The Wrong Route to Social Commerce
originally in MediaPost's Social Media Insider
Lost in the chaos last week, amidst signs of rapture and fears of a second dot-com bubble, was a positive omen. What once appeared to be one of the four horsemen of social media's apocalypse met an untimely death at the hands of user disinterest. It was a good week.
Regular Social Media Insider readers know there are few social services I won't try. I gave up expectations of privacy a long time ago, an occupational hazard that may ultimately prove disastrous but one I've willingly embraced. Only when Blippy came around did I discover the one social service I felt more comfortable eyeing from a distance. That's why I was relieved when TechCrunch reported that the company's flagship, eponymous offering is being discontinued.
The product Blippy — as opposed to the company, which is still in business developing offerings that are still under wraps –allowed users to register their credit cards and share purchases with their friends. If you wonder how good an idea this is, take a look at your most recent bank statement. How many purchases were remotely interesting, even to you? How many transactions are bills, ATM withdrawals, errands, fast food, or purchases so boring that your best friend couldn't possibly care about them? I could imagine how even Imelda Marcos would find Filipino subjects unfriending her when, between her latest shoe hauls, she'd inadvertently broadcast her trips to Rite Aid for toilet paper.
I did sign up for a rival service, Swipely, only because I could connect my iTunes account without adding credit cards. My own purchase history is dull enough, but it reads like "Don Quixote" compared to a friend's complete details of going to Wells Fargo and paying his AT&T bills. What makes it worse is that you don't even see what products people bought; you just see where people spent their money. What does this do for you or your friends?
There is the occasional service that will get people to share their financial information, such as Mint, which manages financial records and makes it easy to track spending, or Credit Sesame, which monitors credit scores. For social purposes alone, the payoff was weak for Blippy and Swipely. That's why Blippy the product is winding down, while Swipely veered in a different direction. TechCrunch astutely noted, "Sharing purchases with friends doesn't solve a problem. Challenge: Try to figure out what problem Blippy solves, or for that matter what Ping solves or what competitor Swipely solved. ('We don't think people want to share their purchases, period," Swipely CEO Angus Davis told me after his service had pivoted. 'I don't know how to be more emphatic than that.')"
What's especially telling is that Blippy and Swipely failed at a time when interest in social commerce has never been stronger. Forrester Research just issued a report, "Will Facebook Ever Drive eCommerce?" I recently chatted with George Eberstadt, the CEO of social commerce platform TurnTo, and he seconded my take that marketer excitement around social commerce has surged the past few months. My own agency just released a report on social commerce, and there was so much ground to cover that we're turning it into a series that will churn out installments through the summer.
Where Blippy and Swipely went wrong was taking social commerce literally. Sometimes, taking two great concepts works great when you mash them together, like Cat Paint or bacon brownies. With social commerce, though, social media and commerce can't be thrown together willy-nilly. That means you can't slap your e-commerce site on Facebook and expect people to transact with it, and you can't add social sharing to consumers' transaction records and expect people to sign up. There are plenty of other bad ideas here waiting to happen.
Social commerce, however, is a great idea. And it works. According to a thorough research roundup from Social Commerce Today, fans of a brand on Facebook will spend 117% more on that brand than non-fans, 17% of Facebook users say being able to "like" a brand makes them more likely to make a purchase, and consumers are 51% more likely to make a purchase after clicking a '"like" button. Danny Sullivan shared another roundup of stats directly from Facebook, noting that Levi's saw 40 times the referral traffic after adding "like" buttons, American Eagle visitors referred through Facebook spent 57% more than other visitors, and outdoor goods retailer Giantnerd.com saw a 100% increase in revenue from Facebook after adding "like" buttons. These are just about Facebook, which happens to be the 800-pound (or 600-million-user) gorilla, and there's enough evidence spanning the broader social web as well.
The opportunity for marketers is to figure out how they will provide value for consumers through social commerce. Is it giving consumers exclusive or early access to a product? Is it a deal that people will want to share with their friends? Can you make it easier for consumers to share recommendations with their peers, or can consumers receive more relevant recommendations by sharing their social data with you? There are so many triggers that can work.
When they work, you see entities like Facebook and Danny Sullivan telling everyone they know. When they don't work, you see lots of pivoting – the classic change in plans. Marketers pivot too, and those who carelessly slap "social" and "commerce" together will soon discover how they don't always pair well. Combining them in a way that provides value to consumers isn't that original an idea, but it's also an idea that never gets old.