Why and How Facebook Commerce Can Work
An article at Bloomberg BusinessWeek last week indicated that Facebook is taking pro-active steps to become a major player in online retail. The company hired David Fisch to head up a new department that will focus on developing and growing e-commerce tools and solutions for retailers, within their already existing Facebook pages.
"Facebook is ramping up efforts to entice companies such as Delta Air Lines and J.C. Penney to sell wares on its pages and convert more of its 500 million users into online shoppers," the article stated.
It was another phrase from the article that mainly caught my attention: "...online shopping outlets fueled by recommendations from friends who 'like' to buy."
That statement denotes a partnership between the merchant and the customer, or even an interdependent, symbiotic relationship. The customer is dependent on the merchant to create the outlet and the merchant depends on the customer to both buy and recommend the products.
There are those who regale at the notion that Facebook could become something other than a social network. But, with Facebook itself driving the social commerce train, we can expect to see the adoption process gain greater velocity in the near future.
Its users are going to have to come to terms with the fact that Facebook is no longer merely a social network. Given that people are coming to depend on Facebook for everything, it may be morphing into a 21st century version of AOL (don't laugh). Most certainly it is becoming a social network/shopping portal.
I believe consumers will get used to the idea, even accepting of it. Take Facebook Ads, for example. According to Practical Ecommerce blogger Dale Traxler, they are actually working! (And I've heard that from more sources than Dale, and have experienced it myself.)
What we're seeing is a "frog in the kettle" effect. Slowly, but surely, Facebook is moving beyond its social network roots to become something greater -- the operating system of the new web. Or, as social media consultant Jay Baer put it, the "plumbing" of the new web.
If all this is true, then what steps can the merchant take to encourage growth in the relationship?
Establish a presence within Facebook
This mandates a two-pronged approach: the merchant needs to move the cash register closer to the water cooler and the water cooler closer to the cash register.
By that I mean, merchants should create a Facebook business page that contains a shopping cart and should integrate elements of Facebook into the ecommerce site using any of the eight social plugins Facebook offers. For those who can afford to hire a developer, full integration with Facebook's Open Graph can turn a product page on the merchant's site into the equivalent of a Facebook page.
If I, as a customer, can visit your website and like or recommend products to my Facebook friends, that's a good as if I visit your Facebook Page and do so. The lines of demarcation between the two need to be erased to the degree that both are considered socially-optimized ecommerce channels. Your ecommerce site needs to function as a social environment just as much as Facebook needs to serve ecommerce purposes.
Find ways to encourage fans to buy and recommend products
This can be done in any number of ways: status updates where products are mentioned, special discounts available only to fans, a shopping cart tab on the page, holding contests, polls, and group deal offers. Of course, nothing beats personal interaction with fans when they leave comments or submit content, if such activity is permitted.
On the other hand, having "like" or "recommend" buttons on a product description page of the ecommerce site serves the same purpose. If a customer is purchasing a product, it stands to reason they may "like" it as well.
In July 2010, website conversion company SeeWhy conducted a study on the use of Facebook for social commerce and found that 35% of online marketers responsible for social marketing or ecommerce have already implemented Facebook’s "like" plug-in, and another third plan to do so.
It's apparent that ecommerce merchants are gaining an understanding of Facebook's growing importance for online retail. As long as merchants and customers are willing to engage in a partnership, "fcommerce," as it is being called, can work.
Fabio De Bernardi says:
Paul, I agree that a Facebook shopping cart will soon become a must have and I reckon that businesses will need to be careful in how they propose it. On average you don't want to be pushy or too aggressive on a platform where - in theory - the main objective should be communication and engagement. However, one of the things we do at Wishpot for our clients is to use products as proper content for people to share and discuss.
Also, we enable clients to automatically to their wall certain types of products (new, discounted, featured, etc.) so that they can engage straight from the Wall and get more product awareness and more sales without being pushy (example: http://www.facebook.com/uk.bestbuy/posts/470356113990)
Mike Eckler says:
I enjoyed reading your article. I do, however, disagree. I'm surely in the minority here, but I truly feel that Facebook and sales do not mix. In fact, I believe that "fcommerce" is just another bubble that will eventually burst.
Facebook is great place to meet friends and share experiences. Now tell me honestly, if you were siting at a bar with five of your best friends from high school, discussing old times, sharing memories and a few jokes, would you appreciate at salesperson sitting down at your table and interrupting your party with a sales pitch?
Let's take this a step further. If you and the same five friends were all very interested in basketball, and the salesperson started selling you basketball shoes, would you suddenly stop discussing the girls you wanted to date?
Of course not! At least that's what I think. Although Facebook knows everything about you, sales pitches - targeted or not - are not going to be tolerated. (Advertising yes, sales no.)
Well, that's only my opinion, but when I see a bubble, I want to get out before it bursts.
Paul Chaney says:
Fabio and Mike, thanks for your input. I agree that "push" does not work. My focus regarding the use of Facebook for marketing is relegated to the use of a fan page supplemented by Facebook ads, and the "like" and/or "recommend" buttons. I do not advocate the pushy salesperson approach. The merchant establishes the outlet and depends on fans to share the content which interests them. Make sense?
I find myself leaning towards Mike. I personally resist seeing Facebook move to an obvious commercial side. On the other hand, since FB is driving it, it may become accepted by the public. Not sure, though. Consumers are fickle and unpredicatable. One thing is for certain. FB has earned a spot where it is a social driver and people tend to accept its decisions. So I guess time will tell whether the people revolt against Big Brother or not.