If there was a single theme to SASCon 2011, it was  the convergence of different digital disciplines.  How web development skills can be leveraged for SEO, how paid and natural search can work more closely with online display, and how proper use of analytics data can inform and improve other channels.  SAScon was also very much about the way in which Social Media use is impacting on the various elements of the online marketing mix, and how gaining a greater understanding of customers needs and wants can help businesses to develop closer relationships with their users, and ultimately benefit through increased sales while also creating a happier and more engaged customer base.

One of the most engaging of the panels I was involved in at the SAScon event was Social Commerce, which also included Paul Fabretti and Gareth Owen of Steak. The structure of the session was intended to provide more of an opportunity for discussion than for presentations, which worked pretty well, and there were plenty of questions being raised throughout.

I did prepare some slides for the session, and although they went unused, I’ve included them below as they contain a lot of the position I was taking.

My Viewpoint

Something that I’ve often written about on this blog is the need for businesses to be authentic in their approach to social media.  An arch or cynical approach that puts the organisation ahead of the customer is doomed to failure.  A business that fails to engage in any meaningful way with its customers will not have any success using social media because they fail to  understand what people are using social media for.

If you want to sum up my philosophy about social commerce then it goes a little like this:

Social is all about conversation … The media is just where it takes place

Who does social commerce well, and why?

To my mind, the best example of social commerce that you will ever find is a village shop.  The shopkeeper knows what their customers want, and how they like it.  They know  people by name, where they live and their interests.  They know a lot about their political leanings and their ambitions from the papers they read, and about their lifestyle from other purchases like food or magazines.  Because these local shop keepers have such a good knowledge about their customers, they are able to predict what they will want in the future, and plan their stock around customer needs.

The more you know about your customers habits, the more you can do to motivate them into becoming more engaged with your brand.  When people feel wanted, they want to become closer to you.

Amazon and Tesco both do a good job of profiling their customers – Amazon recommendations for regular shoppers are generally very good and reflect their interests well.

How can you be more social?

In the session at SAScon I was keen to move away from the platform centric approach to social commerce (ie – you need more than a Facebook shop to trade within social media), and steered towards the idea of conversation.  About asking customers what they want, and understanding that information, rather than simply selling to them with a stream of tweets saying “buy our shit”.

We discussed the idea of Groupon being a social shopping experience, however my take is that the dynamic there is too loose to be truly social – the community forms simply for a single offer, and is fairly blind to other members, rather than being a cohesive organisation.

The big question

The final question within the session concerned whether online commerce could ever be truly social in the sense that it can be off line, that is to say, could you get to a position where the online experience of buying is more akin to the paradigm of shopping as a leisure experience.

I think that it has some way to go, and that the means of communication needs to change significantly to allow for the concept of buying online , however as businesses realise that the growth of social media requires greater interaction with customers, and that feedback is to be valued and integrated into ongoing business meeds that all businesses will become more answerable to their customers, and that their brands will become more socially engaged and aware in order to create efficiencies and ultimately to survive.

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