The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world in ways we are only just understanding. In many regions of the world retailers are on pause, wondering when their outlets will reopen at scale and asking themselves how they can give their community access to their products. Savvy marketers are looking into all options to keep their audience engaged and their business growing. And while there are several options on the table, there’s just one that can enable brands to tie engagement to actual business in this difficult time. Social commerce.

Social commerce enables brands to sell products directly via social media platforms. In today’s business environment, selling via social media holds a lot of appeal, as more people are spending time on social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and more people are already accustomed to buying online. Where social commerce differs from social media marketing is that instead of directing users to an online store, brands can offer users the ability to purchase products directly within the social network. While it’s still early days for the social commerce ecosystem, it’s clear that the leading platforms are getting “commerce-ready”. Already today 60% of Instagram users say they find new products on Instagram and last year the platform launched Instagram Shopping for selected brands, giving business an immersive storefront for people to discover and explore products as well as a link from which purchases can be made. It won’t be long until these features are available to all, which means brands need to be preparing for social commerce today.

The world of retail is made for social selling. Many retailers already have an ecommerce platform, which means they are already fully digitalised. They have often already understood the importance of using social media for product awareness, for engaging their audience and for customer care. All they need is to build a solid plan for how to drive the complete customer journey, from product discovery, to purchase via social media.

Any brand looking to make the move into social commerce needs to make sure they understand their audience and where that audience is most engaged. For example, fashion and beauty brands have a good home on Instagram, where the highly visual nature of the platform makes it the perfect place for users to engage with their content. While interior decoration brands may find that they see most engagement on Pinterest. Once the brand has ascertained on which platform(s) their audience is most engaged, it’s time to start thinking about the kind of content that resonates best with them. Each audience is made up of different personas and understanding these personas is crucial when it comes to building a customised social commerce campaign.

The next step is to create customised marketing strategies for each platform. Social media isn’t a game of one size fits all and nor is social commerce. Once brands have captured the attention of their customer on social media, they need to make sure their offer is enticing and to make sure it’s an offer that the customer can only find on the platform. Only by customising campaigns for each platform and for each persona will brands see the best results with social commerce.

Let’s get something straight - much like with influencer marketing - brands who aren’t developing a social commerce strategy will eventually get left behind. That’s not to say that brands need to stop investing in their website or other owned media today and focus everything on social. Instead they need to start working to find a way to marry their owned media with the reach, engagement and simple purchase process afforded by social media. For over a decade consumers have used social media to learn about brands and products, to interact with them and find inspiration. Today, social commerce means users can discover, interact with and engage to purchase a product on social media, the last click bringing them to an integrated e-commerce shop. Tomorrow, social media will be able to offer consumers a frictionless buying experience too, without ever leaving the platform.

Today the brands that are succeeding in social commerce are the ones that understand that engaging in two-way communication between brand and customer is the right way to drive customers to check out. By posting appealing content, there is a greater likelihood that their audience will interact with it, by liking, sharing and leaving comments. Burberry is an example of a savvy brand using social media to not only engage their community, but to drive concrete purchases via their ecommerce platform. By posting attractive photos of their products on Facebook and Instagram along with a link to where the product can be purchased, Burberry is using social media to drive customers down the funnel. Not only does the brand post pictures, but they also leverage bite-sized videos to bring their products to live. This is a smart move as video is a highly engaging format.

In times of crisis, marketers should stop and take stock of where they are investing their time and resources. Crisis can present an opportunity to think differently and change tactics in order to come out stronger. We know that users are purchasing more via smartphone than ever before. A huge 79% of smartphone users have made a purchase using their smartphone in the last 6 months. Plus, today social media platforms have the tools to manage customer care and community management. So why not take advantage of the reach and of the infrastructure they offer? I would urge marketers who aren’t already using social commerce to start considering if and how it could serve them and their business. By marketing smartly today, businesses are safeguarding the revenue of tomorrow. In a time where more and more purchases happen online, social commerce might well be the answer marketers have been searching for.

By Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO at Socialbakers

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