What Marketers Need to Know About 5 New Types of Social Commerce

Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter have been trying to infuse their platforms with e-commerce functionalities over the past few years with the aim of attracting more ad dollars. While their results often have been lacking, the pursuit for merchants' budgets continues.

Recently, there's been a plethora of new marketing products like "buy buttons," product pages and other commerce-oriented features from social players. From Pinterest and Instagram launching essentially identical features on the same day to YouTube's efforts to drive traffic from video ads, it's been an interesting month to watch social commerce unfold. It will also be worth keeping tabs on the platforms that pay off the most for brands this year, especially during the holiday shopping season that starts in a few months.

Here's a look at how Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube stack up against one another when it comes to social commerce.



Twitter rolled out product pages last week, which are like mini e-commerce hubs that live on the microblogging site.

By pulling together tweets about brands and products, Twitter hopes people will spend a little extra time researching products before buying something based on social chatter.

The San Francisco, Calif., company’s new effort also incorporates Twitter's buy button that launched in September so people can check out straight from the site.

How it woos brands:
For marketers like Nike Basketball that have plugged themselves into Twitter's constant stream of messages, product pages take the conversation to the next step.

In Nike's case, tweeting about LeBron James at the right moment to drive traffic to its e-commerce collection inspired by the basketball star could be a boon for business.

Why advertisers could give it a thumbs-down:
As Wall Street knows all too well, Twitter's lack of growth has put a damper on its ad business, causing Dick Costolo to step down as CEO.

Twitter has carved out a place for media brands and personalities, but it's unclear how much of an effect the social site has on retailers that rely on conversions to justify ad spends.



The San Francisco-based platform's "buyable pin" buttons let users purchase anything they see on the site.

It's a feature that's been in the works for a long time to help brands understand how their content drives online sales outside of Pinterest.


How it woos brands:
Pinterest knows what people like, which is why the move piques marketers' interest. With buyable pins, users find things by searching for types of products and price.

Compared with other social sites where news and other buzzy content is the expected experience, Pinterest users are unusually accustomed to interacting with product-driven images. So, the site inherently slants toward the end of the purchase funnel when someone is ready to buy on the spot. 

Why advertisers could give it a thumbs-down:
It's heavily skewed toward women. A report from RJMetrics last year found that 80 percent of users are female.

While the numbers bode well for beauty, fashion and apparel brands, making a case for sports and other male-minded marketers is a tough sell.



The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company started testing buy buttons with a handful of retailers last year and recently expanded the program to include more brands.

The click-to-buy button is powered by Shopify, a company that runs e-commerce for small merchants like Tattly and Packer Shoes.

Brands can use Facebook e-commerce in posts they upload or in their ads. To buy something, people either type their credit card number directly into Facebook or store their payment information to check out more quickly.

How it woos brands:
Brands love Facebook because of its scale and targeting data. The fact that the entire experience never leaves Facebook likely pleases them, because shoppers may spend a few extra minutes on the site.

Why advertisers could give it a thumbs-down:
Facebook’s been trying to nail social commerce for a number of years with short-lived programs like Gifts, suggesting that regardless of what shape e-commerce takes, people just don't want to buy things on Facebook.



Brands asked for e-commerce, and the Facebook-owned app finally pulled the trigger earlier this month with "Shop Now" buttons.

E-commerce is only open to advertisers initially, so brands that solely use Instagram to post photos and videos can't test it out. The e-commerce button connects ads to websites where users can shop, making it a seeming gold mine for fashion and luxury brands that regularly promote individual products. 



How it woos brands:
Facebook's granular data. Brands that buy shopping-enabled ads have access to the same type of targeting that Facebook marketers do, including the ability to track, manage and measure campaigns.

Why advertisers could give it a thumbs-down:
Checkout doesn't take place through the app. Instead, photo and video posts link out to a website, adding an extra step and making the experience a little less slick than Facebook's version.

Plus, the rollout of ads on Instagram has been slow, and some fear that paid posts may eventually ruin the app's glossy appeal.



The Web video giant is betting that people will shop instead of skip ads if they are given the choice.

In May, YouTube rolled out a souped-up version of its TrueView product that places a shopping button directly across the screen from an option to skip a pre-roll ad.

Clicking through on the shopping button leads to a website featuring the products in the ad, and people can then put products into a shopping cart.

How it woos brands:
Retailers that lean on product demonstrations, reviews or tutorials always want to make video more interactive and get a viewer to do something, especially if it rings up a sale.

Why advertisers could give it a thumbs-down:
Attribution is a problem. Once someone clicks on the shopping button, retailers aren't able to track what he or she does, making it difficult for brands to definitively know whether a video promo actually drove a purchase.

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