Social Commerce Plays The Long Game

Recently, a group of writers at the content marketing site Contently — inspired by last month’s NCAA March Madness — put together its own “Social Media Championship Bracket.”

From a field of 16 retail brands’ social media accounts (on various platforms), the staff pitted one against another in elimination matchups that progressed through a bracket format to determine — based on factors like number of followers, audience engagement and creativity of both strategy and content (obviously the most subjective element) — which accounts were superior to others.

Contently’s “Final Four” came down to Denny’s Twitter account versus Taco Bell’s Snapchat account and BarkBox’s Instagram account versus Lego’s YouTube account, with Denny’s Twitter ultimately defeating BarkBox’s Instagram in the championship round to be deemed by the writers as the “winner.”

Good news for the operators of the diner chain’s Twitter account, to be sure (?) … but the question remains: Even if a brand’s efforts in the realm of social media are held in high esteem by consumers and trend analysts (as in the case of Contently’s staff) alike, can that directly be translated into sales?

By and large, retailers do not seem to think so.

Adweek has reported on a new study released by Custora in which the eCommerce vendor, having analyzed about $100 billion in sales among 500 million shoppers between January and March, determined that only 1.5 percent of eCommerce transactions come directly (AKA “last-click” sales) from social media.

There was very little parity among social media platforms even inside of that teensy portion, with Facebook claiming a dominant 81 percent of sales. Additionally, 10.8 percent came from Pinterest, while YouTube and Twitter represented 5.2 percent apiece.

“If you’re looking on a last-click basis, there’s been no movement in terms of social media platforms,” Claude de Jocas, a lead analyst at digital research firm L2, told Adweek. “Even the advent of buy buttons has done absolutely nothing to move the needle.”

What’s currently working better than social media for retailers in the digital space in turning marketing into immediate sales? Pretty much everything else, according to the Custora study.

The old-school (at least, compared to social media) digital methods of search, email and affiliate marketing accounted for 70 percent of the last-click purchases that were analyzed, while a whole 20 percent of them were impulse buys; in other words, according to the consumers in those instances, marketing (including social media) had no influence whatsoever on their purchasing decision.

If a retailer can earn 20 percent of its sales by effectively doing nothing other than making its products available, why would it spend the time, money and effort to establish, operate and maintain a competitive social media presence for a mere 1.5 percent (a number that, according to Adweek’s piece on the Custora study, is also smaller than eCommerce sales that result from display ads, text messages and push notifications)? Forget the hypothetical — why are so many retailers, in fact, doing just that?

Retailers are aware of the fact that there is commonly more than a single step — or click — between their marketing efforts on social platforms and a consumer purchase. The retail industry tends not to view the concept of “social commerce” as a one-two punch (wherein social engagement — bam — links directly to a sale) but rather as a long game, wherein social media efforts are cultivated and nurtured over time, with the initial focus regarding any potential customer being on aspects like raising brand awareness, maintaining engagement and inspiring product inquiry.

Once the “social” half of “social commerce” is effectively established with any given consumer, only then — according to many retail brand’s strategies — do those efforts bear the fruit of the second half: commerce. It’s not about “last-click” purchases as much as it is about later (and, ideally, multiple) clicks.

“When we think about social, we can’t always measure direct, last-click [sales], so we look at a variety of metrics in addition to ROI,” Serena Potter, Macy’s VP of digital strategy, told Adweek. “As we look at the platforms from a customer behavior perspective, we’ve really been able to drive traffic to our website, to our mobile experience, to create a remarketable audience.”

Concurrent to the opportunity for brands to generate, over time, long-term consumer loyalty, such as through the efforts of Macy’s that Potter describes, social media is also a boon for retailers in that it avails them of the opportunity — again, inherent in the “social” aspect of “social commerce” — to empower the consumer.

To that point, Mark Aikman, general manager of marketing services at Mercedes-Benz USA, shared with Adweek his perspective that social media platforms that are relatively new compared to Facebook (as previously noted, the undisputed king of the last-click social commerce anthill) and more interactive than the social media giant, such as Instagram, are more effective in the social commerce long game. Noting that Mercedes-Benz USA’s dedicated posts for Instagram frequently result in tens of thousands of likes and shares by consumers, Aikman told the outlet that ”it’s important [for brands] to create original content and not recycle images and videos.”

In addressing another social media platform that does not provide, as Facebook does, brands with a direct correlation between posts and purchases, Kate Spade & Co. EVP and CMO Mary Beech nonetheless finds Pinterest to be a valuable asset in that it maintains consumer engagement over a long period of time, at the end of which is likely to emerge a flurry of transactions.

“People who are pinning are building for the future, whether the future is a baby shower four weeks from now [or] a wedding they’re planning four months from now,” remarked Beech to Adweek. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

In other words, retailers’ perspective of the practice is not as “social commerce” but as “social … [a bunch of other stuff] … commerce.”

Tough to work that concept into a bracket-style contest, though.



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