Ahead of upcoming search marketing conference Ionsearch a number of debates will run to discuss some of the pressing topics that are likely to discussed during the event. The first debate asks whether you can make money out of social commerce and can be continued through the comment section below or through The Drum's LinkedIn forum.
The answer is of course an obvious one – of course you can. I work for Adobe and we work with 18 or the top 20 e-commerce retailers in the world, tracking up to 19 billion transactions every day. So I can say with a huge amount of confidence that social media drives sales – and is able to deliver a solid ROI to top table executives.
For me the bigger issue is our impatience to monetise whatever platform we turn our hand to. There is a very important battle waging between engagement and commercial teams on social platforms. That fight is between teams trying to decide whether the call-to-action for a certain audience or a certain piece of content is 'click-to-share' or 'click-to-buy'.
It's a very important argument and one that marketing professionals need to fully understand and respect. While social media is great at selling things, and on a scale unlike anything the advertising world has ever seen before – there is a fundamental problem when brands are paying money to drive people to brand pages, but up to 98 per cent of those fans fail to return to the page. Whether that is due to badly targeted content, poor timing or a host of other factors – the problem will continue to arise when a brands primary concern is to monetize its fans and beat them around the heads with discounts and promotions at the first opportunity.
I'm not saying don't sell – I'm just suggesting that we take a step back and remember why we are even on social networks in the first place. We're here to talk to our friends and share cool content. Our intent is not always to purchase.
Facebook Graph search certainly opens up some interesting possibilities, as does Pinterest (especially once they release an API), but for now I am keen to remind people that the most successful brands build an engaged audience before they try to sell to them. This is about understanding your audience, and then serving them the right content at the right time. I would argue that 9 times out of 10, for many brands, that will not be a commercial message or "click-to-buy".
Well, you can theoretically make money from anything. The amount of people making tens of thousands of pounds from their YouTube agreements, or re-selling Facebook ad space, reveals that. It can be seen as a labyrinth. Accessing social media is simple enough but making a living exclusively off of it is difficult. I think the future of anything is profit, and I don't say that as a hardened capitalist, but more as a realist and pragmatist. You need to have both tangible and intangible value in anything worthwhile, but eventually the amount of knowledge and effort that is required to properly utilise social media will diminish and the profit levels will increase.
So, to answer the question: I think you can make money, a lot of money, but it's like learning to communicate anywhere. First you must learn the language before you can understand and learn how to integrate with what's around you.
This is probably the most common question Social Media professionals get on a daily basis, both from clients and agency colleagues. Can you make money from social media by just creating a Twitter account and putting your products or campaign on there? No, probably not. You might make a bit of cash on the off chance, but social media doesn't really work like that. Social media is a slower process that requires time, effort and a strategy that is completely embedded with all your other services. In many ways, if social media doesn't make you money - it will almost always save you some.
Where social really shines is much further up the marketing funnel, when potential customers are in the awareness and consideration phase. The power of social recommendation and sharing is huge. A piece of content spread via social media can help raise purchase reasons to customers who weren't even thinking about buying. An infographic on the 'perils' of dirty bedding might make a customer think about the last time they changed their duvet or sheets.
The next role social plays in the funnel is ensuring that, in this example, when they go looking for somewhere to buy new bedding - the right social signals are in place to help them reassure that your company is the best place to do it. This comes from reviews, testimonials, evidence of good customer service on social media and a positive brand image projected by social media. If your company has all these things it's likely to not just rank highly in Google, but also convince the customer your company is the right place. The problem marketers increasingly have is tracking this journey when the user eventually decides to purchase. The industry needs to solve social CRM, tracking a customer relationship - not just a journey in order to show the true ROI on Social Media.
In regards to making money I also mention saving money. Good social media doesn't sit independently, it must be added as a layer across your PR, Customer Service, Marketing, SEO, Product development and HR. Ensuring your strategy considers these departments from the start will save you money - whether that's averting a potential PR disaster or relieving customer services. Expect social media teams to become less isolated and more hands-on representatives across organisations in the future.
There's an awful lot of people for whom the answer is currently no. However, speaking in general terms, these marketers are often taking an unsophisticated view of social media - thinking that if they say something to someone they've got the various platforms nailed.
Showing the right product to the part of your audience most inclined to buy, at the time they are most receptive, isn't an art - it's a product of hard work in studying your audience, content, web analytics and sales data. Apply a data-led approach to your social media platforms and you'll find that acquiring the right audience and adjusting your content strategy can have a big impact on monetisation.
Ask a marketer which social platform is best for retailing goods and Pinterest will no doubt be mentioned, but Facebook can be just as visual, yet is perceived to be lacking on the monetisation front. Technology such as Soldsie may be the future in solving this problem. Currently only available in the States (unless you bill in dollars), Soldsie allows Facebook users to buy an item from a wall post simply by commenting "Sold". Soldsie integrates with Paypal based on a user’s email and generates an invoice for the item. The system is still not perfect, but the key to mass social commerce is for barriers to buying from the mainstream news feeds of the major platforms to be removed, and Soldsie is an important step along that road.
However, while mass social commerce solutions are being perfected, companies can still successfully monetise their social media efforts if they are prepared to put in the hard graft needed to discover success.