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Social commerce Selling without selling

Published on 10.03.2020 by Prof. Martina Dalla Vecchia, lecturer in e-commerce, digital marketing and social media at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW)

35,000 active followers are not a guarantee for sales, but they are the basis for visibility, expert status and trust. Social commerce is a people business. The aim is to build up a community, supported by digital platforms and tools. But at its core, social commerce is about people and dialogue.

History of social commerce

Social commerce was first mentioned in a blog post by Steve Rubel in 2005. In his post, Rubel previewed 2006 and predicted the rise of social commerce. For some savvy social media experts, the prediction has come true. One example is Gerry Vaynerchuk, who built up a multimillion dollar online wine business in the US with tools such as simple YouTube videos. But even after all this time, many Swiss businesspeople have never even heard of social commerce.

Definition: what is social commerce?

I’m often asked: “what is social commerce?” “Is it a kind of digital Tupperware party on the Internet?” “How is that going to work with our sales team?” The answers are not straightforward, because there is no generally accepted definition of social commerce.

The term usually refers to a mix of e-commerce and social media in which the focus is on active participation by customers/users and personal relationships and communication amongst customers.

Figure 1: Social commerce: mix of e-commerce and social media. Source: Dalla Vecchia, 2020

In line with the focus on communication, a distinction is made between social selling and social commerce. In social selling – primarily found in the realms of B2B marketing – the direct relationship (“1-to-1”) between the salesperson and customer is the focus. In social commerce, by contrast, larger groups of customers are targeted (“1-to-many”).

Figure 2: Social commerce characteristics in social selling and social commerce. Source: Dalla Vecchia, 2020

Is social commerce the same as social selling?

Social commerce is not the same as social selling. Social selling is used primarily in B2B markets, where the direct customer relationship is key, and salespeople position themselves as experts for their products or services on social media platforms.

In social commerce, the aim is usually to reach a larger target group. This includes visibility on review portals or recommendations by customers on their profiles, with the goal that they will simultaneously inform as many contacts as possible about the product or service, and perhaps even purchase it as a group. It is particularly challenging to motivate customers to write about the product, share pictures or even give positive reviews.

Platforms in social commerce

Figure 3: Social commerce platforms. Source: Dalla Vecchia, 2020

In general, all social media platforms can be used for social selling. Crucial factors include the options that exist for posts and comments and whether the desired target group uses the platform.

Amongst the most important B2C platforms are without a doubt Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Google MyBusiness (local visibility and reviews on Google search and Google Maps).

Social commerce as part of the social media framework

To operate social commerce, you should integrate your activities into a social media framework. This consists of five elements:

  1. Strategy: a clear commitment to proactive selling via social media, targets
  2. Organization: staff policies, responsibilities, crisis management
  3. Platforms: determine on which platforms you will be active
  4. Publication plan: what content will be published when and where
  5. Monitoring: what content is successful and leads to sales or traffic on the online shop

Conclusion: social commerce needs you to invest your heart and soul

Social commerce is a people business. If you are committed to it, you will be able to benefit from tools and platforms. But if you do not focus on added value for users, it will not work. This commitment requires trained individuals to create relevant content, initiate conversations and respond to comments and reviews on the social media platforms. If you do this, social commerce will work.

Prof. Martina Dalla Vecchia, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland

Prof. Martina Dalla Vecchia is a lecturer in e-commerce, online marketing and social media at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW). Her core competencies include Internet strategies, business networking and social selling.
She is co-editor at the specialist publisher BPX, which specializes in CEO-friendly paperbacks on IT and business topics. Her digital motto? “You are what you share!”

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