What We Mean by ‘Social Commerce’ Needs to Change; Let’s Clarify the Definition
There aren’t many conversations I have where I’m not asked a variation of this question: “What’s the future of social commerce look like?”
Before I even answer, though, I level-set on what social commerce means. The term “social commerce,” it seems, has become shorthand for “making an Instagram feed shoppable.” And so I spend a lot of time redefining that term.
Brands are increasingly turning to Instagram (and other social channels) as a customer acquisition source. And for good reason — there are billions of people on social media today.
Save a minor blip when it rolled out a horizontal feed to users for less than an hour, Instagram has the user experience dialed in. More than 500 million people use Stories every day, 200 million people visit the Explore tab on a daily basis, and time spent on the app continues to grow.
But it’s not just Instagram's size. In late 2016, Instagram introduced shopping posts and Stories, and that changed the way people thought about the intersection of shopping and social. Given Instagram’s size and the prevalence of shopping posts, it makes sense that a lot of brands have equated social commerce with making an Instagram feed shoppable. The problem with that definition, however, is that Instagram's native product posts contribute just a fraction of a brand's overall social commerce revenues. In fact, for many of the brands we work with, less than 5 percent of their social commerce revenues come from traffic referred by Instagram's native product posts.
So where's the rest coming from? Social content, not just social traffic.
And that content is created by multiple people (e.g., customers, influencers, and brands themselves) across multiple channels, including on Facebook and Pinterest (as well as Instagram).
The shift that social commerce requires is not only thinking about ways to drive more engagement and more traffic from social, but also taking those highly engaging videos and images from social and reusing them to inspire consumers across any touchpoint.
One of the great joys of shopping is stumbling across a great find. Inspiring consumers is core to the shopping experience. Offline, brands and retailers have been doing this for decades. But online, this is much harder to come by. Reviews help you determine if a product you’re actively considering is right for you. Recommendations attempt to surface products that you might enjoy, but often do so in such a restrictive way that you’re often presented with more of the same. True inspiration encourages someone to lean back and browse.
This browse-based experience is how we experience social. We thumb through a feed of images and videos created by brands, influencers and our friends, occasionally stopping on something that catches our eye. What if this thumb-stopping content existed in e-commerce environments?
It can. Whether that content is brought to your site, your email, your app, your influencer activations, or your ads, there’s no shortage of content-hungry consumer placements that could benefit from an inspirational layer. And when brands bring inspirational content to commerce, comprehensively, we see their social commerce revenue grow massively.
The use cases are are plenty, but the core benefits are consistent: driving return on investment, growing community, and inspiring customers.
Parachute Chief Marketing Officer Luke Droulez talked recently about how the home decor brand has tapped into this realization and where social commerce fits into its overall strategy: “In the same way stores represent the fabric of a neighborhood, we wanted to create areas like our blog, like our social media presence that create online communities where people could look for inspiration, where people could see real people buy this. That this is meant [as] accessible luxury without saying those words.”
It may sound like an overly obvious distinction to say that social channels such as Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are sources of content as well as channels, but Droulez’s quote highlights what that begins to look like in practice.
Customers are proud of their brand associations and show off those associations through the content they share on Instagram. Encouraged by brands, they’re tagging that content, helping expand that brand’s reach and further shaping the lifestyle narrative that so many brands are investing in today. This user-generated content is increasingly being leveraged by brands and retailers.
But it doesn’t stop there. Every brand on Instagram is, by definition, investing in social content as well. By creating content to share with their audience and leveraging influencers to do so on their behalf, brands end up with a large repository of compelling content that traditionally goes no further than social. The strongest brands today are realizing that the lifestyle content they’re producing for social is highly effective wherever it’s used. Therefore, they’re integrating that content into all their consumer touchpoints.
When viewed through that lens, Instagram becomes much more valuable than a place to distribute content and pay for reach. It’s value also lies in rethinking how to use it as a content source.
If we can all agree that social commerce is a lot bigger than making an Instagram feed shoppable, the answer about what the future of social commerce looks like is all about leveraging social for not only its audiences, but also for what fundamentally fuels social — content.
Apu Gupta is the co-founder and CEO of Curalate, the leading social commerce company with offices in Philadelphia, New York, Seattle, and London.
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Apu Gupta is the co-founder and CEO of Curalate, the leading Social Commerce company with offices in Philadelphia, New York, Seattle, and London. Prior to launching Curalate, Apu was COO & CMO at MedPlus Health Services. Under his leadership, MedPlus raised $25MM in venture funding and became the second largest pharmacy chain in India. Apu was also an early employee of WebEx from its Series A through IPO. Apu holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas, Austin and a MBA from the Wharton School of Business. Apu has been recognized as an E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year in the Emerging Entrepreneur category and is a Fellow in the Aspen Institute's Henry Crown Fellowship program.