How Social is Your Social Commerce?

By Erin Berkenmeier Online Advertising December 28, 2015

Social commerce is driving retail traffic faster than any other channel, growing 26% compared to 14% growth in eCommerce, in 2014. Specifically, Facebook dominated 2014 social shopping by generating 64% of total social revenue, with Pinterest and Twitter a distant second and third.

Speaking at the recent panel Cashing in on Social Commerce at AdTech NYC, the viewpoints on stage reminded us of the differing definitions of social commerce. The term social commerce casts a broad net over several commerce models, from social product development to social purchasing.

In the case of the Business Insider statistic above, social commerce is the direct link between a social channel post and it’s motivational inertia to drive a consumer purchase on a destination commerce website.

The interesting question is where along the way does social channel marketing become social commerce? Now that Buy buttons are appearing in Twitter and Facebook posts, have social channels become platforms of true social commerce?

To explore this further, it’s illuminating to look at the core question of what inherent human needs social commerce fulfill, and whether a product posting on a social channel can meet those needs.

The Party Analogy

You walk into a party. On the left is a table with a big spread of dishes. On the right, your closest friends. You’re hungry, so what’s your action plan? Do you first sample the huge spread at the table or do you go to your friends?


As an Explorer/Adopter personality, you are an independent consumer. You invest the time, patience and risk-taking to sample the dishes alone. You create an independent opinion of what dish is best because trial and error is your modus operandi. You keep at it, expecting that you will invest time on some dishes you won’t like, and that’s OK.   Efficiency and resourcefulness aren’t what matters; discovering the magic cheese plate at the end of the hunt is your moment of zen, because the hunt is more interesting than efficiency. You’re a risk-taking consumer who explores, and potentially an influencer of others.

Social Consumers:

As social consumers we don’t want to invest the time into trial and error at the food table. We want to find the best dish swiftly, with minimal risk and effort. At the party, the social consumer approaches the group of trusted friends and asks, “What’s good to eat at the table?” We’re weighing the value of our time against the probability of success. By asking trusted friends and sources first, we shortcut the consideration process and get to that incredible cheese plate efficiently.

In effect, social commerce shortens the consideration process and reduces risk. We leverage trusted friends and resources to do that. Group endorsement comforts our consumer doubt through the purchase cycle.

The question is whether those factors on a social channel are enough for a product purchase, or if the consumer needs more?

We Belong To Each Other

Perhaps more powerfully, social commerce taps into the human need for connection and identification with a peer group. Through engagement, opinions, shared values and tastes, we celebrate the discovery and triumph of finding the best product value together. Collectively, we solve the problem and share the huzzahs. In short, we belong.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts Love/Belonging third on the pyramid of needs, and belonging to a group is a very powerful motivator. We feel acceptance, validation and ultimately self-love because we belong to a group of people we identify with and trust. Social channels can inspire belonging for sure, but is that enough of an impetus to drive an in-channel purchase?

To answer that, price threshold is a likely variable. With a higher-ticket item, a consumer likely needs more social proof before converting directly from a social channel. Belonging only goes so far. The next level of social proof on the commerce website may often be needed, such as reviews, ratings, discussions, how-to videos etc.

Interestingly enough, that next level of social proof can be from strangers, but a significant volume can still give a consumer the push needed to comfortably/confidently make a purchase.

Social proof, efficiency, risk/time mitigation and belonging to a social group are powerful human factors of social commerce. What remains to be seen is whether the social tools available on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram are enough to meet those fundamental drivers at the core of social commerce.

Erin Berkenmeier

Erin Berkenmeier

An avid explorer of internet culture, Erin has spent the past 6 years building successful digital experiences and creative campaigns for social media.