Facebook is changing—from social network to full-blown Internet portal where people start their digital lives each day. As this transition occurs, a lot of the rules for companies using social media are being swept away.
More and more, consumers are ready and willing to buy from within Facebook. F-commerce could even replace e-commerce completely for some companies.
Research firm Booz & Company forecast social commerce revenues to reach $30 billion globally by 2015. And that figure only relates to hard goods. The company says that services will also see multi-billion dollar opportunities on Facebook.
"As this growth surge happens, social commerce will take its place alongside stores, telesales, and the more traditional Web to emerge as a significant sales channel in its own right," Booz analysts wrote in a recent white paper.
It's already happening. Storefront application vendor SortPrice.com's Store Application for Facebook was the conduit for $3.8 billion worth of merchandise in 2010 alone.
Even better, according to a new white paper from Webtrends, Facebook stores now have the same sales conversion rates as e-commerce websites. In fact, according to the report, some companies are seeing Facebook suck traffic from the company website.
That could be a nice problem to have—if you're prepared.
"Your e-commerce site is not a social network; it's a cash register. Facebook is the water cooler," says social media consultant Paul Chaney. "Can those two meet? Of course, they can. The question is, how do you do it in a way that makes sense for how people want to interact with a brand on Facebook?"
According to Chaney, many people still expect more of an informational approach and less of a hard sell when it comes to showcasing products on Facebook.
But there's definitely a segment that is eager to buy at the water cooler. Don't let these folks slip away, advises Rian Cool, social media director for Charity USA, a company that operates GreaterGood.com, a network of sites that let people support their favorite charities.
"Having a strategy that gives every user the experience they want to have is important," Cool says.
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Booz & Company suggests you jump in early and learn as you go, integrating f-commerce into your other sales channels. Here are some more tips.
1. Work within the environment.
"Don’t presuppose that moving your whole catalog into Facebook will suddenly bring this new revenue stream. To date, it has not," Chaney says. "Instead, wrap the commerce component inside the social sharing environment."
2. Take advantage of Facebook functionality.
You can use the photo album feature to showcase products, Chaney says. "In the caption add the product description and a link to your website with the price to create an album that [leads people to purchase]."
3. Choose your vendor carefully.
"The Facebook environment changes often; your provider needs to keep up to date with the Facebook roadmap so, when a change is about to deploy on Facebook, it's ready," Cool says.
"Ease of use should be the primary criterion for multitasking small business owners," according to Cool. "Most of these systems use data feeds. I want one that's easy to manage," he says.
You should also consider the level of customization that you want, he adds. Look for these features:
- Can you name the tabs whatever you want?
- Can you update the feed whenever you want?
- Can you designate which items in the feed show up higher?
- Can you add banners and ads?
4. Consider fan-gating.
"What seems to be working best with e-commerce is discounts, coupons and special deals," Chaney says.
A fan gate, also known as a reveal tab, means that visitors have to Like your page before they can see your offer. Wildfire Interactive has a fan gate app that makes it easy to provide two different views of your page—one for fans and one for visitors. It's a good tactic to increase the Likes on your page, Chaney says.
5. Don't forget the social.
Don't be all business all the time, counsels Dave Felipe, director of communications for SortPrice.com.
"Don't just use your wall to promote a sale or an item; engage these people in whatever way possible," he says. Post a daily joke, help people get involved with their local communities, start conversations.
Image credit: jamesgarfield