Social Commerce: Definition, Examples, Platforms & How To Use It
Picture this: you’re scrolling through TikTok or Instagram and come across an ad for a stylish outfit, a newly-released video game, or a streaming service you don’t have. Perhaps it’s even promoted by an influencer that you trust. You’re intrigued.
Then, you notice there’s also a “tap to shop” call-to-action (CTA) on that post.
You tap. You shop. You make a purchase. That’s social commerce firsthand.
What Is Social Commerce?
Chances are, if you haven’t experienced the elements of social commerce in your daily life, you will soon. The social commerce definition is this: brands sell their products and services on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube, and more.
Oftentimes, content creators or influencers are creating content that advertises the product or service on behalf of the brand.
Currently, most social media platforms have functionality embedded for brands and creators to add external links and language encouraging viewers to browse their stores and make purchases.
Social Commerce vs. E-commerce: What’s the Difference?
You may wonder: what’s the difference between social commerce and e-commerce? The main difference is that e-commerce is a broad term for an online shopping experience that is built using a website or a branded app, whereas social commerce takes that online shopping experience to exist on social media platforms.
Let’s use the clothing brand Express as an example. Its e-commerce initiatives include its branded website and its shoppable app. Its social commerce initiatives would include ads on Instagram or even content developed by an influencer, where you can either complete a purchase for the item in the ad within Instagram, or you’re sent to Express’s website to finalize the purchase.
What Is The Best Social Commerce Platform?
If social commerce is such a blossoming sales avenue, you must be wondering: which social media platform is best for social commerce?
There are a ton of social media platforms that have social commerce capabilities for brands, marketers, and content creators to utilize. Out of all of them, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are the best social commerce platforms since they are consistently ranked as the best of the best by brands, content creators, and consumers alike.
Live Shopping with Instagram Live
- Launch live videos with shoppable content pulled from your Instagram shop
- Digital storefronts created from a product catalog
- Browse, save, and place orders in-app (if enabled)
- Message businesses
Product Tagging: Available for in-feed posts, Stories, Reels, mentions, and Instagram Video
Top Contender: According to a Mavrck survey of over 400 creators, Instagram Live is one of the top-preferred social commerce platforms – over 46% of survey respondents say it’s their favorite channel to live stream content on. Even Shopify ranked it in a list of best live shopping apps.
Live Shopping: Merchants feature products live, showing product details, pricing, and direct purchasing options front and center, with the ability to:
- Add a product playlist to the stream
- Run product demos
- Launch a live stream from mobile or desktop
- Create a product marketing plan
- Tag products to promote from your Facebook Shop before going live
- Digital storefronts created from a product catalog
- Allows shoppers to browse, save, and place orders in-app (if enabled)
- Shoppers can message a business via WhatsApp, Messenger, or DM on Instagram
Live Shopping on Pinterest TV
- Shoppable, live episodes starring high-profile creators
- Creators can showcase and tag products
- Hosts have a shopping toolbox to display prices, product details, collabs, quantities, plus limited offers for viewers to see in real-time
- Pinterest TV is currently only available to a small group of creators, but there are plans to expand this offering of live shopping to more creators
- Catalogs: Brands can upload their entire product catalog and create a storefront from their Pinterest business account
- Augmented Reality (AR): With the “Try On For Home Decor” tool, eligible Pins will offer a “try in your space” button for some AR fun
- Shopping ads that include external product links, item descriptions, and pricing
- Personalized collection ads, which are shoppable Story-esque ads
- Automatic bid settings used to optimize your budget
- Dynamic retargeting can be used to target those who have visited your site via a Pin or left items in their shopping carts
Never one to let a trend pass by, TikTok is at the forefront of social commerce, with its highly functional TikTok Shopping Suite.
- Merchants (including both brands and creators) can host live shopping sessions
- Products are integrated from shopping content into the live stream
Product Links: For in-feed videos, Product Links allow merchants to link to items and point to a shopping page or digital storefront
- Collection ads: Brands can include product cards in their in-feed ads that lead to a quick-load purchasing page
- Dynamic Showcase Ads (DSA): Brands can auto-promote personalized ads based on user interest
- Now available: Shopify, Square, Ecwid, PrestaShop
With Elon Musk’s takeover imminent resulting in layoffs and other changes, its social commerce capabilities remain in a state of flux.
- Currently in its testing phase with a small group of creators
- Merchants can create live events with a banner and shopping tab specific to the merchant and product catalog
- Shoppers can view product details and pricing, and make in-app purchases
- Users can remain viewing the live stream even while browsing Twitter
- Currently in its testing phase with a small group of merchants
- Dedicated profile space to showcase a product, pointing to specific features and a product carousel
- Includes product details, prices, and purchasing options
- Hub for merchant onboarding and product management tools
- Tied to brands and merchants who are registered for a Twitter Professional Profile
- Shoppable product catalog
- Branded AR try-on Lenses
- Purchasing is available without leaving the app
- No live shopping capabilities (yet)
YouTube started testing social commerce with their YouTube Holiday Stream and Shop events last year. YouTube product designer Wendy Yang said, “Heading into 2022, YouTube will continue building and investing in shopping, including features for video on demand and personalized shopping. We’ll continue learning through these events and experimenting with new formats.”
You may have noticed that platforms like Twitch (a literal live streaming platform), Clubhouse, LinkedIn, and others are missing a mention. While some platforms don’t yet have a formal shopping function, there are other ways to help brands and creators monetize.
PopShop Live, Bambuser, Channelize, Live Scale, and Smartzer
Social platforms aren’t the only ones focusing on live shopping, with third-party platforms increasing their live streaming capabilities. PopShop Live, Bambuser, Channelize, Live Scale, and Smartzer are just a few of many new sites boasting live stream capabilities to drive e-commerce.
Not surprisingly, retailers aren’t shy about launching their own versions of shoppable live streams. Amazon Live, for example, takes the social out of social commerce and allows creators and merchants to host live streams straight from their digital storefronts. Nordstrom, too, has started hosting shoppable live streams directly on their website.
Benefits of Social Commerce
One of the most valuable aspects of social commerce is that it removes steps from the sales funnel.
In the past, if a potential customer saw an item they wanted to purchase advertised on social media, it was difficult to convert that interest into a sale. A customer would have to leave the social platform they were browsing and go to the brand website to make a purchase.
Those additional steps harmed sales because customers could rethink their purchase decision, get distracted, forget what they were looking for, and so much more. Social commerce reduces the steps between interest in purchase for a faster, more organized sales process.
Improve the Customer Engagement in Social Media Brand
Social commerce effectively merges a brand’s social media presence and its website presence. By combining the two, marketers can increase brand awareness and stay in front of their audiences – all while driving more sales.
When influencers or content creators are involved, brand awareness increases even more. Utilizing influencer marketing in conjunction with social commerce is a great way to generate more engagement, more impressions, and more website traffic – all of which contribute to higher sales numbers.
Reach Your Target Audience More Effectively
When combining influencer marketing with social commerce, marketers can unlock another level of audience engagement.
Content creators, especially small-scale creators (also called micro-influencers), are known to have strong connections with their audience. When marketers can partner with content creators, they’re able to tap into an audience that is heavily influenced by the creator.
Examples of Strong Social Commerce Campaigns
To see how top-performing brands have utilized social commerce successfully, we need not look further than these three powerful examples:
Sperry & PFLAG National
Sperry and PFLAG National launched an influencer marketing campaign during Pride Month that prioritized allyship and support of the LGBTQ+ community.
During this campaign, content creators produced vibrant, compelling content that encouraged their audience to not only support PFLAG and the LGBTQ+ community but to also support Sperry’s Pride Month collection.
American Girl® (AG) partnered with Mavrck to connect with influencers who would generate repurposable holiday content promoting AG’s Cultural Celebrations Collection.
Influencers involved in this campaign drove social commerce with beautifully curated content that encompassed AG’s tone and style. Not only did the campaign result in hundreds of thousands of impressions, but it also highlighted international cultures.
Sleep Aid Brand
With low household penetration, this sleep aid brand used micro-influencers to find a way to increase organic engagement and leverage word-of-mouth marketing.
Content creators involved with this influencer marketing campaign were able to use their influence to support a variety of themes, product releases, and seasonability. Together, the influencer-generated content fueled the sleep aid brand’s goals to achieve more brand awareness through social commerce.
Social Commerce Definition
In conclusion, social commerce is a powerful strategy where brands sell products and services to consumers directly through their social media platforms, or via paid sponsorships with influencers.
There are plenty of reasons to try social commerce, and one of the most compelling is that there are numerous options for social platforms that are built to sustain social commerce practices including Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and more.
To learn more about social commerce and how your brand can take the plunge into influencer-powered social media sales, check out these comprehensive resources: