January 13, 2022

Social Commerce: What it is & How to Use it Effectively

By Kelly Shelton / Brand Growth

Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter—they’re not only a way we connect to the world and pass the time, they’re also part of an invaluable ecosystem that every brand in the world should be paying attention to right now: social commerce.

What is social commerce?

Social commerce is the use of social media platforms to buy and sell products or services. Think about platforms like Instagram or Facebook Shops that allow you to purchase products from a brand right in-feed—that is social commerce. A wider social commerce definition, for our purposes, is that social commerce is the use of social media to introduce products to consumers, increase brand awareness, improve customer experience, and market a brand.

When did social commerce start and why is it taking off now?

Social media has been a growing channel for brands for about a decade, but social commerce as we currently understand it began about three years ago. It has grown in popularity in part due to global changes in the way people shop.

At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, in-person shopping opportunities were severely limited as consumers felt unsafe to purchase products in stores. This, combined with increased traffic on social media apps, made social channels ripe for ecommerce development, and many brands took advantage of that.

In 2020, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest all launched updates to their social commerce tools that streamlined the purchasing process during the pandemic, making it easier than ever for consumers to research, engage with, and purchase products from brands.

How is social ecommerce different from other ecommerce or marketplaces?

When people go to marketplaces like Amazon or Walmart, they’re specifically looking to purchase products. When they go to apps like Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok, they’re not primarily there to shop. In fact, they’re not usually there to shop at all. They’re scrolling to connect with friends and family, to see what’s happening in the world, to browse and to be entertained.

While that means that conversion rates are typically much lower on social media platforms than on marketplaces, the opportunities to provide engaging customer experiences and raise brand awareness are higher. Social commerce is the new ecommerce content marketing.

Another notable difference between social commerce and other marketplaces is in how targeting works. A marketplace or website is limited in showing you what keywords and products customers are most interested in based on the searches they’re making. By design, social media platforms give brands far more personalized information about their customers, like what age range is most interested in a product, the kinds of products and activities they like, and the things they don’t like.

Why does social commerce matter for your brand?

Internet users are no longer turning to their computers first to access online content. Currently, over 50% of all Internet traffic comes from mobile devices, and the easiest applications to access on mobile devices are social media apps.

As of 2021, there are 4.48 billion people using social media worldwide, and 93.3% of those social media users are currently active on a social media platform. In addition to connecting with friends and browsing for fun, social media users are spending their time seeing and engaging with brands on these platforms, and in many cases, making purchases based on the products showing up in their feed.

Therefore, social media has become one of the most consistent places for brands to connect with a large swath of their consumer base and reach new shoppers, too.

The benefits social commerce

Virality: The viral nature of social media means there are plentiful opportunities to grow a brand. Today, a brand can get a product into the hands of the right influencer on apps like TikTok and Instagram and watch sales for that product skyrocket as consumers see, engage with, and share that influencer’s post. The more engagement a brand gets on social media—likes, reshares, comments, follows, etc.—the more exposure they can receive from new customers, essentially creating digital foot traffic to their business.

Social proof: Another benefit of social commerce is that you can provide your customers with more social proof that your product does what you say it does. Social commerce builds on the importance of reviews because it gives users another avenue to share their experiences with a product, either by posting about their experiences or leaving comments in your feed. A good 76% of people say they trust online reviews as much as recommendations from family and friends, and social media is a great place to share/incorporate those reviews to build trust in your brand.

Loyalty: Social commerce allows you to build a following, and once you have a core following of loyal fans, you can activate them as brand ambassadors, offer rewards, host giveaways, and get them involved in other activation experiences that can extend your brand reach even further.

Audience targeting: The targeting we mentioned earlier? That’s another one of the biggest pros about social commerce. Because data collected by social apps is so specific, a brand can know absolutely that they’re putting their ads in front of the right audience. It allows brands to exponentially grow by going to their customers rather than waiting for customers to come to them, and it isn’t very expensive. Brands can get very targeted with their paid ads and find success on a small scale. Plus the information available about audiences can help you create marketing specifically for the buyer.

Truthfully, there are very few downsides to improving your social commerce strategy. The biggest is that it can take a lot of work to create a solid and efficient strategy.

Tips on how to use social commerce to your advantage

Here are a few things we’d recommend at Pattern.

Use a mixture of paid ad and organic strategies

As you craft a solid strategy for social commerce, you’ll want to consider both a paid ad strategy that gets your product in front of the right audience and an organic strategy across different social channels.

Paid ads or sponsored posts can be a powerful way to promote and build your brand in social spaces. Meanwhile, a strong organic strategy can engage potential customers with interesting and relatable content that makes them want to follow your brand, and it doesn’t have to be spendy—you might send products to consumers to unbox and share, for example, or add a humorous flair to your copy that keeps people interested.

Work with an influencer

A single influencer can change your business. By working with engaging social media influencers in your vertical—whether that be home goods, beauty products, appliances, or any other type of product—you can introduce potentially thousands of new customers to your brand and brand story. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either—brands are finding more success with micro influencers than with macro influencers.

You can learn more about how to use influencers in your social commerce through our Influencer Marketing Report.

Incorporate reviews and how tos

Similar to an Amazon listing, a social channel can be a great space to introduce your consumers to how a product works and what they can expect if they make a purchase. Sharing customer reviews and experiences on social media is one great way to do that.

Get to know your followers

Social media followers are your best source for feedback to improve your customer experience, and there are so many things you can do to build and maintain a relationship with them on social. In addition to sharing their experiences with your brand, engage with them in comments and provide them with a memorable customer service experience so they know you care about them.

Be authentic and focus on quality

Likes and follows aren’t the end all be all to a successful social strategy. You also want your brand to be authentic and provide quality content that customers find value in. Be a little funny, find creative ways to tell your brand story (video is one space where brands are seeing significant opportunities for growth), and publish worthwhile content your followers will find value in and want to share. The key is to be who you are and don’t over-promote.

The future of social commerce

Social commerce isn’t going away soon, but it does face certain challenges. While the use of social media to market content has grown exponentially, direct payment through social apps has been slower to stick. Customers still prefer purchasing through D2C websites or Amazon, but options like Facebook Pay are gaining momentum.

One big obstacle facing social commerce are regulations that impact social platforms’ tracking capabilities. The iOS 14 update on Apple alone, which allows users to opt out of having their data tracked, has had a significant negative impact on ad targeting and thus performance across Facebook and Instagram. In the future, we anticipate more and more companies will have privacy policies that limit the targeting, tracking, and retargeting functionality that’s delivered such outstanding results for businesses in the past. Social apps and brands may have to adapt and reinvent how they collect information to get similar results.

That said, the future looks exciting. With Facebook—and parent company Meta’s—emphasis on virtual reality, we could see VR incorporated into the buying experience 3-5 years from now, revolutionizing social commerce even further.

How Pattern can help you with your social commerce

Pattern makes a great partner for brands looking to either build their social presence from the ground up or just excel on the social channels they’re already on. Our team can help you grow your following, enhance your customer experience, build dynamic creative content and ads that engage your fans, connect you with influencers, and much more. To learn more, contact us today.

More Resources
Influencer Marketing Report: How to use influencers to acquire new customers on marketplaces