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Social media as a sales channel: leveraging social commerce

Delve into how social media can help drive customers to your store.
A person on their smartphone with lots of social media icons and graphics super-imposed.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat and Pinterest can be sales channels for you because they create the opportunity for your target shopper to find your products and convert into customers.

Given there is so much talk about social media, it can be hard to work out where and when to use social media for your eCommerce store.

Here are six different ways you can use social media for your eCommerce store:

  1. Advertising channel: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Pinterest are advertising channels and you can use them purely as an advertising media to drive traffic to your site (see earlier in this course for more detail around this).
  2. Content channel: you can post content (eg, posts, stories, live videos, etc) and promote it with advertising or play with it more by having ‘fun’ content such as gifs, emojis or stickers. Pinterest, for example, allows users to store ideas and seek inspiration by encouraging them to organise what they find into different board names which enables users to discover and find new products they didn’t know existed until they were put in front of them – and then you know you want them! However, it is VERY important to note that hoping that your posts on Facebook are going to be found organically is a waste of time. Facebook already says that organic reach is less than 1% – it is purely an advertising and community platform.
  3. Community channel: social platforms have community management capabilities – for instance, Facebook Groups is a place to communicate about shared interests with certain people. You can create a group for anything – your family reunion, your sports team or even the products that your eCommerce store has! If you have a product with a long consideration cycle, such as technology or car parts or products that people are very passionate about, these will do well in groups. For example, golf or fashion are products that people are very passionate about and these do well in niche communities. Consider if a community will work for your products – use Facebook Groups for business as it can be used for discussion, rallying around common causes, learning about your product, getting access to exclusive knowledge. See Facebook Groups for more details.
  4. Influencer channel: social platforms are the basis of influencer partnerships and activation where your eCommerce store can borrow influence and creativity from popular or influential people on a social media platform or someone who has ‘celebrity’ to get reach and authenticity for the brand or introduce the brand with ‘borrowed interest’. We will be talking about influencers in some detail in Course 4.
  5. Shopping channel: social media channels are becoming fully-fledged shopping platforms. Each of the major social media platforms has done deals with Shopify (and some with BigCommerce) to integrate store functionality DIRECTLY into the social media application. For example, Instagram users can now shop and buy from almost anywhere on the app, be it Instagram Stories, Live or IGTV. This means that each of the social channels can be used a virtual storefront SEPARATE to your own store.
  6. Messaging channel: Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and even livechat on your eCommerce store are relatively recent additions to eCommerce. They can bring more traffic, provide customer service and, of course, turn browsers into shoppers. Messaging will be covered later this week.

Understanding social commerce

The newest feature – and probably the most exciting aspect of social media and eCommerce – is often called ‘social shopping’. Social commerce is when the sale takes place directly on a social platform.

Instead of your potential shopper starting their customer journey on social media and ending up on your eCommerce store, that journey can now be much, much shorter. Your potential shopper can go from discovering an Instagram profile they like to buying their first product from the profile without ever leaving the app. The ability to checkout directly within the social network they’re using at that moment is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Social commerce is very exciting for eCommerce store owners for a number of reasons:

  • Social commerce is really in its infancy, but will have a huge impact on the world of eCommerce and is likely to become a primary channel in the next decade.
  • The tools with social commerce are becoming more sophisticated enabling social media users to research, discover and also purchase products.
  • Social commerce reduces friction as it reduces the number of steps a shopper might need to take – it’s effectively a one-click buy now button on multiple, popular social media networks.
  • Social media is a place where people are looking for engaging content, to check on their friends, look up celebrities, or look at photos from their favourite hobby or sport. They’re there to waste time in an enjoyable way. While this means it is harder to sell high-priced items because attention rates from swiping and scrolling are low, it does give the opportunity for low-price products that are bought out of convenience or impulse.
  • If you look at the latest developments in social commerce, there is already a roadmap of what will happen as social commerce is how most eCommerce is done in China. Many of the latest developments on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have been around for years in China, including in-app purchases, buying in messaging channels, one-click same-day delivery and live shopping – the livestreaming of television-quality shopping channels. China’s top livestreaming celebrity, Viya, sold US $51 million in sales in a single day! All of the investments made by social giants like Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest are following the Chinese trends.

Take these steps right now to take advantage of social commerce:

  1. Ensure that your eCommerce store (whether it is built on Shopify, BigCommerce or WooCommerce) is integrated with a Facebook store, Instagram tags, and buyable Pinterest Pins.
  2. If you already have social media accounts set up, have shoppable posts, educational product videos, and a clear brand message. Display product tutorials and overviews from YouTube on your website to increase awareness of your products and services.
  3. The easiest way for you to showcase products on Facebook and Instagram is through Facebook Shops. Shops make it simple for you to set up a single online store that customers can access on both Facebook and Instagram. Sign up for Instagram Checkout if you are using Instagram. Instagram Checkout tags appear on feed posts, Stories and Explore content. When users tap the post to reveal product tags and open it, they see a ‘Checkout with Instagram’ button. The user is taken to a product description page after tapping on the product tag, having clicked the button, ‘View on Website’, which takes them to a dedicated product page where they can make a purchase.
  4. Consider livestreaming to show your products, step-by-step tutorials and product demonstrations. Think of Instagram TV, Facebook Live or YouTube Livestream as television shopping but on a smartphone. Use livestreaming as a virtual home-shopping network and showcase your products on the platform to allow users to make a purchase with a few taps after seeing the products showcased on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Demonstrate your product and answer questions from your digital audience in real-time.
  5. Focus on great video content, not just photos. No matter the platform or format, video is now a key driver of social commerce. Video content is hard to create – but this is where your creativity should be kicking in. Many eCommerce stores are cleverly repurposing video content from one platform to another – reusing material from Instagram Reels or TikTok, putting it on YouTube and embedding it on their eCommerce site. IGTV videos or Reels could be your way to expand reach.
  6. Ensure that you always collect an email address. Once you’ve made that sale, in the immediate follow up, grab the customer’s email address to utilise in your email marketing strategy (covered earlier in Week 1).
  7. Most important of all, keep a close eye on what the social platforms are innovating with on eCommerce. These are changing month by month and introducing creative capabilities that were impossible a few years ago. For example, TikTok introduced an in-app shopping feature in March 2021 that allows users to share links to products and automatically earn commission on any sales, even if they were not formally sponsored by the brand.

Innovations in social commerce will mean that social should be one of your main channels to get in front of potential shoppers.

Now that you have seen some of these innovations, which do you think will work for your eCommerce store? Livestreaming? In-app shopping? Facebook Groups? Can you see yourself running a livestream shopping event?

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