The last few years have seen some major changes in the social landscape. Social networks were once a place for updating statuses, sharing photos and generally keeping up with friends. Now there are videos to watch, news articles to read, and not to mention the chance to actually shop.

As part of the wider social media strategy, social commerce has proven to be a major revenue generator for the likes of real-time chat platforms such as WeChat and Line in Asia, so there’s little wonder why Zuckerberg has been quick to encourage in-app impulse buying by facilitating payments on Messenger and ‘Shop Now’ buttons. But how can brands best navigate the rise of commerce on social media platforms and effectively build it into their marketing campaigns?

Social media is key for research

It’s old news that having a social presence is vital for brands. Not only can free social media channels boast a massive reach (virtually every internet user now has a social media profile), these platforms also have an established role in the purchase journey.

Our latest research shows that 4 in 10 internet users aged 16-64 are turning to social media to research new brands or products.

Considering that younger consumers are the most likely to be doing so, it actually may not be long before social media overtakes search engines as the top portal for product research – a transition that has already taken place across Latin America and the Middle East & Africa.

4 in 10 consumers follow their favorite brands on social

It’s certain from this that brands should be marketing their products across these channels, but what about offering the chance to complete a purchase through social media? The main benefit to brands is that buy buttons allow for seamless transactions and the ability to act upon impulse purchases.

Half the online population are now shopping on mobile which makes this a key trend to watch, but inputting information on small screens can easily put someone off completing a purchase. An online shoppers’ path to purchase can be laborious with the added frustration for many of having to switch between sites to complete a payment.

There’s a clear balance to be made here between an effective content marketing strategy and pushing for purchases. Our data shows that 4 in 10 digital consumers follow their favorite brands on social, but that’s not to say these are necessarily loyal followers.

Brand awareness to help facilitate social mentions is one thing, but overloading social media posts with pictures of merchandise and buy buttons can easily turn your target audience off.

Misuse of influencers, and overuse of custom hashtags and brand mentions can also cause a counter-effect.

Surely followers want to see the images from their favorite brands that they wouldn’t usually see from traditional media?

Making social commerce work

Photo-centric platforms like Instagram and Pinterest offer attractive options here, allowing brands to showcase a lifestyle and build their brand story via trending topics. IKEA, for example, played upon the inspiring nature of Instagram when it distributed inspirational content on the platform (an approach which increased the average order value of digital purchases by about 10%).

And Instagram Stories, in particular, can help humanize brands and forge a deeper connection between social audiences and brands.

New York Times Fashion is one brand that successfully achieved the right balance here; as well as covering the Ralph Lauren Fashion Show and showcasing the designer dresses that would be available for purchase, it also shared celebrity interviews and moments from the after-party across the Stories feature.

Looking ahead, the real power of buy buttons will likely emerge when brand messages reach shoppers known to be interested in a given product. At present, just under a fifth of digital consumers say that a ‘buy’ button would make them more likely to buy something on via their social media accounts.

Providing these reach those displaying a genuine interest, and brands refrain from overloading with ‘push’ content, buy buttons remain a powerful tool for speeding up the path to purchase.

Download Commerce Q1 2017


Written by

Katie is a Strategic Insights Manager at GWI. Moving to the company 4 years ago, Katie heads up the Strategic Insights team, overseeing the production of bespoke assets for clients. Katie also writes on GWI's blog, with a particular interest in social media and marketing.

You’ve read our blog, now see our platform

Every business has questions about its audiences, GWI has answers. Powered by consistent, global research, our platform is an on-demand window into their world.