With social media marketers increasingly seeking to monetize their efforts, the social commerce toolbox is growing. And it can be difficult to keep up with what’s out there.  So here’s our attempt to organize social commerce into six dimensions, each based on a general toolset, with a quick review and our own rating of the value we believe they bring to the social commerce table.  Of course, there are many ways to skin the social commerce cat, and the value each dimension and associated toolset can generate is dependent on how it is implemented – this is just our way of understanding the area…  Let us know what you think!

Dimension 1: Social Shopping

Description: The social shopping toolset allows people to share the act of online shopping together (synchronous shopping).  The toolset includes

  • Group Buying: Enabling people to use their collective buying power to buy together to get a better deal (e.g. Dell Swarm, Adidas Freestripes, Intel Fan Plan)
  • Co-Browsing: Enabling people to shop together on an e-commerce site at the same time (synchronous shopping) with synchronised page views and integrated chat (Charlotte Russe, Mattel)
  • Group Gifting: Enabling people to buy a gift collectively (e.g. Apple iTunes Group Giftcard)
  • Ask-Your-Network: Feature embedded into product pages enabling people to get realtime advice and recommendations from their own trusted social circle by posting questions directly to their news feeds (e.g. Charlotte Russe, Mattel)
  • Social Network Storefronts: Enable people to buy where they connect within the walled gardens of a social network and solicit opinions and recommendation from their online social circle (Best Buy, Reebok)
  • Social Shopping Portals: Enable people to shop multiple stores together using social shopping tools, often combined with ratings and reviews, and recommendations and referrals (e.g Kaboodle, ThisNext)

Donut of Truth: Social Shopping

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Cost of software

Appeal limited to people who wish to shop socially

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Makes shopping social again

Slots seamlessly into e-commerce strategy

Review: With new tools bringing e-commerce to social networks and vice versa – such as Facebook Connect, social shopping is the new motor driving the social commerce trend.  Promotes purchase decisions primarily through the ‘liking’ social intelligence heuristic (see previous post for explanation on the psychology of how social commerce works), allowing people to shop with people they know, like and trust.  Adds emotion into the e-commerce mix, and enables realtime recommendations.  DecisionStep has measured sales impact of social shopping software +25% in shopping cart, +50% in average order value.

Solution Providers: DecisionStep, Fluid, Wisheo, eWinWin.

Tags: Social Shopping, Group Buying, Dell Swarm, Adidas Freestripes, Intel Fan Plan, Co-Browsing, Charlotte Russe, Mattel, Group Gifting, Apple iTunes Group Giftcard, AYN, Social Network Storefronts, Best Buy, Reebok, Social Shopping Portals, Kaboodle, ThisNext.

Bottom Line: Great social commerce solution for online retailers.

Dimension 2: Ratings & Reviews

Description: Ratings & Reviews provide independent third-party evaluation of a product or service review, with an opportunity for viewers to contribute and discuss.  The toolset includes

  • Customer Ratings & Reviews: The skinny from real customers, either integrated into an e-commerce product page, a social network page, a customer reviews site and/or in customer news feeds (e.g. Amazon, iTunes, Buzzillions, Epinions)
  • Expert Ratings & Reviews: The view from the independent voice of authority, professional or prosumers, either integrated into an e-commerce product page, a social network page, a product reviews site, an online magazine and/or in news feeds (e.g. Metacritic)
  • Sponsored Reviews: Paid for reviews, either customers or experts on social media platforms (e.g. SponsoredReviews, PayPerPost)
  • Customer Testimonials: Customer stories typically published to an e-commerce site, allowing comments and discussion (e.g. Bazaarvoice ‘Stories’)

Donut of Truth: Ratings & Reviews

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Cost of reviews software

Cost of commissioning / incentivising reviews

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Established and proven social commerce solution

Slots easily into e-commerce solutions

Review: If social shopping is the new kid on the block, Ratings & Reviews are the perennial Godfather of social commerce – around since 1995 (with Amazon) and a proven solution for boosting traffic volume, conversion and average order value through ‘word of mouse’.  Work primarily through the ‘social proof‘ and ‘authority‘ SI heuristics, promoting purchase decisions with credible information. ‘New news’ in Ratings & Reviews are review syndication (to social networks), contrast reviews (showing positive and negative reviews), tagged reviews (tagging reviews with keywords), video reviews, geo-tagged mobile reviews and story-based customer testimonials. Bazaarvoice measure impact of Ratings and Reviews to boost conversion by up to 25% – interestingly negative reviews appear not have a detrimental effect on sales; we don’t live in a five-star world and shoppers don’t expect it…

Solutions Providers: Bazaarvoice, PowerReviews, SponsoredReviews, PayPerPost.

Tags: Customer Ratings & Reviews, Expert Ratings & Reviews, Sponsored Reviews, Customer Testimonials, Amazon, iTunes, Buzzillions, Epinions). Metacritic, Sponsored Reviews, PayPerPost, social proof, authority.

Bottom Line: Want a proven solution for ROI on social media? Ratings and Reviews should be your first port of call.

Dimension 3: Recommendations & Referrals

Description: Promotes personal recommendations and referrals within online social circles, often rewarding referrers for their efforts.  Sometimes integrated in social shopping portals (e.g. Kaboodle, This Next) that bundle ratings and reviews and social shopping tools.  The recommendations and referrals toolset includes

  • Share With Your Network: (social bookmarking) Recommended products, deals and tips are bookmarked and syndicated to friends, fans and followers
  • Referral Programs: Rewarding customers and partners for referring new customers (e.g. Vente-Privée, Gilt, Amazon Affiliates)
  • Social Recommendations: Personal shopping recommendations based on profile similarities to other customers (e.g. Apple Genius Recommendations, Amazon Recommendations, Netflix Cinematch, Honk)

Donut of Truth: Recommendations & Referrals

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Works only when what you sell is genuinely worth recommending

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More psychologically powerful than anonymous ratings and reviews

Easy to calculate ROI (referral programs)

Review: Whereas ratings and reviews are usually visible to all, recommendations and referrals are personalised endorsements designed to realise the referral value of customers and advocates.  Often take the form of  online versions of traditional customer-get-customer referral-rewards programs (e.g. Sky Introduce a Friend) but can also use syndication tool via Twitter and Facebook to share recommendations with friends, fans and followers.  For example, fashion label Juicy Couture increased conversion rates by 162% using CreateTheGroup’s recommendations and referrals social software. Powered primarily by SI heuristics of liking, scarcity (of information) and reciprocity.  Innovations include social recommender systems (e.g. Stylefeeder, Honk) that automate personal recommendations based on algorithms comparing similarities between customer purchasing histories and profiles.

Solutions Providers: Facebook Connect, PowerReviews Social Megaphone, CreateTheGroup Social Software

Tags: Share With Your Network (SWYN), social bookmarking, Referral Programs, Vente-Privée, Gilt, Amazon Affiliates, Social Recommendations, Apple Genius, Amazon Recommendations, Netflix Cinematch, Facebook Connect, PowerReviews Social Megaphone, Stylefeeder, Twitter, Honk, CreateTheGroup, Juicy Couture., Kaboodle, ThisNext.

Bottom Line: If what you sell is really worth recommending, recommendations and referrals should be top of the social commerce list.

Dimension 4: Forums & Communities

Description: Forums and Community platforms connect people with each other and to a business in a moderated and curated environment. The toolset includes

  • User Forums: People offering each other support and solving each others’ task or product problems – members typically customers and/or partners (Apple discussions, Threadless forums, P&G BeingGirl)
  • User Galleries: People sharing and discussing video and image content with each other and with the gallery host, around a particular theme (e.g. Burberry Art of the Trench)
  • Idea Boards: Online suggestion boards for constructive feedback, often with voting and commenting features (e.g. MyStarbucksIdea, Dell IdeaStorm)
  • Q&A Forums: New-style FAQs harnessing user contributions to answer common questions in a structured format (e.g. Bazaarvoice ‘Ask & Answer’, PowerReviews AnswerBox)
  • Brand Communities: Private communities of customers/partners, usually with a loyalty or advisory purpose

Donut of Truth: Forums & Communities

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Resource intensive, require moderation and curation (Starbucks have 40 moderators for their idea forum)

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Easy to use, inexpensive software

Can reduce customer support and innovation costs

Review: The forum is the unsung hero of social media, effective; popular and useful.  Can be integrated into social networking platforms to allow personal messaging and status updates to create an increased sense of community.  Promotes purchase decisions primarily through consistency and authority by allowing members to share trusted information with each other and the host. P&G has calculated that its BeingGirl forum is 4x as effective as TV advertising. Innovations in this space include Idea Boards – online suggestion and discussion boards to capture constructive feedback, and user-powered Q&A forums for customer support in a moderated, curated and structured environment.

Solutions Providers: Bazaarvoice, PowerReviews, Salesforce Ideas, Ripple6, Pluck

Tags: User Forums, User Galleries, Idea Boards, Q&A Forums, P&G, Burberry, Starbucks, Dell, Threadless, Brand Communities, Bazaarvoice, PowerReviews, Salesforce Ideas, Ripple6, Pluck

Bottom Line: A powerful long term solution that requires ongoing investment and commitment.

Dimension 5: SMO (Social Media Optimisation)

Description: A toolset designed to attract visitors to websites and website content by promoting and publicising these destination and content through social media. Typically involves seeding marketing collateral to major social media platforms:

  • News Feeds: offering syndicated news on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs (RSS) and other social media platforms, providing a resource for exclusive information and (often) special deals (e.g. Dell Outlet, Carrefour FaceShopping)
  • Media Sharing: Publishing advertising and promotional content to popular social media platforms such as YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare (e.g. Blendtec Will it Blend Ads), and informational content to Wikipedia (e.g. Skilttles)
  • Social Media Events: Running media events in social media space such as webinars, press briefings, contests, screenings, and shows (e.g. Random House Cover Design contests)
  • Link Building: Adding linked comments to third party social media content, such as blogs, forums and media sharing sites

Donut of Truth: Social Media Optimisation

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Time consuming

Risk of backfiring if not used as a dialogue platform but platform for  promotional messaging

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Great for Google juice

Effective at boosting e-commerce traffic

Review: Social Media Optimisation increases traffic volume to e-commerce destinations, both via inbound links from social media and through improvements to search engine rankings driven by these links.  It’s a social media version/complement to SEO (search engine optimisation) Promotes purchase decisions primarily through social proof, scarcity and consistency.  For example by posting amusing online video ads to its own site and to major video sharing sites, food processor manufacturer Blendtec increased sales by 500%. Also of note, confectionary manufacturer Mars replacing product sites with single landing pages – linking to social media platforms (e.g. Skittles).  SMO is typically offered with social media monitoring services.

Solution Providers: Most Social Media Agencies

Tags: News Feeds, Media Sharing, Social Media Events, Link Building, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia, social proof, scarcity and consistency, Dell, Blendtec, Carrefour, FaceShopping, Mars, Skittles,

Bottom Line: Steer clear if you see social media as just another messaging channel

Dimension 6: Social Ads & Apps

Description: Branded content in social media in the form of paid advertisements or social applications

  • Social Ads – placing advertisements in paid-for media space on social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, (and soon) Twitter, as well as on blogs and forums.
  • Social Apps – creating branded online applications that support social interaction and user contributions (e.g. Nike+)

Donut of Truth: Social Ads & Apps

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Need to deliver compelling value for successful uptake (social apps)

Low CTR (click through rates) (social ads)

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Simple & safe social commerce solution (social ads)

Social Apps can add real value to brand proposition

Review: Social Ads and Apps stimulate purchase decisions through the social intelligence mechanisms of ‘consistency’ and (in the case of apps) reciprocity. By clicking on a e-commerce link embedded in an app or ad, the user is making a small psychological commitment to making a purchase. Arguably, social apps outperform social ads here because they also use reciprocity; social applications that solve people’s problems (e.g. motivation and performance tracking in the case of Nike+) can create a sense of psychological indebtedness, making purchase more likely. However, social ads are far simpler to deploy, and are less dependant on insight and creativity – they simply require a compelling reason to click. For example, fast-food chain Chick-fil-A ran a successful Facebook free-sample engagement ad campaign; clicking on the ad revealed a form to receive a mail coupon. The downside of social ads is that they have low click through rates – social media users appear to be more focused on communicating to pay attention to the ads – despite the ability to run highly targeted ads based on profile and social graph.

Solution Providers: Many Social Media Agencies

Tags: Social Advertisements, Social Applications, Facebook, Nike+, Chick-Fil-A

Bottom Line: An easy first step into the world of social commerce

So what do you think?  I’ll add links and amendments later – but until then happy holidays!