There’s an interesting debate going on over at TechCrunch on a post by Craig Donato (CEO of Oodle, that runs the Facebook Marketplace), who is arguing that real social commerce is about “humanising online commerce” with conversations and relationships – not group deals, anonymous reviews, or other algorithmic e-commerce widgets.

To illustrate, Craig asks if you’re looking for a new housekeeper, then which would you prefer

  • a) A half-dozen reviews from people you don’t know?
  • b) A coupon for 10% off the cleaner’s first visit?
  • c) Two friends that use the same cleaner—and are fans?

The point being made is that shopping with your social graph (social commerce 2.0) – i.e. with people you know and trust is smarter that other variations that pass for social commerce – principally group-buy – and user reviews (social commerce 1.0 – connecting customers online).

If this is true, then the article suggests two implications for retailers and brands using social commerce

  • Practice the art of conversation. Social commerce is not about capturing leads and building databases. It’s about talking to people with an authentic voice, the same voice you would use if you were talking to them in person.  (Remember, you’re talking to your customers in the same place they use to chat with their friends.)
  • Build and deepen customer relationships. Customers are the trusted network, the community that surrounds a business. By taking care of your customers, you not only deepen those relationships, but you also fuel referrals.

Whilst we agree with the thrust of the article, we’re not sure that a one-(human)-size-fits-all approach to social commerce is always best.  Sometimes a page of glowing user reviews may trump feedback from a friend (e.g. perhaps for a new car), and sometimes user reviews may be your only realistic option (e.g you need a lot of sales for two or more friends to have experienced you). And sometimes a first-hand experience from a discounted trial via a group-buy site may trump both. Social learning is great, but sometimes individual learning is better – specifically when there is little risk to the shopper.

From a time-management perspective adding social commerce software to allow shoppers to shop smarter with social intelligence may be a lot less onerous than practicing the art of conversation with customers and deepening customer relationships.  Conversations and relationships are time-bandits. One approach does not replace the other, but for time-pressed brands and retailers, software may be the only practical option.

And if you look at the hard evidence on how social commerce boosts sales, it’s difficult to beat the data on how user reviews boost sales or the hard sales of Groupon – the fastest growing business, ever.  This is indicative that sometimes people will in fact want to try stuff for themselves and make their own mind up, rather than follow the advice of others – for these independant-minded folk group-buy software beats friendsourcing-advice.

Actually, we think we’re talking apples and oranges here, what the article seems to be arguing is for ‘social media marketing’ rather than social commerce – proposing the ‘de-ecommercification’ of social commerce.  This is fine, but the definition of commerce is the exchange of goods or services for something of economic value, usually money.  If the “social” in social commerce denotes social media (online media supporting social interaction and user contributions) – then surely social commerce is about conducting such transactions using social media.

Or to put it succinctly, in the words of the social commerce LinkedIn group, social commerce is about selling with social media.  Social selling, not social marketing.