Commerce gets social

The worlds of e-commerce and social media are colliding. In the US, social commerce is taking off quickly, estimated to have hit almost $37 billion in 2021, according to eMarketer. During Campaign Tech Talks’ second session, “Commerce Gets Social,” social commerce experts revealed fresh insights into this emerging and important trend.

Speakers included:

  • Debbie Ellison, global chief digital officer, VMLY&R COMMERCE
  • Jean-Philippe Maheu, VP, global client solutions, Twitter
  • Moderator: Mariah Cooper, associate editor, Campaign US

Defining and divining

For anyone seeking a definition of social commerce, Debbie Ellison, chief global digital officer at VMLY&R COMMERCE explained at the outset that it is “Shoppable social media posts, shoppable content, influencer commerce and social shops or streaming filters that connect consumers directly with catalogs that allow them to virtually try on products.”

Noting that in the US, social commerce is expected to hit $80 billion in 2025 on platform purchase alone, she added, “Think about all the opportunities!”

For Jean-Philippe Maheu, VP, global client solutions at Twitter, social commerce is “The intersection of the two biggest trends in the industry — digital commerce and social platforms, AKA, any place people are conversing, interacting and getting opinions and recommendations. “

Both participants are stressed that however you define it, social commerce is “Strategic, not just tactical, a long-term game that we need to invest in.”

Advantage rewards and team shifts

From Ellison’s point of view, brands have been building their relationships on social for some time now, pivoting into social commerce gives them the ability to “connect brand love with purchase and deliver brand growth.”

But this, as she notes, comes with some growth challenges. “Your traditional teams and agencies, the people who have helped build up your consumer base, are probably not the right people to deliver a social commerce strategy.” The difference being, as Ellison said, is, “understanding where the whitespace opportunities are for your business to grow, who your consumers are going to be that will drive that growth and starting to see your audience not as a homogenous group of people, but as subgroups of an audience that are going to interact and buy from your brands.”

For Maheu, “If people are spending time on a social platform, instead of trying to drive them back to your e-commerce site, find a way to engage with them where they are. This drives fast transaction shopping experiences.”

Based on Twitter’s research into the category, “Both influencers and peers have massive influence over the purchasing journey,” said Maheu. “Our research shows that 76% of Twitter users actually agree, strongly agree or somewhat agree that conversation on Twitter has influenced decisions to purchase a product. I think the question for some brands is ‘How much do I want to bring the audience to my site, versus how much can I trust that when they are on Instagram, Tik Tok or Twitter, they will engage in a way that ultimately leads to a transaction?'”

Myths and legends

Right now, while social commerce is still the new kid on the block, both Ellison and Maheu find many thinking about it as a “one-platform purchase,” when in fact, it should be considered “a way to drive growth across all commerce touchpoints.”

By way of explaining a myth recently uncovered by VMLY&R COMMERCE, Ellison relayed the story of a technology manufacturer the firm worked with. “They were targeting Gen Z,” she said. “We believed that Gen Z wouldn’t spend a lot of money online buying technology products online and were completely floored to learn that the average basket size of the Gen Z was $300 — much more than we expected. ,

The only way to bust those preconceptions or myths, she noted, “is to really test and learn.”

Maheu agreed, explaining that, “Often, when there’s a new opportunity in the marketplace, there is a myth around it only being applicable to big brands with big budgets. Social commerce is a requirement for any professional merchant of any size. For the SMB merchants out there, I would advise them to look at their social presence as a storefront and invest in how they want to be perceived, engaged with and ultimately perform.”

Our social future

When it comes to what lies ahead, Ellison has a couple premonitions:

“We will absolutely see more on-platform purchase functionality in order to enable standout differentiated commerce experiences for followers,” she said. “Personally, I’d love to see better creator functionality to connect influencers with commerce opportunities — we’re missing that gap between inspiration and the opportunity to purchase.”

As a powerhouse in conversation and driving cultural moments, Maheu envisions a future filled with “conversation as the best pathway to purchase. Inspiration drives transaction,” he noted, “and we believe that compensation is part of the inspiration and will ultimately drive transactions.”


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