Brands Embrace Shoppable Social Media Content To Push Sales

Nov 05, 2014

Article ImageSocial media content can influence purchase decisions, but its role often goes uncredited since posts and tweets aren't usually the last click before a sale. "That's like only recognizing the pro basketball player who makes a shot, and completely disregarding the guy who's part of the assist," says Jason Cormier, co-founder of the digital marketing agency Room 214.

New tools and strategies are changing the game, however, by enabling strong social content to more directly impact commerce. "Buy" buttons in tweets and posts could offer a seamless route, and both Twitter and Facebook are currently testing them. But what's already gaining steam are two kinds of "shoppable" content: Images of products that brands post on Instagram and snapshots of products taken by social media users that brands display on their websites.

"Social commerce for brands is about monetizing their investments in building these large social communities, pushing their followers further down the purchase funnel, capitalizing on impulse purchases," says Danielle Bailey, research director of the business intelligence firm L2. "Social commerce for many brands will represent the Holy Grail as they will finally be able to have a measurable metric by which to judge the value of their social communities and investments." 

Interestingly, Instagram itself doesn't make it easy for users who like an item to find and purchase it. Fashionistas looking at a jumpsuit can't simply click on the photo to be brought to a product page or online cart, for instance. That's because the platform only allows links in profiles, not in content.

Offering ecommerce workarounds are companies like Soldsie, rewardStyle, and Curalate. The latter, for instance, sells a tool called Like2Buy. With it, brands like Gap, Target, and Nordstrom use their profile links to direct visitors to mobile websites featuring some of the identical images from their feeds. Visitors click on these pictures to go to a retailer's website.

Curalate CEO and co-founder Apu Gupta acknowledges Instagram could take steps that render bypasses like Like2Buy unnecessary, but he says that as a social media marketing platform for images, Curalate is all for it because the changes would make Instagram even more valuable to his clients.

For its part, an Instagram spokesperson, who prefers to remain anonymous, says the company doesn't have any immediate plans to add links to content but "is always monitoring the ways in which people are using the platform and the tools and services they're requesting."

Meanwhile, social media is brimming with imagery that users create of products they like, and brands are seeing the value in culling these photos for their websites. New tools allow companies to link the content to product pages and track how users interact with it.

The payoff can be considerable. Integrating user-generated Instagram images on brand sites has been shown on average to increase conversion rates by 5-7% and average order values by two percent, Bailey says.  Curalate has a product called Fanreel that brands like Urban Outfitters, Lucky Brand, and Saks Fifth Avenue are using to display galleries of user-generated content (UGC).

"The premise behind Fanreel was that photos from fans can be used to convince other consumers to buy products," says Gupta. "Whereas product reviews ask you to be very rational and critical, fan photos are very emotional and celebratory, and that's why they work."

The visual commerce firm Olapic also sells a UGC tool; it counts Stella and Dot, Alex and Ani, and Steve Madden among its customers. Olapic co-founder and CEO Pau Sabria predicts shoppers will increasingly rely on UGC.

"Five years from now many people are going to look back and think, ‘Why is it that we were shopping from these staged, white-background pictures? How come people were able to make a purchasing decision just based on that?'," he says. "Ultimately the perception is going to be more of a transparent and community-driven type of commerce in which the user is at the forefront."

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)