How the Evolving Role of Social Media Is Shaping E-commerce

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Where social media has historically been a place where users interact with their favourite people, it’s quickly becoming a place where users more often interact with their favourite brands. Social media has proven to be an incredible marketing tool; one that more and more brands are doing their best to capitalise on.

The evolution of social media marketing is an interesting one in itself. Social media began as a channel through which businesses could grow their brands, advertise, and provide high-quality customer service. But social media today is close to being a true e-commerce utility – a one-stop shop through which you can research products, select your favourite, and buy it on the spot.

How did this shift take place? And how will the continued evolution of social media shape e-commerce into the future? Let’s take a look.

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The social media e-commerce journey so far

Many trace the origins of e-commerce on social media back to 2012, when Facebook introduced its “Collections” feature. This was the first tool that was specifically designed to allow a Facebook user to browse a product range (or collection). The user could then use the purpose-built “Want” and “Collect” buttons to save a product to a wish list, or to be sent to the brand’s website for purchase.

But it wasn’t until 2014 that the game truly changed. In July of that year, Facebook introduced its “Buy” button, allowing users to purchase the goods that they’d found on the platform through the platform. Twitter swiftly followed, launching their own button in September, and within 12 months every major social media platform, including Instagram, Pinterest and even Tumblr, had created an in-platform purchase function.

But while it’s been three years since the introduction of these functions, social media e-commerce hasn’t exactly taken off. Facebook’s “Buy Now” function is still only available to select partners, and Twitter’s e-commerce team was actually disbanded in 2016. In fact, only one in 10 social media users has actually purchased goods through a platform before.

With all this in mind, where exactly is social media e-commerce heading?

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The future of social media e-commerce

While it’s been a somewhat slow start for social media e-commerce – in social media’s lightning fast terms at least – there are reasons to be very positive. The likes of Pinterest are leading the social purchasing way, with their “Buyable Pins” function open to any business who chooses to utilise it, rather than just select partners. What’s more, of the 10% of social media users who have purchased goods through social channels, an overwhelming 73% said that they would do so again.

So the major block for e-commerce businesses looking to generate sales through social media seems to be getting users to make that initial purchase. But how? One way could be to go a little more private.

It’s no secret that private messaging is growing at many times the rate of general social media. Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and Whatsapp are all experiencing incredible growth, which has piqued the interest of many a savvy marketer.

The future of social e-commerce is likely going to be about capitalising on a consumer’s hunger for instant gratification. They’ll want to be able to instantly chat with a brand about a product, then make the purchase straight away if they see fit. This will make messaging services such as Facebook Messenger incredibly important for brands. Expect to see AI bots answering customers’ queries in real time, in-app payment integration, and the current customer service solutions all bundled into a private chat space.

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What this means for e-commerce businesses

It means a few things:

  1. At this point, it should go without saying, but you need a carefully maintained social presence if you’re an online business.
  2. You should be using private messaging tools in your business’s marketing efforts, be ready to use in-app purchasing tools as they become available, and be open to chatbot technology.
  3. You must be willing to try new things as an e-commerce business if you’re to stay ahead of the competition.

There are no two ways about it – social media e-commerce will continue to evolve, and has already proven itself to be an incredibly valuable business tool for e-commerce companies. But in order to fully capitalise on it, you’ll need to be pragmatic, innovative and perhaps most of all, brave.

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