In this post, GlobalWebIndex's Senior Trends Analyst Katie Young talks about the changes in the social commerce landscape, and how brands can navigate them.

The last few years have seen some big changes in the social landscape. Social networks were once a place for updating statuses, sharing photos and generally keep up friends. Now there’s videos to watch, news articles to read, not to mention the chance to actually shop. Social commerce has proved to be a major revenue generator for WeChat and Line in Asia, and so there’s little wonder why Zuckerberg has been quick to encourage in-app impulse buying by facilitating payments on Messenger and ‘Shop Now’ buttons. But importantly, how can brands best navigate the rise of social commerce?

It’s old news that having a social presence is vital for brands. Not only can social networks boast a massive reach (virtually every internet user is now a social networker), these platforms also have an established role in the purchase journey. GlobalWebIndex’s research shows that 4 in 10 internet users aged 16-64 are turning to social media to research new brands or products. Considering that younger consumers are the most likely to be doing so, it actually may not be long before social overtakes search as the top portal for product research – a transition that has already taken place across Latin America and the Middle East & Africa.

It’s certain that brands should be marketing their products across this channel then, but what about offering the chance to complete a purchase within the platforms? The main benefit to brands is that buy buttons allow for seamless transactions and the ability to act upon impulse purchases. An online shoppers’ path to purchase can often be laborious and some are reluctant to change sites to make a payment. With GWI data showing that half are now shopping on mobile, it’s not hard to see how inputting information on small screens can easily put someone off going through with their purchase.

But there’s a clear balance to be made here between effective content marketing and pushing for purchases. GWI data shows that 4 in 10 digital consumers follow their favorite brands on social, but that’s not to say they’re necessarily loyal followers. And overloading a page with pictures of merchandise and buy buttons could easily turn followers off. Surely followers want to see the images from their favorite brands that they wouldn’t usually see from traditional media?

Photo-centric platforms like Instagram and Pinterest offer attractive options here, allowing brands to showcase a lifestyle and build up their brand story. IKEA, for example, played upon the inspiring nature of Instagram when it distributed inspirational content on the platform (an approach which increased the average order value of digital purchases by about 10%). And Instagram Stories, in particular, can help humanize brands and forge a deeper connection between social audiences and brands. New York Times Fashion is one brand that successfully achieved the right balance here; as well as covering the Ralph Lauren Fashion Show and showcasing the designer dresses that would be available for purchase, it also shared celebrity interviews and moments from the after-party across the Stories feature.

Looking ahead, the real power of buy buttons will likely emerge when brand messages reach shoppers who are known to be interested in a given product. At present, just under a fifth of digital consumers say that a ‘buy’ button would make them more likely to buy something. But providing these buttons reach those who are genuinely interested, and providing brands don’t overload with ‘salesy’ content, speeding up the path to purchase with buy buttons will surely have appeal.