes customers visiting a site from social media, not converting, but then returning later independently and converting. This type of conversion represents a bigger portion of social media sales than 'last interaction social conversions', or direct clickthrough conversions, but are difficult to quantify. A presence on social media will successfully build awareness, and having a positive social media 'personality' will lead to favour, but that alone is not enough to attract customers. In essence, social media presence should enhance a customer's shopping experience, rather than attempting to become it.

People aren't inclined to leave social media for shopping trips; the two are very separate activities. The stickiness of the sites - particularly Facebook - is a double-edged sword. The visceral comfort of social media suits killing time, commenting, idly watching auto-play videos; scroll, like, repeat. Shopping is very much an additional activity, not part of the fabric of why users are on the sites, and that should be appreciated. This is where the 'assisted social conversions' and 'conversations' that drive sales less directly become important. Social media presence should help shape opinion and generate buzz around a product or company; the conversions, however indirect, will come.

Despite the limitations, if you're not integrating social media into your eCommerce strategy, you should be. Sharing buttons, for example, should be easily accessible on your site; social media sharing is not only cheap but effective marketing, a non-intrusive recommendation from a trusted social connection.

Online reviews, too, have become essential. According to Marketing Land, 90% of respondents to a report said that online reviews influenced their purchasing decisions. Social media has made buying a more democratic, transparent process - if you are yet to deploy customer review capabilities on your site, catch up. Identify the social media networks most used by your target demographics - marketing to over 50s on Twitter (10%) is probably not worth the time or money. Some cast a wide net, but this approach often leaves social media channels underdeveloped and ineffective across the board. The sheer scale of Facebook makes it a must for any business, but following that, a more targeted approach will see a better ROI. 

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