Social media is becoming increasingly important for Google search rankings. With a possible Facebook IPO looming in the near future, some are predicting that 2012 could be the year that Facebook gives Amazon a run for its money as an e-commerce platform. This is just one of the conclusions of a recent forecast by the SEO and social media marketing experts at Optify. In an effort to figure out what this all means for content merchandisers and companies who sell products online, I turned to Optify VP of Marketing Anthony Joseph.
Where Is the Future of Online Merchandising?
Content Ping: During the past few years we’ve seen social media play an increasingly important role in creating buzz, both positive and negative, around products. How do you expect this trend to evolve in 2012?
Anthony Joseph: I expect social media to mature as a way for marketers to drive awareness and create buzz for products. Discussions and buzz for hot products will occur whether marketers are actively participating in driving these events or not. Expect more retailers and marketers to utilize social media to get the word out about their products, help users tell “product stories” that give a more authentic dimension and life to their products, and use influencers to help promote their products. (Klout has started forging connections between their most highly influential users and product manufactures looking to reach and have those influential netizens provide public product reviews). Marketers can focus on finding customers who are already familiar with their brand and using their products, who are active on social networks. These customers are likely willing to talk about products, so swaying them to play is less of a leap and can pay huge dividends.
“My prediction is that Facebook… will reinvest in making it easier (and more secure) for friends to share their purchases and shop together.
Content Ping: What will this mean for companies that sell products online?
Anthony Joseph: Companies that sell products online will need to ensure they’re doing three things:
1) Cover the basics and ensure that all product pages are “tagged” for collecting social signals such as Likes, Tweets, and Shares.
2) Use the wide reach of social media networks to share news about new product releases, exclusive bundles, updated product availability and time sensitive sales, deals, or promotions, and
3) Measure the effectiveness of these efforts, both by measuring return on investment and return on effort, as not all campaigns will perform equally.
Creative retailers may find additional co-op dollars from manufactures and advertisers to run channel campaigns aimed at reaching the “social customer” in social media networks.
Content Ping: You mention that after its 2012 IPO, Facebook will be well positioned to give Amazon a run for its money by creating social shopping experiences. Can you explain a little more how you see this developing?
Anthony Joseph: You’d be hard pressed to find anyone to debate the fact that Amazon and Facebook are the online behemoths of their domains: shopping and social networks respectively. Up to this point, these two models have had little cross-pollination, and it’s not hard to consider this an odd occurrence given that huge opportunities abound. We tend to look for recommendations and validation on product choice from friends and trusted sources before we buy high-ticket items. We sometimes go shopping with friends and we also tend to share perspectives about items we’ve purchased and liked or hated with our friends.
My prediction is that Facebook will re-emerge from the Facebook Beacon retreat and reinvest in making it easier (and more secure) for friends to share their purchases and shop together, and will also provide an environment and experience which is unique and very different from what Amazon provides today. You and I may not take initially notice, but I can imagine our younger friends, who will spend more and more time on Facebook, trading in trips to the mall for a traipse through an online shopping spree (complete with shared screens, video chat, and group buying discounts) with their friends in virtual tow.
Content Ping: What do companies that already have successful e-commerce strategies in place need to take into consideration when deciding whether or not to pursue Facebook commerce?
Anthony Joseph: Online retailers should recognize that there are two types of shoppers when it comes to online purchasers in the social age—Spearfishers and Netcasters, or searchers and social media-ites respectively. Companies who sell their products and services online need to have an integrated strategy to reach both of them where they are at the beginning, middle, or near the end points in their Buyer’s Journey.
Today, Facebook is primarily about people connections, not about products. Facebook may provide a venue to reach buyers in the early stage—before they’ve made a decision about what or when or how they are going to buy your product. So marketers have to find ways to integrate their products into the social experience. Within Facebook, product content like recommendations, especially from friends, will be effective in highlighting purchase opportunities for potential customers. Retailers may choose to offer discounts or points to users for liking their products, or sharing product purchases with friends. Marketers will have to experiment to apply concerted test tactics, guided by an understanding of the social marketplaces their customers and prospects will undoubtedly be spending more and more time in.
Anthony is VP, Marketing & Customer Experience at Optify. He manages the Optify product experience and oversees all marketing and product marketing operations. Anthony has held a number of key product, technology and business leadership positions at Amazon.com, PointCast, Avid, and Digidesign. Outside of work, Anthony volunteers as a youth soccer coach and a youth running coach with a local track club where his four children run circles around him.
He was an MBA candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and is a graduate of Middlebury College.