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Understanding and Navigating Social Commerce in a Digital World

Ryan Baum
Ryan Baum
Last updated on 
August 1, 2022
August 1, 2022
Understanding and Navigating Social Commerce in a Digital World

Understanding and Navigating Social Commerce in a Digital World

When Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and the other pioneers of social media first developed their platforms, they likely never realized the impact that they would have on ecommerce — and the world at large. Today, there are over 3.96 billion social media users across the globe, accounting for well over half of the global population. When you consider that social media users spend an average of two hours and 27 minutes a day browsing social networks, it’s easy to imagine their influence.

Recently, brands have begun to leverage social platforms for more than just marketing. Online shopping skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic, and businesses have modified their ecommerce approach to heavily incorporate social media. Businesses now use their Facebook pages and other social media profiles as social commerce platforms, allowing online shoppers to order products directly from their social media accounts. This social commerce strategy offers many benefits, enabling companies to provide their customers with a streamlined path to conversion.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about navigating social commerce, including how it works, its benefits, and proven tips for creating an effective social commerce strategy.

What is social commerce and how does it work?

Using social media to drive sales isn't a new concept: Brands have been advertising on social media since the birth of the first social media platforms. From influencer marketing to PPC ads, the options for leveraging social media as part of a digital marketing strategy are vast. 

But social commerce takes this idea a step further by enabling brands to turn their social media profiles into shoppable online stores. With social shopping, customers can browse products and make purchases directly from social media sites without having to navigate away to an ecommerce site. The convenience of social commerce has led to a rapid growth in its popularity, with the U.S. alone reporting $26.97 billion in social commerce sales in 2020.

The benefits of social commerce for businesses

No matter what your target audience is, you’ll most likely find them on social media. This is especially true for brands that target the millennial and Gen-Z demographics, with more than half of U.S. shoppers aged 18-34 having made purchases via a social channel.

In other words, potential customers are a lot more likely to find your social media profiles before your ecommerce website. In the past, the goal of social media marketing was to direct these social media users off-platform to a website where they could make a purchase. Thanks to social commerce, shoppers can now purchase products directly from their favorite social media platforms without navigating to the brand’s website. This streamlines and optimizes the buying process, and can potentially generate a lot more sales than the traditional ecommerce model.

Social commerce also improves customer engagement and thus improves your customers’ online shopping experience. Social media makes it easy for customers to engage with your brand via comments, direct messaging, and mentions. Selling directly from social media platforms enables retailers to take advantage of these opportunities for engagement in order to create a more customer-centric shopping experience.

Finally, social commerce often provides better customer insights. Since the beginning, one of the biggest social media value propositions is the wealth of information they collect from their users. Metrics such as impressions, engagement, and reach are readily available, making it easy to A/B test various content and other elements of your social commerce strategy.

How to get started with social commerce

If your business doesn’t already have a social media presence, the thought of building profiles from scratch may seem daunting. However, the process is fairly straightforward — although it does require some time and patience. We’ll break it down into four steps:

  • Step 1: Choose your platforms. First, create profiles on the social media platforms you wish to leverage. There are several high-traffic, mainstream platforms to choose from, but if you’re new to social media, you’re better off choosing one or two to start with. Focus your efforts on just a couple of platforms rather than trying to cover all your bases at once.
  • Step 2: Grow your audience. Once you choose the platforms you want to start with, you need to build your audience. It's much easier to generate sales when your content reaches thousands of users versus a few dozen, so focus on building an audience of engaged followers before you worry about how to generate social commerce sales.
  • Step 3: Set up shop. Next, you need to set up your social commerce shops. This process varies from platform to platform. Instagram, for instance, allows you to create an Instagram shopping feed with shoppable posts. These allow customers to browse images of your products and purchase them with a single click. Facebook, meanwhile, offers a feature called Facebook Shops where you can create a storefront optimized for mobile devices. Facebook Shops also connects your store with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger for streamlined customer support.
  • Step 4: Start marketing and selling. The final step is to start marketing and selling your products using proven social media marketing practices and leveraging provided metrics to fine-tune your approach. By staying on top of social commerce trends and experimenting with new marketing, sales, and customer support tactics, you can turn your brand's social media profiles into profit-generating storefronts.

The most popular social commerce platforms

We mentioned above that there are plenty of social media platforms that allow for social commerce. While we don’t recommend trying to focus on all of them at once, it's certainly nice to know your options. With that in mind, below are some of the most popular social commerce platforms for businesses of all sizes.

1) Instagram

Instagram is an image-centric social media platform that boasts 1.39 billion active users. A staggering 31.7% of Instagram users are 25-34 years old, making it one of the most popular platforms for millennials. For social commerce, Instagram offers a number of tools and features including shoppable posts, shoppable Stories, and a shoppable Instagram feed.

2) Facebook

With 2.93 billion monthly active users, Facebook remains the largest social media platform in the world. Nearly 54% of Facebook users are aged 35 or older, making this social media platform geared toward a slightly older audience than other platforms. With Facebook Shops, brands can create a fully customizable storefront on Facebook and import a product catalog from their existing ecommerce site.

3) TikTok

TikTok is one of the newer social media platforms, but it's also one that has exploded in popularity, boasting 1 billion monthly active users as of 2021. 80% of TikTok users are aged 16-34, making TikTok a great platform for reaching millennial and Gen-Z customers. Last year, TikTok unveiled TikTok Shopping — a social commerce feature that allows brands to create a shop tab on their profile and import their product catalog so that users can purchase products within the app.

4) Pinterest

As of 2022, Pinterest had 433 million worldwide monthly active users, with users aged 25-34 accounting for 37.4% of this total. While Pinterest doesn't offer the same degree of social commerce features as many platforms, Pinterest does allow business users to create product pins and catalogs that direct to their ecommerce site's checkout page. Pinterest is unique in that it has been used as a shopping inspiration tool for a long time, so the transition to social commerce doesn’t seem too far fetched. In fact, 80% of Pinterest users report that they have discovered a new product or brand on the platform.

5) Snapchat

One part messaging tool and one part social media platform, Snapchat has a little over 464 million monthly active users, and 39.6% of Snapchat users fall into the 18-24 age range. Snapchat allows business accounts to create a Snapchat shop where users can purchase products directly within the app. But perhaps the most innovative and exciting social commerce feature that Snapchat has unveiled is augmented reality (AR) shopping — a feature that allows users to "try on" products such as clothing using an AR filter.

6) YouTube

Many might not think of YouTube as a social media platform, but it meets all the criteria. With 2.6 billion monthly active users, YouTube is second only to Facebook in terms of audience size. The average age of YouTube users is in the mid-20s, but the platform is popular among older demographics as well — 51% of U.S. adults 75 years and older use YouTube regularly. Recently, YouTube has unveiled a variety of social commerce features, including product tags and shippable live streams.

Tips for optimizing your social media strategy for ecommerce

While the exact social commerce tools and features that you will have available will vary between platforms, there are a number of tips for optimizing your social commerce strategy that apply regardless of which platform you choose. If you want to start generating more sales directly on social media, here are the top strategies to employ:

Build a strong online community

If you can build a large audience of engaged followers, other elements of your social commerce strategy will come easier. This is why growing your audience should be your primary focus before you even begin to start importing products and setting up your shop. But keep in mind that size alone is not the only factor that defines a valuable social media following. Engagement is highly important as well, and it’s essential to ensure that you provide your audience with engaging, informative, and entertaining content to keep them coming back for more.

Measure feedback

Most social media platforms provide plenty of tools for gauging your audience's response to your content — and you want to take advantage of these tools. Measuring audience feedback allows you to pinpoint the type of content that your followers respond to best so that you can develop a social media strategy that is optimized for both engagement and sales.

Create a seamless customer experience

The primary reason why social commerce has become so popular is its ease and convenience. To create a seamless social commerce experience for your customers, make sure that your social media shops are well organized, easy to navigate, and populated with working links. 

It's also a good idea to incorporate customer support features within your social commerce shops, such as using Facebook Messenger as a customer support channel for your Facebook shop customers.

Want to learn more about creating a great customer experience on social media? Read our guides to social media for Twitter and Instagram, and learn how Gorgias can help you with social media customer service.

Integrate social sharing buttons into your website

Directing social media followers to your ecommerce is one great way to leverage social media marketing, but the reverse is true as well. Integrating social sharing buttons into your website enables those who discover products on your website to share their discoveries with their social media followers, further growing your brand awareness and expanding its reach.

Schedule your posts and post at the peak times

It's easy to understand how a post published at 3 a.m. (when the majority of your audience is sound asleep) probably won’t get the same engagement as a post published at 7 p.m. According to data from HubSpot, the afternoon hours are the peak times for social media posts, with most platforms experiencing peak traffic between 6-9 p.m. HubSpot also finds that Saturday tends to be the best day of the week to publish social posts, while Monday is the worst.

The future of social commerce

We are already seeing glimpses of what the future holds for social commerce. For one, social commerce seems to be here to stay — most major social media companies have made substantial investments in their social commerce features and tools. These new features enable brands to create a more integrated and seamless social commerce experience for their customers. Moreover, customers enjoy the convenience of being able to browse products, make a purchase decision, contact customer support, and more directly within their favorite social media apps.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are both poised to play a major role in the future of social commerce as well. Snapchat's AR filters for shopping is one example of what this might look like, but the possibilities are endless. Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, recently unveiled plans to create the “metaverse” — a VR-powered world that might remind you of the book “Ready Player One.” In the metaverse, social media users will be able to interact with one another, play games, and shop for products within a virtual world.

Moving forward, it’s important for brands to stay on top of social commerce trends. This allows businesses to identify opportunities to be early adopters of new features that will go on to shape the future of social commerce.

Related: Our list of the best Shopify apps for social media.

Use Gorgias to take your social commerce strategy to the next level

If you’re looking for tools to provide your social media shoppers with seamless customer support, Gorgias can help. With Gorgias, you can effortlessly turn your social media profiles into customer support channels via both live chat support and AI-powered chatbots. Best of all, Gorgias compiles all of your social media messages and mentions into one user-friendly dashboard, making it easy to manage multiple accounts from a single location. 

To learn more about how Gorgias empowers a seamless social commerce experience, check out this article on our top ecommerce integrations!

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