What is Social Commerce? Definition, Examples, Tips

Illustration of someone buying online to demonstrate the power of social commerce
Illustration of someone buying online to demonstrate the power of social commerce

The global pandemic undoubtedly excelled its exponential growth but social commerce as a buying channel is showing no signs of slowing in a post-pandemic world. In fact, the social commerce retail industry is expected to reach $79b by 2025.

What does this mean for businesses? Well, quite simply, the opportunity is huge and growing, social media has become so much more than just a place to connect with friends.

Social media has become a place of discovery for its users. People can learn about new products, services, and brands. They can get direct feedback from others about their experiences, and read and leave reviews, all in the same space. Many social networks have also made it possible to purchase items directly within the platforms.

With less friction throughout the buying process, it’s no surprise that more customers are hopping on the social commerce trend. Fewer clicks give customers fewer drop-out points across the customer journey, fewer reasons to abandon their carts, and more opportunities to complete a purchase.

That's why you should include social commerce into your social media marketing efforts.

Table of contents

Definition: What is Social Commerce?

Let's start with a social commerce definition:

We define social commerce as the intentional act of selling products or services on social media. The entire shopping experience — from discovery and research to purchase — takes place on social media, not your own website.

Social commerce is different from social shopping. While online shopping /social shopping is a collaboration of online shoppers networking with one another, social commerce makes online vendors part of the conversations.

Now, more than a decade after the launch of Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, then the subsequent appearance of Snapchat, social media has become central to the customer shopping experience online from discovery all the way to purchase.

Additional studies suggest that 8 in 10 businesses are considering selling on social media within the next three years. This creates a classic FOMO (fear of missing out) scenario, where not doing something your competitors are doing allows them to take all the glory and leave you on the sidelines. 

Social commerce is for everyone - whether you're a small business, direct-to-consumer, or a multi-million dollar enterprise, it can help you create an online-only social experience for your audience and potential customers.

But apart from FOMO, why should brands and marketing teams invest in social commerce? Put simply, it's one of the most effective ways of generating direct ROI from Social Media. Social commerce also makes sense from a numbers perspective. As marketers, we’re all about tracking KPIs and metrics that show us where we’re moving the needle. Adding social commerce to the marketing mix creates another way to boost those social media metrics, from impressions to conversions, to engagement data, and more.

Naturally, you want to go where your customers already are - it’s becoming harder to get noticed online and cut through the noise. But when you can connect with customers in places they already know and trust — and make it easy to buy from you — a big part of the battle is already won.

Social Commerce Marketing Strategies

There’s more than one way to approach social commerce, especially since there’s more than one platform to support it. Let’s look at how brands are using social commerce in practice.

1. Organic and Paid Posting 

As with other types of social content, brands can create posts with the goal of direct purchases. These take the form of Shoppable Posts (organic) and Shoppable Ads (paid), both of which allow users to check out within the social media app.  

Organic posts appear on your brand’s page and are displayed to your followers. In turn, your followers may share that content with their own audience, helping you to get more eyes on your posts. You can pay to promote your shoppable content, too. Paid promotions allow you to reach a wider audience faster, and target your offers to people who are most likely to be interested in your products. 

Person holding dollar bills

2. Using User-Generated Content for Social Commerce

User-generated content (UGC) makes a powerful statement. It’s pure flattery for brands, as it means that your customers love you enough to create their own content starring you! It also shows they’re willing to recommend you to others — another testament that you’re doing something right.

UGC can help you get more recognition and more sales on social media. For example, a customer might post a photo of the new outfit they bought from you or a video of them using your product. When their audience sees it, you gain instant credibility and visibility.

The big question is - how do you keep on top of user-generated content? Our favourite approach is to use a social listening solution for identifying UGC. Meltwater’s Social Listening platform helps you capture these mentions and turn them into marketing opportunities.

Its also a good idea to keep an eye on the creators of user-generated content, especially if they are raving about your product, these people are almost raising their hand to become brand ambassadors. These are great people to seek out and start building your community by utilising their influence.

And speaking of influence...

Asos user-generated content

3. Influencer Marketing Cooperations to boost Social Commerce

It wouldn’t be a conversation about social commerce if we didn’t touch on one of the biggest accelerators of the distribution of content to a buying audience. Influencers. 

But how much of a role do influencers play in actually getting your audience to take action and BUY your product? 

A slice of the UGC pie, influencer marketing relies on the followers of social media influencers to expose your products to more people.

Instead of creating your own shoppable posts, influencers create content on your behalf. They use the products you specify, then promote them to their followers with the goal of immediate sales.

More than 9 in 10 consumers say they trust influencers more than traditional advertisements or celebrity endorsements. They appear more authentic and honest, plus they know the real problems and challenges their audience is facing - and can suggest better solutions. Since most influencers are niche, they can better relate to a certain audience. What’s more, 33% of consumers use influencers when making buying decisions or asking for shopping recommendations! But before embarking on an influencer marketing strategy...

An illustration of yoga influencer profiles on Klear, Meltwater's influencer marketing platform.

Brands need to connect with relevant, engaged, trustworthy influencers who can best represent them and their products. Klear, a Meltwater offering and the leading influencer marketing platform, can find influencers in your niche. From macro influencers, to micro influencers, and nano influencers, Klear can facilitate the introduction and help you learn more about a person’s influence in any space. The platform also includes integrations with WooCommerce and Shopify to help influencers and brands sell more goods through social media.

Influencer recording content for clothing

4. Conversational Commerce

In recent years, we’ve seen an intersection of messaging apps and shopping.

Conversational marketing is adding a new dimension to social commerce by adding more context to the experience. No longer bound by product descriptions and photos alone, more brands are creating engaging, meaningful conversations with social media users in order to create a positive experience.

What is Conversational Commerce?

Conversational Commerce is the practice of engaging customers in conversation with every purchase or transaction as a way to influence their buying decisions.

The rise of messaging apps (think WhatsApp, WeChat, etc.) combined with AI chat features and voice assistants is enabling conversational commerce at scale. In the past, it simply hasn’t been feasible for brands to reach out to every prospective customer and have one-on-one conversations. AI is changing the game with natural language processing and other tools that make interactions sound natural and personalised.

What is the Future of Conversational Commerce?

Currently, it’s estimated that chatbots will account for half of all conversational commerce spending. The number of people using voice search and voice assistants is also rising.

More than half of US households are expected to own a smart speaker by the end of 2022, while 52% of consumers are already using voice assistants to find products, services, and local businesses.

Social media users are increasingly turning to chat and voice features as customer service channels. They want (and expect) quick responses from the brands they do business with. Likewise, brands can connect with customers at every stage of the customer journey to answer questions, provide insight, and collect feedback.

Social Commerce Tips: How To Get started on Your Social Commerce Strategy

Creating a social commerce strategy requires the following steps:

1. Remapping the Consumer Journey in Social Commerce

With organic interactions driving consumer decisions within the social commerce ecosystem, the consumer’s journey has changed from a linear one – researching, finding and purchasing a product – to one that is more “fluid”.

What does this mean for marketers? The emphasis is now placed on the dynamic interactions found within social platforms.

Marketers must align their focus on those social actions between the consumers - that's where user-generated content becomes useful in developing new campaigns. This sociability between the buyers redefines their journey and marketers must tap into this new form of “word-of-mouth”.

When there is a bond built between consumers, there is no greater form of brand advocacy, creating a great opportunity for marketers to jump into the mix and generate success for their brands. By implementing a strategy early within the social commerce context, it will bring about positive advocacy for your brand.

Successful social media marketing starts with an understanding of your brand’s ideal customer and their journey to purchasing your product. In other words, when a customer comes across your product on social media whether organically or via advertisement what do they do next? Does the journey from discovery to purchase flow naturally, or are you inadvertently creating extra work for your customers to purchase your product?

Creating unnecessary complexity happens more than you think!

By mapping out the customer journey your goal is to eliminate any friction that stands in the way of a consumer buying from you and create a seamless experience.

2. Focus Your Efforts on Strategic Platforms

The quickest way to deliver below-average results on social media is by spreading yourself too thin.

Effective social media marketing requires a ton of experimentation and learning from your mistakes. It’s nearly impossible (without getting lucky) to incrementally improve your results over a long period of time without knowing which inputs are causing the greatest outputs. This requires focus.

Start with one or two social media channels to start based on your ideal customer more on that below. Instagram and Facebook are obvious choices due to their ubiquity, but your brand might find more niche channels work best.

To be successful, your social media marketing strategy will need a unique look and feel depending on the platforms you use. Social commerce is no different. Since each platform has its own set of features for in-app sales, brands should adjust their strategies to match. With this in mind, let’s dive into several social media platforms that are prime for commerce and some examples of social commerce:

Social Commerce on Instagram

On Instagram, brands can set up their own Instagram shops, which act like storefronts for their products.

Instagram supports this feature even more by adding brand storefronts to the Shop tab on Instagram’s home screen known as Instagram Shopping.

This encourages users to explore and discover content, all of which is personalised. You can also create shoppable posts within Instagram Stories.

Instagram recently unveiled Shoppable Stories Stickers, which turn every Story into its own landing page. This gives brands an alternative to using the swipe-up links for users to make purchases, a feature that’s only available for channels that have more than 10,000 followers.

Instagram stats and profile on two iphones

More resources that help you get started with social commerce on Instagram:

Social Commerce on Facebook

In Facebook’s on-platform shopping experience (Facebook Shops), you can create a post (just like normal), then tag your products and add photos. These posts can be organic, or you can pay to promote them.

Like Instagram, Facebook now offers shops that make it easy for customers to discover your products. Popular e-commerce platforms like Shopify offer integrations that seamlessly import your products to your Facebook shop and make it look more like your website instead of Facebook.

For example, as shown in the image below, Truly Beauty’s Facebook page includes a Shop tab that lets customers explore products directly on Facebook.

Facebook stats and truly beauty profile on iphone

More resources that help you get started with social commerce on Facebook:

In some cases, like Truly Beauty, you will need to go to the retailer’s website to complete your purchase. Other shops, like Luxurious Body Elements, allow you to buy an item directly on Facebook. Just input your quantity and click Add to Cart or Buy Now.

Social Commerce on TikTok

As the fastest growing social platform, and the most downloaded app in 2021, TikTok has huge social commerce potential.

Tip: Learn more about what TikTok is about and how to use TikTok for business.

From clothing to gadgets, the phrase “TikTok made me buy it” should give brands a clue about the platform’s power in sales. There isn't a better statistic that represents the full cycle buying journey than this one, there are over 16 billion views on videos with the hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit.

It not only pushes consumers along the customer journey but also helps them discover something they weren’t originally going to buy. The app has become a breeding ground for influencers building massive followings and promoting a wide range of products.

Take the now-famous TikTok leggings, for example. These leggings made headlines with their flattering design, instantly giving the wearer a tummy tuck and booty lift. The leggings, sold by Aerie, quickly went viral, earning the brand more than 3 million impressions and over 500,000 clicks.

Here’s the twist: The virality was the result of user-generated content that wasn’t even commissioned by Aerie.

The TikTok leggings are the epitome of the #tiktokmademebuyit trend but it doesn't tell the full story.

While 44% of TikTok users have discovered something they immediately went out to buy - there’s still a huge section of consumers that need touch points in addition to TikTok, which is why you need a solid strategy to push the consumers down the marketing funnel.

TikTok stats and tiktok profile on iphone

More resources that help you get started with social commerce on TikTok:

For more information on which social channels to include in your social commerce strategy, download the ultimate social commerce guide.

3. Cultivate Your Brand’s Story

You’ve heard this before: Brands must create beautiful, awe-inspiring social content to be successful with social media marketing. But what does that really mean?

At the heart of great content is the story you’re trying to tell about your brand. Unsure what that story is? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What makes your brand unique?
  • What makes your product unique? 
  • What makes your customers unique? 
  • Why should people care? 
  • Why would people buy your products with all of the choices they have?
  • What are you really good at that no one else is?

Tip: Learn more about brand storytelling.

Yellow lightbulb in the middle of several pink lightbulbs

Like the uber-talented creators and writers at Pixar once said,

Great stories are universal.

One way to find out if your brand’s story is easy to follow and compelling is to tell it to a friend or family member who has never heard it before. Watch their faces as you read it and try to see where they pause and what questions they might have. Simplify until you’ve struck gold.

A brand’s primary focus right now should be getting positive returns on the time, money, and effort that they spend on social media. That requires intention behind every action.

Write down your 2022 social media strategy, but be willing to let it change and evolve as the year brings on new challenges and opportunities. Top brands keep their finger on the pulse of the internet, without getting distracted by every new shiny platform or channel. 

It's no surprise that the fastest-growing social commerce brands in 2022 know their customers inside out, have a unique story to tell that they’ve cultivated over many iterations, and are always looking to improve their craft.

Examples of Social Commerce

So, who is getting it right when it comes to social commerce? We've listed some social commerce examples below.

1. Virgin Voyages

Virgin Voyages, one of many Virgin products, has a consistent look and feel across both Instagram and Facebook, as shown below.

They have cultivated their imagery to fit both platforms and made themselves recognisable when users move between these social channels. They have also made it easy for customers to find out more and even purchase within the platform itself.
Therefore, it is a great social commerce example you can use for inspiration.

Two iphones with virgin voyages social media profiles as an example for social commerce

2. This Is Unfolded

This Is Unfolded is a sustainable slow fashion brand, raising awareness of how fast fashion is impacting climate change.

They are utilising the Instagram Shopping function and they have curated posts which highlight their products against other fast fashion examples.

The important aspect here, is that they have tagged their products within the posts meaning users can click the image and be directly to the item within the shop all whilst remaining within IG itself.

This makes it super easy for customers to not only research the products, business and do their bit for the environment!

Phone with the Instagram Account of This Is Unfolded showcasing a social commerce example

3. Skin+Me and TheGlowCopy

Skin+Me and TheGlowCopy, both beauty companies advertising their products on TikTok.

Firstly, Skin+Me although their piece of content is paid for, the content itself actually looks very similar to the content of beauty influencers, dispelling myths about a certain type of ingredient within skincare.

They are using the product in the video which is a great way for users to see first hand what they can expect if they purchased. The social video content also looks more low-fi which is what a lot of TikTok users are more drawn to.

Secondly, TheGlowCopy is a beauty influencer who focuses on how to use the products correctly and reviewing more high-end luxury skin care products and providing alternatives.

This content is a paid ad parternship with REN, as TheGlowCopy has used low-fi production quality along the same lines as Skin+Me to appeal to casual scrollers.

Phones showing social commerce examples of Skin+Me and TheGlowCopy

The Future of Social Commerce

In summary, social commerce shouldn’t be mistaken for traditional e-commerce, nor is it considered a replacement.

Social media networks have recognised the value in expanding online shopping to new channels, and brands should take note. Features and functions exclusive to social media shopping help you to meet customers wherever they are in the buying journey and remove as much friction as possible to encourage more conversions.

Competition in social commerce has never been greater, so businesses need to act now to take every opportunity to increase their reach, expand into new markets, and differentiate themselves in impactful ways.

Our solutions can help you stay ahead of the competition. Discover user-generated content, schedule organic posts, and analyse your social media KPIs all in one place.

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