International Social Commerce: Will Social Commerce Cool Brands’ Connections?

International social commerce: it’s on its way. Even as Facebook gobbles up news distribution and the associated advertising spend, consumers are not yet getting their retail therapy on social media in the same way they are getting their news. Some estimates put social commerce at around five percent of online retail sales currently. But with the aforementioned ad dollars flowing from traditional media into hyper targeted social ads and with direct buy buttons integrated within the platforms, more and more online spend will migrate there.

While much of this relates to the paid strategy, growing consumer willingness to spend directly on social media will also have a wider impact on the marketing tug of war. Previously, ad and PR agencies, as well as internal teams have been slugging it out to own that spend, but with the direct purchase path, the stakes are even higher. Ecommerce teams will want to become more involved in social content – both paid and organic.

A Global Phenomenon

It’s not just in the U.S. that social commerce is growing quickly. Many of SHIFT’s global partner agencies are seeing the same thing.

Maggie Chan, Director, Greater China, Newell Public Relations, sees China as a world leader in pioneering social commerce: “Social media platforms like Tencent’s Weixin and WeChat, are moving to e-commerce, and e-commerce players, like Alibaba, are developing their own social platforms. This sets the scene for an almighty clash and the creation of a new type of market.”

According to Chan, China’s one child policy, strict one-party rule and geographical vastness has resulted in a generation of people who have been using social media to create communities in defiance of authorities, media and institutions they do not trust. The result is 300 million people who will not make a purchase without first collecting all existing information on the Internet plus experiences of their personal contacts on both social and e-commerce platforms. “In China, social media is the backbone of any brand engagement with user-generated content driving opinion and sales, so it’s natural that social commerce should be pioneered here,” concludes Chan.

According to Pete Brooke Sumner, Director of The Media Image in South Africa, the Facebook “buy button” is also changing how many digital marketers approach their social strategies across Africa.

Impacts on Marketing Approaches

It’s very early to consider how brands will change their paid and organic strategies across social in response to native call to action buttons, especially given the nascent spend in the U.S. However, so much of the prevailing wisdom around content has been to engage first (build trust and a rapport) and keep the sell implicit. It will soon be very tempting for brands to push more of their organic and promoted posts towards direct selling. There could be a watering down of the positive brand building efforts that social media has previously helped to create. Finding the right mix will be key.

In addition, when it comes to direct buys, social media marketers need to consider what is lost by not directing users to the homepage. This is a truth media sites are having to swallow bitterly as the clicks on their socially distributed articles generate very low revenue and tend not to foster much home page loyalty from the reader.

For brands it might work like this: You’re retargeting someone who searched for a pair of socks your brand sells. You sell those socks right then and there through a buy button on your social ad. You get $5 and you never see that customer again.  The opportunity is lost when you think of the $100 in potential revenue you may have seen by driving them to your e-commerce site and selling a pair of jeans. Or building a rapport with them over time through engaging content and selling them a full winter wardrobe.

Strategies for social media management are in their infancy when it comes to addressing social commerce. But it’s coming in a big way on a global scale, and marketers need to consider how to balance short term sales with long term relationship building.

Dom Weeks
Vice President


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