Here’s how to sell cars fast on Twitter.

  1. Create a special limited edition that will not be available for sale elsewhere – a Twitter exclusive.
  2. Theme and schedule the special edition around a popular calendar event (e.g. Chinese New Year)
  3. Don’t ask for full payment, just a deposit (e.g. 1.5%)

That’s how Mercedes sold more than 1 car per minute (666 in 8 hours (480 minutes)) on the Chinese microblogging and Twitter-equivalent Sina Weibo for the Chinese New Year – “the year of the snake”.

The results, reported in this morning’s Financial Times illustrates how sticking to the basic and elementary rules of social commerce (make it an event, make it limited, make it an exclusive) can result in sales.  Mercedes made 4% of it’s annual sales for Smart Cars just in 8 hours.

What was particularly smart about the Smart sales was that Mercedes ‘de-risked’ the purchase by only processing a small deposit payment of 1.5% (1999 Rmb ($328)). Offering event merchandise – a special edition year of the snake necklace (below) was a nice touch too.

Only 666 special edition“year of the snake” models were made – and guess what? When prospects were contacted by dealers prior to the advertised January 18 social commerce event, the social influence heuristics of scarcity and consistency ensured that the Lunar  “year of the snake” Limited Edition sold out, at Rmb128,888 ($20,728). That’s 86 million Rmb ($13m).  Not bad for a day’s work.

If selling stuff on Twitter-style platforms is so easy in China, why are others finding it so hard to do so elsewhere?

The rules are certainly easy enough (make it an event, make it limited, make it an exclusive – see The Social Commerce Handbook).  The temptation of course, is to ignore these basic rules, like Lamborghini China, who has singularly failed to sell even one car in social media (not an event, not limited, not an exclusive).  Or BMW, who used social media as a marketing campaign platform (doh!) in China, rather than offer people value; it’s ‘UFO campaign’ backfired and reputation was damaged.

Social commerce is perhaps made easier in China because microblogging platforms such as Sina Weibo have recently launched payment gateways and now offer integrated e-commerce features, making Twitter somewhat of a laggard (come’ on Twitter – if you’re looking for a business model not based on social spam – look East).   Whilst Mercedes is an early adopter, Chinese mobile phone brand Xiaomi had already used it to sell 50,000 Mi2 phones in less than half a day.

It might be argued that Chinese businesses and consumers are more technologically advanced than Americans or Europeans; certainly people get richer faster in China, so the younger social media savvy generation have deeper pockets and are able to buy big ticket items.

But we think that’s an excuse, not a reason.

There are enough technologically savvy people business-side and consumer-side outside of China to make Twitter commerce a success.

smart-weibo SmartNecklace