Admap recently published this article by our Strategy Director, Caroline Lucas-Garner, looking at the steps brands can take in order to harness the power of social commerce. They've been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

In an age when social is permeating every element of our lives, the expectations of shoppers have fundamentally changed. According to Deloitte, 47% of Millennials are influenced in their purchases by social media. While brand owners and social platforms no doubt recognise that the line between consumers and shoppers is well and truly blurred, the real opportunities for social commerce (the ability to drive towards a purchase directly within the social environment) have yet to be truly realised in Western markets. Despite dabbling with trials since 2008, and with the exception of isolated pockets of success, social commerce has never consistently taken off. Many brands continue to believe that adding a 'Buy now' button to posts will be sufficient to generate a groundswell of sales, but Twitter's withdrawal of the service at the beginning of this year is just one indication that this isn't the case.

However, the tides are turning, with brand owners and platforms exploring new and ever more sophisticated models to get social to work harder than just building brand consideration.

So what are the new expectations of these socially empowered shoppers, and how can you harness social effectively to contribute to your bottom line? From our experience of working with brands, we have established three key steps to understand the potential of social commerce for our clients and move them to become active in this space: Plan, Verify, Experiment. While the steps are universally relevant, the outcome will be unique to your brand and influenced by your audience behaviours and category.

1. Plan: Nudge prospective customers through the purchase cycle
If you're considering social commerce, it's unlikely that this is your first foray into the social world. So don't assume you're starting from scratch – you've probably been taking steps towards it already. One common misunderstanding is that social commerce is only relevant at the end of the purchase cycle, when shoppers press 'Buy'. But actually, social commerce begins way before then – when triggering interest in your brand or fuelling consideration:

The Social Commerce Purchase Cycle

Whatever your starting point, your goal should be to nudge your prospective customers to their next step along the cycle – be that driving consideration, or conversion. Start with a thorough understanding of how your previous activity has performed against its objectives and where your content and objectives to date establish your current presence along the purchase cycle. If your existing content is already heavily product focused, and your audience are receptive, then taking the next step towards enabling purchase will feel natural to them. If you have never broached sales on your social channel, you may need to be sensitive as to how you introduce it. By identifying your current focus throughout the cycle, you are then able to ensure the appropriate balance of content in the context of your goals for social commerce.

If your goals are centred around driving brand consideration, the role of social will be around the Trigger and Consider stages of the purchase cycle. And it's a credible traffic driver – 85% of all ecommerce orders referred from social media come from Facebook, which also has the highest conversion rate at 1.85%. Industries seeking to foster desirability and provide inspiration, such as fashion, feature prominently here.

A pitfall for many brands is that they see social is achieving strong brand consideration, so immediately leap to sales as the next step, abruptly catapulting prospective purchasers into a brand-owned commerce environment. Typically, it's the central stages of Search and Choose – where customer service and the 'human touch' play the strongest role – that are often forgotten on social.

Service sector brands are commonly seen operating within the Buy stage of the purchase cycle, with industries such as travel and tourism excelling in fuelling conversion through facilitating flight bookings, check-in, hotel reservations, and room service.

Experience remains another quiet phase of the cycle for social commerce, with relatively little attention given to harnessing and maximising positive reinforcement of product consumption. Starbucks is a leader here, reflecting existing audience behaviours by posting and actively sharing consumer-generated images of coffee consumption moments, not only maximising visibility of positive experiences but rewarding loyalty through sharing and tipping audiences back into the Consideration moments of the cycle.

Key questions:

  • Where are you currently operating along the purchase cycle? What are the objectives of your social content to date and how has it performed against these?
  • Are prospective purchasers the same as those currently engaging with your social content? If different, what are the implications for your social content?
  • Are you actively encouraging sharing of positive word-of-mouth and advocacy through your social channels?
  • What are you hoping social commerce will deliver for your brand? Are there category benchmarks?

2. Verify: Different platforms have different capabilities in different markets
Just because you have the desire doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to make your social commerce dreams a reality. Press releases and case studies from brands and platforms continue to claim to be pioneering the future of social commerce, which can paint a deceptive picture of the true landscape. On many Western platforms, the standard commerce offering consists of targeted ad solutions that direct audiences off-platform into a brand's ecommerce environment. However, platforms are ever-evolving, and most are in the process of testing a number of new – often limited – trials. Here are a few of the most tempting examples on the market.

Instagram: It's been around six months in trial in the US, but Instagram's 'Tap to view' icon presents tags and pricing details on up to five products in a post. Once a tag is selected, a new detailed view of the product will open, surfacing product information to the consumer earlier in the journey without having to leave the platform to search.

Viber: Messaging app Viber launched a (limited) social commerce button in the US earlier this year, triggered by the context of people's conversation. For example, friends are chatting about needing new headphones when a shopping basket icon appears at the bottom of the screen allowing them to search for relevant items, and discuss them with their friends in the context of their existing conversation.

Facebook: The 'Discover' tab for Facebook Messenger shows Facebook expanding its chatbot and third-party app integrations to cover earlier stages in the consumer buying cycle. Until now, its bots and apps have focused on consumers actively considering and seeking out a purchase. Discover's launch allows Facebook to recommend branded bots and apps to those who are pre-consideration, or who have not yet had interactions with the brand.

Key questions:

  • What are the native social commerce opportunities open to you on your key social platforms in your market(s)?
  • If operating across multiple markets, how consistently are platforms' services offered? Are you able to deliver one solution across multiple markets?
  • How close are the current solutions to helping you make your social commerce vision a reality? Are there any third-party services that can help you plug any gaps?

3. Experiment: Partner, measure, test and learn
Although following this approach will ensure you are prepared to take the next steps into social commerce, nothing will arm you as much as taking the plunge. But given that social commerce remains in its infancy in Western markets – both from a brand and platform perspective – it pays to leverage as much of others' experiences as you can.

Partnership with your chosen platform(s) is key to testing new modes of sale, so seek out your representative and embrace whatever support they can offer you. Chances are, if you have unanswered questions about how social commerce can help your brand, or how to implement it effectively, you're not the first to ask and the platforms are well placed on the front line to advise on relevant opportunities to test, measure and optimise. In reality, they may not have all the answers either, but they will certainly share your ambition. And if you have a vision and suggestions for how to shape their services, you could be pioneering the future of social commerce yourself.

Be measured with your expectations, though. After nine years of trial, we're still waiting for the social commerce revolution, but that's not to say there isn't opportunity. For smaller, less-known brands, social commerce can provide a useful first step towards establishing trust and driving purchase intent. For larger, more established brands, social commerce provides an opportunity to experiment, and compare ROI vs. more traditional e-commerce channels before making significant investments. At whichever end of the spectrum you find yourself, tracking both quantitative and qualitative measures will be key to understanding how to progress, and demonstrate social's contribution to your bottom line.

Key questions:

  • Are you able to participate in any trials with your chosen platform partner?
  • Can you A/B test creative or user journeys to establish the most effective approach to driving conversion for your brand(s)?
  • Are you able to attribute the role of social to driving sales? If not driving sales directly through social platforms, are you capturing shifts in brand consideration/preference triggered by social activity? What influence are these measures having on sales?