Allen Bonde on Shared Experiences Making Social Commerce Click

headshot for STAllen Bonde is co-founder and CMO of Offerpop, a new social marketing apps company, and Managing Director of Evoke CRM, his consultancy. His passion for online marketing and e-commerce started at McKinsey and Yankee Group way back in 1996. Join his conversation on Twitter on @abonde.

It’s clear that there are a lot of moving parts and stages in moving from “hey that’s cool” social media to “wow look at all those orders” social commerce. In fact last time I presented some thoughts on how to take a programmatic approach using a maturity model framework to assess where you are and take practical steps to evolve your various social marketing programs. But as I’ve been socializing this approach, looking at what’s been happening in the marketplace, and thinking about what we are learning from the promotions our customers are running, a couple questions keep coming to mind.

First: What types of products are best suited for this approach? And if we see a successful social campaign for selling eBooks or music, what does that say (or not) about promoting and selling other things on social channels.

Second: What’s the core, emotional driver that makes viral campaigns go viral, and social commerce turn discussions and sharing into deals and orders.

I was reading a great piece by Om Malik on Apple’s thinking behind Ping and how relationships are formed around music or movies we love. And how social discovery feeds purchases, which feed discussions, and so on. This addresses some of the second question. But what if you’re not selling music downloads or you don’t have the reach of Apple or Amazon or Groupon?

In addition to thinking of items that have a lot of options/wide selection (and are generally small-ticket purchases), the key is picking products that involve a shared experience. And then structuring social campaigns that make it easy to participate and actually share that experience. It’s also critical to shorten the path between the engagement part and the conversion part, perhaps by using some of the tactics and capabilities in our maturity model. And finally, a great thing about online commerce and social media is that you can experiment with different offers and creative and get real-time feedback.

So, what are some of the products (beyond music and movies) that seem to fit social commerce the best? Here’s a starter list and some early/related examples:

Books and eBooks – Amazon is certainly one of the merchants that should be leading the way in social commerce, especially as an early innovator in recommendations. But arguably upstarts like Kobo (a customer) and campaigns such as its “tweet about your favorite books” giveaway, which attracted almost 4,000 entries and reached half a million users on Twitter, are even better examples.

Travel – Delta recently opened its Delta Ticket Window on Facebook which allows you to book and share your travel plans with friends, and I expect others to follow. For a community play, TripAdvisor could be the model with its huge volume of user-generated content and slick ratings systems, especially as the gaps between content, community and commerce continue to close.

Fashion – We all know about the The Gap campaign with Groupon, and everyone by now knows about Zappos (anyone else tired of hearing their story at this point?). But other brands are tapping Facebook and Twitter as well. In April Levi’s opened its Friends Store which makes liberal use of the Like button to track style preferences. On Twitter, we are seeing similar potential, but more for private sales and contests (similar to Kobo example). We hope to share results from initial campaigns shortly.

Consumer Tech – As of last December Dell has said it’s promotions on Twitter had generated more than $6.5 million in sales. While in the brick-and-mortar world, RadioShack has been testing a social rewards program with foursquare that gives 10-20% discounts when you check in at a RadioShack location.

Food – OpenTable’s Spotlight is a Groupon clone that has potential, and Yelp, the standard in reviews related to local purchases, is testing one-day coupons, but some of the more interesting programs may be ongoing social campaigns by national or regional chains. For example Red Mango in Boston tested viral coupon offers with our platform that were effective at driving significant traffic and attracting new followers, without the high overhead or one-time nature of a Groupon-type approach.

What’s your experience with these types of offers and promotions? Clearly many of the brands I’ve mentioned have passionate, online-savvy customers. But with the power of influencers and word-of-mouth, even businesses with a modest social media presence can create winning campaigns and enable social commerce if they provide a fun, easy way for customers to tell their stories, share their experiences, and purchase while the conversation is still fresh.