Redefining Social Commerce


Folks shy away from the term “social commerce.”  Why?  I asked the question on Twitter, “What’s the first thing that pops in your mind when you hear the term ‘social commerce?'” and I received quite a number of cynical (and humorous) responses:

  • @k_seas: “Pyramid Scheme : – ) kidding”
  • @illig: “Social commerce: Prostitution, human trafficking and ice cream socials. In that order. But I’m not normal. : ) “
  • @heatherrast: ” (1)selling out your friends (like personal info?) (2) the cost of selling out your friends (3) revenue from adsense ads”
  • Taken out of context, my question also sparked a little debate about what social commerce is and caused friend Aaron Strout to weigh in with some great dialog happening in the comments. 

Here’s the danger: People want conversation in social networks to be genuine and to avoid overt marketers hawking their wares.  Social networks bring people to connect, not to shop.  But as technology evolves and people look to leverage their networks as information sources, invariably those networks will turn to helping each other make purchases.  I, for one, take a friend’s recommendation as an important information source before buying – and I have to admit consumer ratings and reviews are helpful and important to me.

Back to the Future

As far as I could dig up, one of the first posts defining social commerce was back on December 23, 2005.  Steve Rubel wrote an intriguing post on 2006 Trends to Watch.  Steve started to predict the trend of advertising and commerce shifting to blogs:

Social commerce, however, is an area that I think holds a tremendous amount of promise as a way for bloggers to make money. It’s a win-win for the bloggers, product marketers and existing e-commerce sites.”

His post went on to show examples of how e-commerce sites had extended functionality to allow bloggers to take advantage of the Long Tail and bring the ability to conduct commerce on their blogs, beyond the innovation of Google ads.  At the time, Yahoo!’s Shoposphere was the highlight, where users could collaborate on shopping lists.  More posts went on about preparing for social commerce as the next big wave of innovation that would push the continuing trend of online shopping growth (combined with broadband adoption at home and at work along with the continual adoption of Web 2.0 technologies like Flash).  But the term “social commerce” seemed vaguely defined to include innovation in customer experience on commerce sites, and overall the term remained nebulous. 

The Year of Social Commerce?

Jay Deragon predicted 2008 would be the Year of Social Commerce.  On January 1, 2008, he wrote:

While social networks continue to grow exponentially the next growth curve will be driven by the “holy grail of economics“, social commerce. Social commerce may actually become the dominant development in 2008 and subsequently turn business models upside down and inside out.

Jay is on to something here.  While the last year brought the challenges of Facebook’s Beacon product, and there continues to be large debates about ways to monetize social networks, big ticket retailers are starting to get involved by adding functionality on their own e-commerce platforms.  Already we have seen reviews, stories from other customers and ratings start to really permeate the online retail space – where retailers that don’t have them are becoming the exception. (Bazaarvoice is a business partner of my agency, Rosetta, and one of a few vendors who provide user ratings and reviews as a service to be integrated into a web commerce user experience.)  In addition to sites adding this functionality – and receiving a bump in conversion % of visitors – here are some other examples of what vendors are doing:

  • Facebook Connect and platforms like Open I/D  allow corporations to authenticate social graphs on their own sites.
  • IBM did a recent case study integrating the capabilities of Lotus Connections with Websphere Commerce.  
  • Companies like LiveWorld have launched products to integrate social interactions directly on websites, like their recently launched LiveBar product.

Based on watching what vendors out there are doing, I’d argue that beyond the initial premise of bringing commerce to social media tools and networks, it appears the next wave is bringing the social networks back to commerce sites.  Some companies like eBay and Amazon do this well, but I think more merchants will be trying to figure this out.  Bringing customers together to help on purchase decisions can be a good thing if it’s handled properly and e-commerce companies engage their customers the right way, beyond just user ratings and reviews.  What do you think?

Photo credit: racineur via flickr


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Twitter: The Value of Good Conversation

When the topic of Twitter comes up with colleagues, I often hear the “I don’t get it” excuse.  Sometimes I fight the good fight and show someone a demo (and the small community I have connected with always responds – thanks for the support, gang).  Other times I cave and just quip, “Well, Twitter is not for everyone,” and I let people try to figure it out for themselves.  A client I met with today actually thanked me for introducing him to Twitter months ago, citing the timely news (usually on Twitter before many other sources) and content from some really smart people out there.  He admittedly wasn’t that intrigued at first.  On Twitter, many folks share personal details like what’s for dinner, how much they love caffeine or the occasional banter about the Red Sox.  These conversations help us get to know contacts more personally, but can at times be perceived as noise.  On the flip side, I often find new tidbits of knowledge, a valuable link, a good story – and they make the time spent that much more worth it.

Tonight I took a peek at what was going on and happened to catch a very insightful gem of a conversation between two folks who have helped me work my way up the social media learning curve over the past several months. Scott Monty (@ScottMonty) heads up the social media team at Ford, and Christopher Penn (@cspenn) is Chief Media Officer at the Student Loan Network (among his many other social media credentials).  Here’s what you get when you take a passionate finance guy and put him in a virtual room with a passionate brand guy.  (Note: I reversed the order of the conversation from how it appeared on Twitter so it would read sequentially like a transcript.)

cspenn: @scottmonty How much of GM/Ford troubles are UAW related vs. core business expenses?
ScottMonty: @cspenn Let’s be clear: Ford’s situation isn’t nearly as precarious as GM’s. We’re prepared to execute our plan with or without Federal $
cspenn: @ScottMonty OK. That said, do the Detroit shops have a bigger handicap due to UAW than the Japanese shops?
ScottMonty: @cspenn 2) Recent big quarterly hits have been related in part to one-time healthcare costs.
cspenn: @ScottMonty serious question, why isn’t bankruptcy on the table for GM? Is it that essential to America that tax dollars must be risked?
ScottMonty: @cspenn 3) Lack of unions in some of our competitors make it difficult for us to be profitable on some vehicle lines
ScottMonty: 4) But overall, we’ve been working on restructuring our product mix and flexible manufacturing over the last 2 years that is now under way.
ScottMonty: 5) The goal is to have best in class fuel economy in every segment, give millions of customers affordable fuel economy.
cspenn: @ScottMonty Interesting and insightful. Is there any way for Detroit to free itself from unions or is that baked in forever?
ScottMonty: @cspenn Re your union question: I don’t know. It’s had a long history in Detroit (and Ford was the last to join).
ScottMonty: @cspenn Bankruptcy for GM would mean thousands of suppliers/vendors would be at risk. Cascading effect would be immense (and take us down)
cspenn: @ScottMonty what source would you recommend for reading to dig more into a GM bankruptcy? Would love to see the chain.
ScottMonty: @cspenn There’s a good graphic that illustrates it in a recent Merrill Lynch report on the auto industry (Nov 3, “The ‘Big Bang’ Theory”)
cspenn: @ScottMonty Cool – link? or not publicly available?
ScottMonty: @cspenn Not publicly available. I can fax you the page if you want.
cspenn: @ScottMonty That’d be wonderful. 206-350-1208 thanks! (also the podcast comment line!)
cspenn: @ScottMonty Only upside I can see is if in bankruptcy, GM and others can jettison the union for improved survivability.
ScottMonty: @cspenn I hear you. Don’t know if that would ever fly, though.
cspenn: @ScottMonty sometimes, it’s fly or die. maybe they’ll get that NO one is entitled to anything you don’t work for one day.

Thanks to Scott and Christopher for the great and candid dialogue, giving personal insight to a big corporation’s challenges in the current economy.  Have some other ways Twitter has added value for you?  Would love to hear ’em.

Photo credit: gi via flickr

10 Quick Tips for Retailers to Engage in Social Media Right Now

In the last year I’ve immersed myself in social media, Chris Brogan has been a continual source of inspiration and guidance. His blog,, is a virtual treasure trove of nuggets for social media junkies and new folks alike. Chris recently published an eBook called: Fishing Where The Fish Are: Mapping Social Media to the Buying Cycle. Today I was in a discussion with some colleagues about a client who is interested in “getting into social media.” While reading Chris’s eBook, I was inspired to jot down some very quick tactical tips and suggestions. I spun this toward retailers since it’s the space I work in but it really could apply to any company or industry. Thanks to Chris for the inspiration, who likely has written a similar list already for getting folks “plugged in.”  

10 Quick Tips for Retailers to Start Engaging in Social Media Right Now

1. Do a Google Blog search on your company’s brand, category and industry. Start doing this on a regular basis and read through the content. Start to get a pulse, subscribe to some Google Alerts on the topics.

2. Do the same search using There are lots of resources and guides on using Twitter and other microblogging platforms – but creating an account and getting acclimated is a longer term investment of time. I would start with looking for mentions and understanding what is being talked about. For that matter, Marc Meyer has a great post on many ways to listen to many sources in social media.

3. Join Facebook. Connect with friends, colleagues, get to know and understand how it works. Look for colleagues from your company and see how they are representing themselves. Are there Facebook groups mentioning your company? Does your company have a page? What about your competitors?

4. Join LinkedIn and set up your profile. Also connect with friends and colleagues. Get to know how the social network works. Understanding social networking will be important – as will the ability for customers and business partners to know you exist.  Learn about who you should connect to and who you should avoid on each network.  Here’s my view of how I scrutinize connections, but many people use social networks differently.

5. Ask around your company and find out who blogs, who is on Facebook, who is on Twitter or who is using other social media tools. You can learn a lot about social media by observing what they see and do in this space. I think you’d be surprised at how many folks in the organization already have a blog, even if it’s a personal one.

6. Start using a RSS reader like Google Reader. Search for reviews of your products or services. Find 5 sites where people are talking about them, in forums/discussions, blogs, or other sites. Subscribe to feeds from those sites to start listening.

7. Start using a bookmarking site like Delicious or StumbleUpon. Create a category or tag for blog and press mentions, and start to save/accumulate links about your company and industry.  Connect to colleagues with similar interests and see what they find.

8. Find 5 blogs in a related industry by searching in Technorati, Delicious or another bookmarking service. Read through posts, and comment on them. Be sure to disclose which company you are with if you are promoting or voicing an opinion on a product or service, including a competitor’s.

9. Go talk to Legal. Is there a corporate policy on social media? Does your industry have specific concerns about participating representing the company? Understand the guidelines and policies if they exist.  Scott Monty has talked about how this step was crucial when he joined the team at Ford as to lead their social media effort.

10. Go talk to PR. Chances are they are wrestling with understanding blogs and the importance of reacting timely to concerns. Let them know you are interested to and willing to share a voice.

a bonus tip:

11. Understand this is a journey, not a flash in the pan. Social media requires commitment and a lot of listening well before you will be in a position to come up with a case study in the space.  Just executing against this list will require some time investment.

What did I miss?  Was this helpful?  What has helped you ramp up in social media?

Photo credit: StephanGeyer via Flickr