You can tell a buzzing concept is in the zeitgeist when all the panels you attend directly or indirectly address the same idea in some capacity. At this year’s National Retail Federation, that buzzing concept is social commerce.
Platforms like Twitter and Pinterest have been talking about their magical “buy buttons” as the cure-all for every brand looking to monetize social media. I agree with this sentiment in its basic form, but there is just one little problem: Pinterest and Twitter were built to be inherently social. They weren’t built or touted as a commerce platform. There is a difference between a social platform supported by commerce to a degree and a commercial platform supported by social.
Why is that distinction a problem? Because the consumer doesn’t seem to understand the leap.
Let me explain. Twitter has touted itself as the bullhorn of the Internet. If it’s happening, then it’s happening on Twitter. I agree. That’s 100% accurate. Twitter has become this virtual dinner table of interesting people sharing passions, news, events, and all the other minutia of daily life. I’ve spent a long time building the right follow list so that my table conversation is interesting. (There is nothing worse than being stuck at a dinner table with people you don’t want to talk to.) It’s hard to assemble the right guest list for a great dinner party, and Twitter is trying to help. Great.
Twitter commerce strategy was to essentially say, “Okay now that you’re at a table eating, lets toss a salesman in there and try to get you to buy something when you weren’t really thinking about it.” It’s annoying. I’ve been to dinners where I was with a VC. As soon as the VC’s identity is unearthed, the conversation veers into a series of pitches: “Let me tell you about my start up”. The poor VC is probably thinking, “Man, I thought we were just trying to eat dinner with good people.” And the rest of the guests are either bored or put off.
Pinterest has less of a hurdle to overcome, but it is by no means home free. The biggest problem is that social on Pinterest reveals a lot of intent, but there’s no good way to find out if what is posted ever turned into sales. It has become the window shopping site of the internet, and people LOVE to window shop. If you’ve been in retail, you know what it’s like to have that customer come in, try a bunch of things on, and never buy. The same dynamic is at play on Pinterest, and while the barriers to social commerce there may be lower than they are on Twitter, the shift from building a community of common interest to a sales environment is no small challenge.
So who cares? Why does it matter that commerce should come before social?
The answer is found in what the platforms are saying themselves. Social platforms claim to measure intent. Intention is a big thing. In a relationship the best way to success is to be clear about your intentions, and the same is true for these social platforms. Think I’m wrong? Look at who is doing it well then.
MikMak. These guys have been on the scene less than a year. Their founder is an ex retailer, and she understands intent. So what does MikMak make abundantly clear? It tells people that it is a place to buy stuff. They are transparent that they are getting people to buy stuff by making content fun and engaging. The content is there to sell stuff. MikMak’s purpose is to get people to buy stuff, and the platform is custom-built to achieve that aim. It is not a fortuitous afterthought. They take your credit card info immediately. A buy button follows you almost the entire experience. You may never buy on MikMak, but at least their intentions are clear. They’ve got numbers to prove it.
This is the second wave of social commerce, and it is starting to rise. Don’t be surprised if bespoke social commerce apps start to eat the big boys’ lunch. People want to buy stuff, they want unambiguous places to make that decision.
Do Twitter and Pinterest have the technical chops to be in that mix? Absolutely, and they are already trying. But the issue isn’t technical, it’s cultural.