Facebook – it is hard to believe that something so pervasive only began in early 2004. Back then, it was only available to some uni students. Fast forward to September 2012 and its reported user base was at the one billion mark. Only two years prior, its user base was half that. These are staggering numbers.
Following the general trend of Internet access, “Facebook said it had 600 million mobile users, meaning more than half of the social network’s members access the service on phones or other on-the-go devices.”1 This means lots of things but clearly it suggests that lots of people are on Facebook which translates to potentially lots of your customers on there too.
Facebook is all about social networking and for those of you who like a definition, social networking is the building of social relationships among people who, for example, share interests, activities, backgrounds, or real-life connections. Strictly speaking, by intermixing with our friendship groups at home we are in fact, social networking but the term hadn’t really been used to any degree until social networking services (such as Facebook) began on the Internet. In the physical world, our social networking ability is hampered by geographic distance and time. In the online world, and with the ubiquity of mobile technology, we are only a click away from our ‘friends’ whether they are here or on the other side of the world.
The real beauty of online social networking is its ‘viral’ nature. In simple terms this means its ability to spread a message rapidly to many, many users. Eg. Someone posts a funny picture to their Facebook timeline and 10 of their friends ‘share’ that on their own timeline and then 10 friends of each of those 10 friends do the same, and so on. Suddenly, your reach is 100’s or 1000’s. In the early stages, much of how Facebook has been used in ecommerce has been as a marketing tool. And in some cases, savvy business people have developed an entirely new business around the concept of this social marketing. One such example is Fab.com. They sell items that have a funky, trendy design (some of them quirky) and they embed social media icons into their website that encourage visitors to share these items on social media pages. Some items are so quirky that this encourages a viral result. Social media users click on the item and go off and look at Fab’s website and in many cases, buy.
By its nature, shopping is a popular social pastime. By using social media, shoppers can seek opinions and share all along the way even in the physical world. Think about the Facebook icons, like buttons, etc. that you see in shop windows or on restaurant tables. Shoppers are trying on outfits, taking photos, sharing them in social media such as Facebook and asking for feedback from their friends. Companies like FaceCake are taking this further by offering “virtual changerooms” where people don’t even have to get undressed. Outfits are superimposed on a video/photo of the shopper and then these can be shared on Facebook. At the end of the buying process, especially for online purchases, savvy websites are asking the customer to “share” their purchase on Facebook. Part of the built-in psyche for many of us is an incessant desire to look cooler, smarter and better. For online social networking, the way to do this is to ‘share’ with as many people as possible. The video below is from Havas Media and explains how social shopping works (and why). They are saying that social shopping online is a huge trend.
Fast forward a little further and let’s discuss Facebook Commerce or Fcommerce specifically. Put simply, it is about buying and selling directly from Facebook. Like all new technologies, it has received its fair share of criticism but it appears that the ‘tide might be turning’ as more and more vendors offer integrated shopping solutions with Facebook. It seems that the past failures of Fcommerce have been where businesses simply replicated their existing website on Facebook resulting in a non-social shopping experience and duplicated development and running costs.
A question you might ask is “Why bother with Fcommerce if I already have a good social networking strategy and a decent website?” My answer to that is that for each click a customer makes, there is a chance you will lose them. When you force a customer from a medium like Facebook out to your website, you are adding extra clicks into the buying process. The solution is to make the buying experience simple, short and to focus on a ‘pull’ marketing strategy rather than a ‘push’ one. By this I mean that you have to focus on strategies that encourage the customer to seek you out rather than for you to push your product onto them. And here we end up back at social networking because this is one of the best ways to develop a ‘pull’ strategy and it’s why I think Fcommerce has a lot of potential.