Will Social Media and Ecommerce Ever Really Get Together?

Opinion: Shotgun wedding, or match made in heaven?

Are the models of social media and ecommerce really a match made in heaven?
ipopba/iStock

From the outset, social media platforms have offered an invaluable resource for marketers to drive sales online and in-store by reaching the right audiences through targeted advertising. In fact, recent studies suggest that as many as 87 percent of ecommerce shoppers believe social media plays a vital role in helping them make shopping decisions.

However, while social platforms have always been a marketer’s dream, in recent years, we have witnessed multiple leading social media platforms trying to bridge the gap between social and shopping by facilitating direct purchases within their platforms. And with the introduction of more integrated shoppable ads on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, there have been whispers that 2018 may be the year social commerce gains traction.

But while social giants are trying to wriggle out of the position of middleman and get behind the counter, are the models of social media and ecommerce really a match made in heaven?

A complicated past

Social media has long provided marketers a more cost-efficient and targeted way to reach potential customers. Using Facebook user data and targeted advertising, brands can reach their exact consumer based on real data points, rather than “spraying and praying” on other channels such as TV or print.

At the same time, with talks of a retail meltdown after swathes of big-brand bankruptcies and shop closures around the world, over the past decade, retailers big and small have increasingly moved from brick-and-mortar to ecommerce.

Given these two concurrent trends, it would seem like a no-brainer for businesses to jump on the social commerce bandwagon. However, while it might seem like a match made in heaven, the fact is that this is not the first time social and shopping have had a fling, and traditionally, it has not worked out. After all, Twitter tried a buy button to drive sales through its platform, and it then gradually phased it out after it failed to hook consumers.

The big problem is that with an abundance of shopping and social options available, consumers simply aren’t using social platforms to buy products. Social media plays a vital role early on the sales funnel, as a research tool and influencer, but to date, most consumers are still not buying directly via social platforms. In fact, a recent study shows that less than one-half of Facebook users have ever bought a product after clicking on a post or a link in a post.

Moving in the right direction

In recent years, Instagram launched shoppable text in posts, Twitter toyed with a buy button and Facebook tried to take advantage of the 450 million-plus people who visit various buy, swap and sell groups with its introduction of Facebook Shop and Facebook Marketplace, where all of these transactions can now take place.

With a move en masse toward social commerce, could 2018 be the year when it finally comes together and the two parties really make it work?

The jury is still out. Many argued that the demise of Twitter’s buy button was a bad sign for social commerce as a model. And aside from flirting with direct sales, social media giants have also been scrambling to keep a foothold in the market by diversifying revenue with new applications, such as dating apps.

The fact is that while social shopping is a nice idea, the actual experience for consumers remains far from seamless. And Amazon Prime is always there winking in the background.

One of the main roadblocks is in regards to payments. Traditionally, to make a payment via an ad or link on a social media site, consumers had to enter another portal and add their payment details, which breaks the flow of a casual browsing session and also raises security issues from using third-party sites.