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The Next Revolution in Social Commerce Is Still a Taboo

  |  August 5, 2014   |  Comments

As social media giants like Facebook and Twitter experiment further with e-commerce, services like Venmo appear more and more to be the future of digital and mobile commerce. How should marketers take advantage of this trend?

It's official: Facebook and Twitter are getting into the e-commerce game and are currently testing out "Buy" button integration, allowing users to purchase items directly through their advertisements. As these social media behemoths start to blur the lines between social media and e-commerce, it seems that the middleman is getting smaller by the day. And as this revolution in social commerce continues to brew, just one question stands: How is your business going to adapt?

For a bit of inspiration, let's take a step back for a moment to examine the wildly successful Venmo app. For the uninitiated, Venmo is a service that allows users to quickly and securely pay friends through their phones - a Web-based checkbook, as it were. While the app's convenience has settled many a petty debt and labyrinthine dinner receipt, I find it most interesting in its applications as a self-contained social network.

venmo-screenshot-iphone-composeWhenever a user pays a friend - say, for their half of last night's dinner tab - they disclose that information within the app. That transaction then gets published to their Venmo feed and any social networks they've connected. From here, anyone who opens Venmo can see what their friends have been paying each other for. This has some interesting implications: If you know John and Claire have been flirting, and you notice that Claire has Venmo'ed John for half a cab fare and the price of a movie ticket, you might glean that the two went out for a date.

venmo-screenshot-iphone-feed

For the deep and money-based insights it provides, some have labeled Venmo as the "ultimate social network for voyeurs and gossips." But I see it as something different: I see Venmo as the future of social commerce.
Just as it was considered strange for people to broadcast their interactions and friendships when Facebook and Twitter first launched, there's a heavy skepticism toward the broadcasting of cash transactions via Venmo. But the exchanging of money, like the posting of statuses or photo albums, will very quickly become commonplace as social networks continue to make connections between what people are saying and what they are buying.

So how do we tap into this potential, and how do we make the most out of social commerce as it blossoms over the coming years? After all, Amazon has allowed their customers to share their purchases for years now, so it's a wonder why every news feed isn't already filled with people gushing over their brand new office supplies.

First, you have to understand the value that socially published transactions can provide to consumers. When people visit and post to their social media sites, they do it for specific purposes. The most prevalent purpose, of course, is to stay in touch with friends. But users also come to social media for other reasons - they want to express themselves, they want to reaffirm their beliefs, they want to have fun.

2010-social-03

Via Experian

In many ways, cash transactions are better at offering users these motives than other published posts are. Imagine the implications for nonprofits, when users ecstatically publish their donations:

"John paid Claire $50 for: '5k Breast Cancer Awareness donation <3!'"

This information is so much more tangible than a simple Facebook post, and it shows that the user is taking real action toward a cause that they clearly consider worthwhile.

One notable aspect of Venmo is that it doesn't give users many ways to opt out of social publishing. Like Facebook, it does offer an option to keep posts private, but the setting isn't enabled by default. This might have looked like blasphemy just a few years ago, but people are beginning to realize that transaction information doesn't always have to be top-secret, and that it can actually provide them some unique value if published correctly.

This is the hook that businesses need to latch onto, and this is where social commerce is headed. Even if your company doesn't have a cause as compelling as cancer awareness, it's still possible to generate motives that users can latch onto and proudly publish for all their friends to see. If you're selling VoIP hardware, for instance, you might set up an on-purchase post about family members or friends who the user is excited about being able to connect with.

The possibilities of social transactions are endless, and the potential is very real. With 40 percent of social media users buying items after sharing or liking them on social networks, the evidence points toward user-posted products as extremely effective tools for boosting conversion rates. So let's flip this paradigm on its head. Let's latch onto the trends, and let's keep pushing the idea that sharing transactions is no longer a taboo, but a vehicle for massive social commerce success.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Himanshu Sareen

Himanshu is responsible for the strategic and overall business development of Icreon. He founded Icreon in 2000 and grew the company through a mix of acquisitions and organic growth. Under Himanshu's leadership, Icreon has grown to become a leading IT consultancy in its space working with some of the world's largest and most influential brands including National Geographic Channel, Fox, PepsiCo, Nokia Siemens Networks, and more.

A strong business-informed technologist, Himanshu has directed Icreon's heady growth through diverse economic climates, dot-com booms and busts, by maintaining a long-term view on relationships, keeping a close eye on the data and business dashboard, and by enabling informed decision-making. Himanshu is a natural entrepreneur. His first encounter with entrepreneurship was a comic rental business at the age of 13. Other ventures he started and exited successfully included an ERP consulting firm, an education-training institute, and a real estate trading business. He has also been as a technology advisor to boards of non-profits and SMBs in New York and globally.

Himanshu is part of the Owners and Presidents Program of Harvard Business School. He received his MBA in international business from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade. Aside from his work and family, Himanshu is passionate about keeping up with the latest technology trends, physical fitness, and supporting entrepreneurship and the tech community.

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