The situation. Google is the number one source of traffic to retailers. Google favors social content in search.
Google is by far the number one source of traffic for retailers. Retailers get up to 80 percent of their traffic through Google (including SEO, SEM, and shopping and branded search terms). The balance comes from affiliates, other search engines, online advertising, Facebook, and other social network and blog referral traffic.
Google's search algorithm is optimized for user experience, or relevancy.
Social content is highly relevant to users.
The social content that drives sales (traffic and conversion) are reviews and ratings and questions and answers on one's site, followed by user-generated content about products and services shared on social networks (primarily Facebook) and blogs, that results in click-throughs and referral traffic.
For several years, Google has favored social content in its search algorithm that delivers the search ranking (via the search engine results page or SERP).
If one shows up on page one of the SERP, or prominently in Google shopping, and the user clicks through a link, traffic is delivered, which is the lifeblood of any website.
The issue. In search results, Google has shown bias toward its social network over rivals even though +1 has lower usage and engagement.
With the explosion of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (and Pinterest), Google has been scrambling to establish its own social network, such that the content in the search results is organically from its own property, Google+.
However, since the usage and engagement is not up to its rivals' social networks (see table), Google appears to be setting aside relevancy in favor of its own properties. No judgment. I admire the success of Google in building an enviable customer franchise - a beloved brand people use every single day. It's a very good business decision to favor Google's social content in its search. To have search relevancy, Google needs to be simultaneously enhancing its social network to drive the usage and engagement other networks have.
The competitive response. "Don't be evil."
Competitors to Google take the position that Google is breaking its promise to the user by focusing on Google instead of focusing on the user. The "Don't be evil" tool, backed by Facebook and Twitter, that just surfaced, is seeking to prove through demonstration.
This is just the latest in a string of competitive pronouncements and activity around the interplay between Google Search and Google+.
The business response. Social commerce results are through Facebook and Google.
Social commerce delivers sales (traffic * conversion). Social media delivers impressions. Social monitoring measures sentiment.
It's early days in social commerce. Competition is good. The better the social networks are at engaging users, making it easy to comment, and deliver relevancy around products and services, the better for retailers.
Regardless of the outcomes of social network competitive activity, retailers win if one has social content, easily shared across the social web that drives referral traffic when clicked through on social networks and/or when incorporated into search results, appearing on page one of Google's SERP (or Google shopping).
Align around the consumer (Facebook) and with your number one source of traffic (Google). Facebook is the consumers' community of choice. The case for commerce has emerged with referral traffic topping 2 to 8 percent of e-commerce sites. Google is the consumers' information source of choice. The case for commerce has clearly been made as it's the number one source of convertible traffic. Google+ will emerge to be critical in every retailers' social strategy given its parent is Google. Twitter, LinkedIn, and others have not yet delivered meaningful convertible traffic to retailers.
Three steps to being good. Accountability, easy content generation, easy sharing.
KPI accountability. Have single point accountability (one person) for the KPIs that drive social commerce performance: user-generated content (UGC) quantity, coverage, generation rate, sharing rate, and referral traffic. What is measured is done.
Lower the barriers to content generation.
Social content on your site (customer reviews and Q&A):
Just ask. Include calls to participate in on-site marketing, emails, in packaging, on in-store displays, and on Facebook. On average, retailers and brands that send an automated post-transactional email asking customers to share their opinion on a product see three times as much user-generated content compared to those who don't. Send the post-transactional email twice (two weeks apart) to secure content from those who didn't respond to the first email. And, if you're a multichannel retailer, send the post-transactional email to your in-store customers (transaction volume in stores significantly outpaces transaction volume online).
Make it easy. Provide clear, concise instructions on how to contribute, and functionality that helps direct the customer to produce richer, higher quality content. Ask for pros, cons, and best uses to stimulate the contributor and invite the contributor to include photos, videos, and related links.
Social content on social networks. Have a Facebook fan page, a Twitter page, and a Google+ page. Monitor the pages. Seed them with content: deals, customer reviews, new product introductions, and customer stories are high engagement content on social networks. Be clear about how users can contribute and, if applicable, what's in it for them.
To start, experiment with the "like" and Google+ buttons and give users the ability to endorse your products or brand with the click of a button.
Then, take things a step further with Facebook Connect functionality that will provide an integrated sharing experience, so when contributing content or commenting, it's effortless for customers to share their on-site activity with Facebook.
As with all business activities, measure and monitor the results of your social commerce activities.
Cathy has over 20 years of experience in both multichannel and online retail and a deep understanding of consumer needs and goals. Cathy's proven track record spans a range of industries and companies, from start-up ventures to multibillion dollar operations. Cathy is currently a Board Member at Ulta Beauty (ULTA), the largest beauty retailer that provides one-stop shopping for prestige, mass, and salon products and salon services in the United States. She has served as SVP, marketing & sales at PowerReviews, the world's most widely deployed social commerce platform, where she was responsible for overseeing the company's rapid customer and revenue growth. Prior to PowerReviews, Cathy held executive-level positions at Walmart: chief marketing officer Walmart.com, vice president of market development, global e-commerce, and vice president of product management and multichannel integration. Ms. Halligan has also held executive positions with leading retailers Williams-Sonoma, Gymboree, and Blue Nile, and was an associate partner at Prophet, a leading management consulting firm. She started her career as a marketing coordinator at Lands' End.
For real-time social commerce news and updates, follow Cathy on Twitter at @CathyHalligan.