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As social media behemoths swell in user-ship, they continue to integrate with and augment our daily lives. “I’ll invite you on Facebook,” we say to a colleague, or we pick a brunch spot because a friend shared an outstanding oatmeal pancake on Instagram.
As these platforms have matured over the past decade, it only follows that their impact on e-commerce has correspondingly grown, given how much Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest influence how we interact, discover, and consume content. In 2014’s world of social commerce, we’re looking at smarter, more personalized brand-consumer relationships, and a streamlined pathway from product discovery to purchase. Here are four trends brands should watch and prepare for in the new year.
Rise of Mobile
In December, New York City announced plans to cover 95 blocks of Harlem with free municipal Wi-Fi , slated to be the nation’s largest network yet. This is in keeping with dozens of other cities that have made connectivity a public service—a testament to how widespread smartphone and tablet use have become.
Data from Morgan Stanley predicts that 2014 is the year that the number of mobile users will finally surpass that of desktop users worldwide. Already, we’ve had evidence of mobile’s meteoric rise: mobile app use grew 115% last year according to Flurry Analytics, and market research firm Gartner reported that “global PC shipments suffered the worst decline in PC Market history” in 2013.
With more consumers connecting to the web on mobile devices, brands have increased opportunity to market to users who are on-the-go. This doesn’t just foretell a spike in mobile ads; senior digital strategist Jon Thomas readies us for the rise of mobile storytelling. A form of brand journalism, mobile storytelling involves “the ability to chronicle our lives and use our location to help unearth a story.” Geolocation allows brands to deliver content that’s relevant to the physical world of the user, and to strengthen products based on user-generated content.
One of the major challenges of social commerce has been linking social media marketing to actual sales. There are some extremely encouraging statistics about brand engagement and in-store purchases (78% of consumers say that posts made by brands influence their purchase decisions), but marketers seeking to shorten the sales cycle have preferred customers click on a product link.
In 2014, however, in-stream purchases will make social ROI even more immediate. Companies like Starbucks have enabled users to buy items without ever leaving the platform—in this case, customers can “tweet-a-coffee” with a tweet that sends a friend a $5 Starbucks gift card. Recently, Twitter and Stripe have finalized a deal that would allow widespread purchases made directly on the social network.
Facebook, however, is still the heavyweight of social commerce. The variety of posts allowed—text status, photo, video, offer, event—allows big brands and small businesses alike to connect meaningfully with their fans. In fact, an emergent trend finds “mompreneurs” running million-dollar businesses out of their homes by selling on Facebook. These Facebook auctions ask customers to comment on photos to buy; apps like Soldsie simplify the process of selling on Facebook by automating invoices and tracking inventory.
Storytelling and Native Advertising
With companies growing into their roster of social media accounts, the flood of branded content has intensified the contest for viewership at the same time that attention spans have diminished. The challenge for brands in 2014 is to relate authentically to consumers, which means a heavier reliance on eye-catching visuals, content that informs and entertains the viewer, and behind-the-scenes accounts that humanize the brand.
Thankfully, most social media platforms already lend themselves to storytelling. We see from the ingenuity of brands using Vine to post how-to videos, announce new products, or make a video punchline that it’s possible to be a “friend” first, and brand second.
Creating engaging and shareable content is just an extension of native advertising, which is rapidly becoming the least intrusive, most effective way to market to consumers. A study from Sharethrough and IPG Media Lab reveals that users look at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads, and are 18% more likely to purchase in comparison. From promoted posts on Tumblr to exploding coupons on Snapchat, brands are finding innovative ways to wed their messages with the consumer’s natural experience online.
The texture of each social media network morphs along with its demographics. Facebook skews young but is quickly accruing older users ages 45 to 54; over 90% of Instagram users are under 35; and Tumblr is a hotbed for teenagers, 61% of whom are online for several hours a week. Brands should manage content and advertising across channels to address the users unique to each one, taking into account factors like age and gender, online behavior, and lifestyle preferences.
In this age of customization, in-depth data analytics are required for brands to offer a strong value proposition. Clothing retailer Free People, for example, integrated sales and social by developing a multichannel app that supplies online data (reviews, recommendations, color and sizing) to the user while also culling information about their preferences. The move helped bump sales from $135,460,000 in 2012 to $180 million in the first six months of 2013.
Ultimately, success in social commerce in 2014 is about positioning your brand with what consumers want, and what consumers want is nonintrusive, personalized content. Companies who optimize their marketing strategies for the 4 core trends discussed above will not only see a lift in sales, but in brand engagement.
By Michael Jaccarino