Editor's Note: This article was originally published in April 2014. Twitter recently revealed that it is transitioning away from e-commerce. The company is phasing out its Buy button, and its sales channel will no longer be accessible as of Feb. 1, 2017.
In early 2014, leaked images from online retailer Fancy.com showed a mock-up of a new platform called Twitter Commerce. These branded tweets, which look just like normal tweets, can be expanded to reveal a Buy button that allows consumers to make a purchase from within the Twitter app.
When tech news site Re/code broke the news in late January, the article made it clear that Twitter Commerce had no set launch date or pricing information. There wasn't even an official comment from a Twitter representative about the new platform. But since the leak, there's been a lot of speculation from retailers, marketers and potential investors about this giant leap toward the future of e-commerce.
"Twitter's Buy button will significantly shift the social network's role in the relationship between consumers and businesses, and disrupt the way in which we have thought about path-to-purchase up until now," said Agathe Blanchon-Ehrsam, executive director of branding firm Vivaldi Fifth Season. "Offering a one-click purchase button would be a giant step into the realm of direct response for the social network, and a true breakthrough in how businesses market and sell to consumers. Widespread adoption of the Buy button will radically transform marketing as we know it by compressing the traditional funnel of awareness to purchase."[MORE: 'Buy Button' Could Make Twitter Your New Storefront]
It comes as no surprise that Twitter has a commerce platform in the works: Social commerce, the concept of using social media to drive sales, is becoming more and more popular among e-merchants. Although Twitter Commerce isn't a reality yet, social networking sites are increasingly focusing on ways to increase return on investment for the brands that utilize them for marketing.
For instance, Pinterest recently announced a new "Gifts feed" that specifically features Product Pins with pricing, availability and buy links. And Forbes called Instagram "the world's most powerful selling tool" due to the success of its sponsored posts, which have significantly increased the brand engagement and awareness for early adopters since their debut in November 2013.
The social media marketing game is changing with each new innovation, and businesses of all sizes need to be ready to pounce when Buy buttons are eventually rolled out. Here's what marketing and e-commerce experts want you to know about this developing trend.
Evolution of social networking
Just a few years ago, simply having a social media presence gave a brand a significant advantage. The ability to interact with consumers directly on platforms they were already using to connect with one another was the new frontier in customer service. As more and more companies began to establish Facebook and Twitter accounts, conversations on these platforms shifted from interpersonal communications to shared opinions and experiences about brands.
"People don't just go on Facebook and Twitter to connect with other people anymore; they also use it to consume news, develop tastes and even shop," said Nissim Lehyani, CEO and co-founder of Facebook-integrated e-commerce platform Easy Social Shop. "As retailers understand that social media plays an important role in determining what and how consumers will buy, more resources are being devoted to formulating social media marketing strategies to captivate consumers and facilitate product sales.
"The first step of this process is to create a Twitter handle, Pinterest board or Facebook page to cultivate a following and raise brand awareness," Lehyani said. "But the next step is the standardization of tools that maximize brand exposure and facilitate sales for the retailer, while consolidating and simplifying the shopping process for the customer. It isn't just about being on social media anymore — it's about maximizing the potential of these platforms."
How social media marketing is changing
With new and upcoming social commerce technologies, the biggest change for social media marketers will be a shift in focus from branding to lead generation.
"Budgets for targeted online acquisition strategies focusing on clicks, leads and sales are increasing faster than budgets for general social media brand campaigns," Blanchon-Ehrsam said. "Any technology that allows companies to trace the path directly to the consumer's door will increase their interest in using social media for measurable bottom-line results. With 48 percent of the U.S. population already being "always-on consumers" — meaning they go online multiple times a day from multiple devices and multiple locations — the scale is there for significant changes to happen in social marketing strategies."
Lehyani agreed, noting that successful social marketing will become an even more important component of overall marketing strategies, and that marketers will have to think longer, harder and more creatively if they want to be able to fulfill the newly created potential of social commerce.
"[Social commerce tools] are raising the stakes of social marketing, but they also ease the sales process by providing ways for businesses to effectively interact with customers," Lehyani told Business News Daily. "The digitalization of shopping also means that customer data is plentiful, and with the right tools, companies can analyze their online customers' behavior and use that information to improve social marketing strategies to complete sales via social media."
What marketers should be doing right now
While you wait for the official introduction of Buy buttons, you can still take steps to shorten the path-to-purchase for consumers. A popular method of direct social selling is placing e-commerce links in tweets, pins and Facebook posts featuring the product image. If your budget allows for it, promoted posts on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are another great way to expand your consumer reach and awareness, which could lead to potential sales.
As many retailers have discovered, Pinterest is especially relevant in the social commerce sphere. Kirsten Knipp, vice president of product marketing and brand at e-commerce platform Bigcommerce, noted that Pin It buttons on e-commerce websites are becoming an increasingly common and effective way to create in-bound links on the image-based platform.
"From an e-commerce point of view, Pinterest should be recognized as a great source of free marketing," Knipp told Business News Daily. "The only thing it requires of you is to pin your products, or have your products be pinned. Once a product is discovered, the ease with which it can be shared is Pinterest's greatest selling point and one that businesses can't ignore. Consumers are spending hundreds of minutes per month pinning fashion, food, crafts and more. This type of activity lends itself perfectly to help online retailers convert sales."
No matter what strategies you implement to adapt to the ever-evolving world of social commerce, don't forget about the community-building factor that drives consumers to their social pages in the first place.
"The key to monetization is to build a credible relationship with customers and prove to them the value proposition that [your company] provides," said Ophir Zardok, CEO of social event promotion solution Evento. "The first step is presenting a compelling product that enhances the [consumer] experience. Secondly, engage that user and provide him or her with the ability to take part in the social discovery process. Once the user becomes familiar with the [product], begin to utilize messaging that is more actionable from a purchasing perspective. If you jump straight into monetization and bypass the first two steps, you lose a sense of credibility because you haven't gone through a user's personal vetting process."
"Brands will not want Twitter or other social media channels to usurp the brand's own positioning," added Rob Howard, chief technology officer of messaging and collaboration solution Zimbra. "Social media works exceptionally well as a gateway into the brand's sales funnel, but the whole point of [branding] is to provide a set of experiences and feelings you get when interacting with that particular brand. I think that would be lost if it all went through a 'same as every other brand' social [media] experience."
For a list of small business social commerce solutions, check out our guide here on Business News Daily.