It is not enough to simply add a shopping tab in Facebook.
Facebook commerce, or F-commerce as it is being called, is developing at a startling fast pace, with new examples popping up daily on the Facebook platform. Simply adding products for sale in isolation on a Facebook page will probably not be enough to drive referral and purchase potential. Businesses, retailers, and brands need to be thinking about the social consumer experience of social commerce to help drive trial and purchase.
If F-commerce is part of your Facebook business and content strategy, you need to consider that people share, read, and generally engage more with any type of content when it's surfaced through people they know and trust. Isolated shopping carts on Facebook or using Facebook to drive consumers to an online non-social e-commerce or booking engine likely won't drive adoption and I would venture to say are not social commerce.
While doing research in the travel sector for a HEDNA conference in Prague I am speaking at this week, I looked at booking engines and e-commerce solutions of some of the major hotels, airlines, destinations, and cruises. Travel is perhaps as social a category as you can get; we talk about travel with friends before we go, we share experiences while on the journey, and we tell our stories after we get back. These travel experiences are being shared on multiple platforms with our friends through photos, wall posts, tweets, updates, check-ins, blogs, and reviews.
The examples below are from the travel industry, but the overall principles for social commerce applies to all businesses considering F-commerce. Leveraging social plug-ins such as "like," share, send, comment, photo sharing, and status updates should be part of the social commerce experience. Providing consumers with value-adds, special offers, product sampling, engaging experiences, loyalty rewards, stories, etc. should also be part of the experience.
Travel Industry "Booking Graphics" Inside Facebook
Companies such as Virgin Trains U.K., Four Points Sheraton, Air France, and Marriott International have added "booking graphics" on their Facebook pages with minimal functionality. These "booking graphics" allow the Facebook consumer to fill in their dates of travel, but the application drives the Facebook user outside Facebook to the traditional online non-social booking engine. These examples are not really social; they do not leverage social behaviors nor do they leverage the user's social curve.
Integrated Social Commerce Booking Engines Inside Facebook
There are several examples of travel industry businesses building fully integrated booking apps. The first one, Delta Airlines, allows Facebook users to fully book their Delta flights inside Facebook with Delta's Ticket Counter.
Malaysia Airlines put a full booking, check-in, and seat selection application on its Facebook page. The MHBuddy app is built entirely on Facebook with the social commerce value positioning, book, check-in, manage, and share. During the search and booking phase, users can open a box to see if any of their Facebook friends are on the same flight or are expected in the same destination during the selected date range.
Carnival Cruise also offers a full booking solution inside Facebook. The Carnival Cruise F-commerce version is fully integrated and linked to the traditional customer service team. I received a phone call from a Carnival Cruise customer service representative the day after I started but had not finished my Facebook Carnival Cruise booking. Hats off to the team for that level of Facebook integration.
Sabre Hospitality Solutions just launched a product suite called SocialConversion, to help hotels engage and convert guests through social media. In the news release, Sabre announced that the product provides a fully integrated Facebook booking engine with the look and feel of the website, allowing guests to search availability, view room rates, and complete the booking process inside Facebook. It has also added a share-your-stay functionality, social media-only offers, and an integration with the website booking engine.
Facebook-Influenced Commerce off Facebook With the Open Graph
In a previous column, I outlined the different types of Facebook commerce emerging. Probably the best example of Facebook-influenced behavior on a travel website is TripAdvisor's Instant Personalization. Consumers who log on to TripAdvisor with Facebook Connect are able to see their friends' travel reviews, a map showing places friends have visited, and see a list of their friends' most popular destinations. Users can plan their next trip with the input and knowledge from their Facebook friends.
Recently, Orbitz implemented Facebook's new "send" button and the "like" button on its hotel pages, enabling travelers to send hotel information to Facebook friends. It's surprising, however, how few travel brands have used these features to augment the user's experience. A simple first step to integrating Facebook into a travel brand's digital marketing would be to add "like" and "send" buttons on websites allowing travelers to socialize hotel details, restaurants, resort activities, and all other aspects of the travel experience.
Marketers considering F-commerce need to leverage the social behaviors and experiences of their consumers to drive awareness, referral, and purchase.
This column was originally published on June 28, 2011 on ClickZ.
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