Social Commerce Defined

Social Commerce’s 5 Attributes

Social commerce is the marriage between social media and e-commerce. It’s shopping where social media platforms provide social engagement, contributions and (in some cases) purchase. According to Wikipedia, social commerce is the use of social network(s) in the context of e-commerce transactions.

At its core, social commerce is defined by the following five attributes:

  1. Social commerce is a social activity that happens to be associated with shopping. Sean Carton points out that social commerce provides the technologies that facilitate interactions between people who like to buy stuff. In his view, it serves an important social function that is about getting together with other people in a place that facilitates interaction and provides entertainment/escape with the potential scale, reach and ease of sharing/connecting.
  2. Social commerce is about consumers with similar interests, passions and needs collectively engaging in conversations related to products and service. Depending on the forum, this group of consumers may or may not know each other, however, their shared interest ties them together according to Julie Barile. For Maryssa Miller, social commerce is the ability to exploit community ties to make the shopping experience more personal and relevant for the individual.
  3. Social commerce invites your target audience to play an active role in merchandising your product or service. Social commerce is where consumers fuel your brand’s purchase funnel through the use of social media. As a result, social media influences purchase intent, discovery purchase, consumption and advocacy of products and services. It’s affected by social referrals whether they’re people we know or complete strangers in the words of Andrew Beranbom. Social commerce, according to Cathy Halligan, harnesses the vitality of consumer conversations on the social web to drive customer acquisition and sales. Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics (affiliate) calls social Commerce the transactional subset of the value created and shared via social media and its efficient influence on outcomes – economic, political, relational, etc.
  4. Social commerce involves the breadth of collaborative shopping tools. Among them are lists, user reviews and other user-generated content to create products, provide product information, offer shopping advice, and enable brand advocacy. Dave Kerpen author of Likeable Social Media (affiliate) points to F-commerce, enabled by the Facebook platform, as the most widespread example of social commerce.  Jon Mandell echoes this when he says, social commerce is old school, grass roots, retail marketing online and on an exponentially larger scale. Heidi Cohen reminds you that social commerce links bricks and mortar stores and social connections through use of mobile.
  5. Social commerce involves tapping social media to increase transactions. For David Berkowitz, it can be through a marketer’s digital presence or other social media properties. Liana Evans, author of Social Media Marketing: Strategies for Engaging in Facebook, Twitter & Other Social Media (affiliate) affirms this sentiment. Social commerce is consumers’ ability to purchase products or services directly (or with little effort of more than say 2-5 clicks away) from interaction within a social community. Specifically, for Joelle Musante, social commerce implies an activity done with people and the understanding that the transaction should be completed within a social media platform. Any social commerce shop should have the capability to share, like, tweet, comment, review and/or buy on the platform.

At its core, social commerce is a social activity. It’s shopping-oriented social media marketing that touches buyers before, during and after their purchase. It encompasses a broad array of options including group buying, social shopping, mobile apps, retailers adding social features, and shopping integrated into social media.

Are there any other elements that you’d add to the definition of social commerce? If so, what would you add and why?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


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  • http://www.givvy.com/app Claudio Miranda

    This is a great summary of the key pillars that constitute Social Commerce. A couple other elements to consider:

    1. Social commerce incorporates elements into the shopping experience that confers status and social recognition on active and outspoken shopppers. These elements include gamification and social status dynamics like badges, points, rewards, leaderboards, number of followers, influence score, etc. Shoppers who are motivated with these mechanisms tend to guide, influence and validate the purchasing decisions of their peers. These mechanisms also tend to increase user engagement and long-term retention.

    2. Building on point #3 above, social commerce gives savvy shoppers and tastemakers a venue for self-expression, empowering them to exert influence on their peers through their product knowledge, expertise and unique sense of style. Good examples of this are sites like Pinterest, Givvy, and Polyvore–where influential shoppers not only help with merchandising, but they shape trends and drive purchasing intent.