Consumer Psychology Social Commerce

How to Develop a Social Commerce Strategy that Works

The How Question

If someone asked what’s your social commerce strategy, how would you answer?  How are you going to sell with social shopping technology to achieve your objective?

The answer to the ‘how’ question, i.e. your strategy, will of course depend on your objective – whether it’s making more sales, winning new customers, keeping more customers or learning more about your customers.  We covered these objectives yesterday, but today let’s have a look at strategies available for achieving them.

The simple way to set your strategy is to pick a technology solution that seems to have worked for someone else looking to achieve your objective

Our social commerce strategy is to improve [channel] customer [objective] by [uplift] in the next [timeframe] through the use of [social technology].

  • [channel] = online, offline overall
  • [objective] = sales, acquisition, loyalty, insight
  • [uplift] = desired measurable outcome (% improvement, volume, value, share, ranking, rating)
  • [time frame] = 12 months, 24 months, 36 months…
  • [chosen technology] = social plugins for e-commerce sites (social plugins for e-commerce sites (ratings/reviews, rewards, FB plugins), social POS (check-in rewards, group-buy promotions, social shopping apps (store/mobile) Social media stores (Facebook fan-stores, blog shops…)

The only problem with this technology-led strategy based on precedent is that much of the technology is so new that there are few precedents to work from. If your objective is to acquire new customers, should you run a promotion on a group-buy platform such as Groupon, or should you set up a fan-store in Facebook designed to activate fan advocacy?  Or what about a referral rewards plugin on your e-commerce site?  It might simply come down to the persuasiveness of individual technology vendors.

So here’s another approach, an insight-led strategy for social commerce, based on insights (understanding) into the social psychology of shopping (for an overview, see here)

If you’re looking to make more sales…

…then use one of the six social cues (heuristics) that are part of our social intelligence (our ability to understand and learn from each other, and profit from social situations) that consumers universally use to inform their purchasing behaviour

  • Social Proof (‘follow the crowd’): A social commerce strategy built around social proof would involve selling with social technology in a way that helps consumers shop smarter by making them aware of, and inviting them to share what’s most popular. For example, solutions could include the ‘gamification’ of deals around popularity contests, top-rated products or best-seller lists, or the use of social plugins to broadcast bestsellers
  • Authority (‘follow the expert’): A social commerce strategy built around authority would involve selling with social technology in a way that helps consumers shop smarter by having access to and sharing expert knowledge and advice. Examples may include social plugins offering expert reviews, fan-stores curated by category leaders, or smart shopper apps that help customers discover recommended products and help make informed decisions.
  • Scarcity (‘scarce stuff is good stuff’): A ‘scarcity strategy’ in social commerce would involve selling with social technology in a way that helps consumers shop smarter by giving them access to, and the ability to share, exclusive (scarce, restricted, limited-edition, time-limited) products and experiences. Group-buy promotions with limited stock, fan-first or fan-only exclusives sold in Facebook fan-stores, or social plugins show how many others are concurrently browsing a product along with stock levels are example of the scarcity strategy in action.
  • Consistency (‘be consistent’): A ‘consistency strategy’ in social commerce would involve selling with social technology in a way that helps consumers shop smarter using their desire to be, and be seen to be, consistent with their beliefs and past behaviour.  For example, using the foot-in-the-door sales technique, asking consumers for a small public social gesture, such as clicking a like button, may increase future likelihood to purchase.  Likewise, the public ordering or a free or trial sample – through an ‘like-gate’ or ‘check-in’ use the consistency cue to promote future purchase
  • Liking (‘follow people you like’): A social commerce strategy built around liking would involve selling with social technology in a way that helps consumers shop smarter by taking the cue from people they like or people like them.  Examples might include deploying social recommender plugins that recommend product popular with people like you (with similar purchase/browsing patterns, interests) or people you like – your friends
  • Reciprocity (repay favours): A social commerce strategy built around reciprocity would involve selling with social technology in a way that helps consumers shop smarter by helping them help each other.  For example, inviting existing customers to reward prospective and new customers with offers and opportunities through introduce-a-friend social plugins, group-buy and social shopping tools that allow shoppers to share exclusive finds, invitations sample, deals and purchases

If you’re looking to drive customer acquisition or loyalty…

…then sell with social technology  in a way that harnesses one or more of the three core loyalty and referral drivers. Customer loyalty and customer referrals are two distinct activities, but in the context of social commerce they share three key drivers because at the top of the customer loyalty ladder lies advocacy, and advocacy creates a ‘viral loop’ that transforms loyal customers into new customer acquisition machines – a volunteer sales force; this is what Google calls the Zmot – zero moment of truth.

  • Experience:  A social commerce strategy built around experience would involve selling with social technology in a way that enhances the shopper in experience – in a way that beats expectations.  Both loyalty and referrals are driven to a large extent by personal experience; if we have a good experience particularly one that beats our expectations, we are likely to repeat it and recommend it. Examples of an experiential social commerce strategy might include offering you best customers exclusive fan-first or fan-only experiences in a dedicated Facebook fan-store, or offering socially powered shopping tools that solve real consumer problems – such as personalised gift recommendations, or group travel organisers
  • Involvement: A social commerce strategy built around experience would entail selling with social technology in a way that makes customers feel more involved with, and part of the business.  Both loyalty and referrals are influenced by the degree to which we are personally involved in something; the more that we care, the more we are likely to be loyal and refer. Examples of using involvement as a social commerce strategy might include empowering customers to have a say in what is sold, how it’s sold and for how much – through demand-driven pricing on group-buy promotions to voting on future deals and launches
  • Incentives:  A social commerce strategy built around incentivisation would involve selling with social technology in a way that rewards customers for their loyalty and referrals.  Incentives are the cornerstone of human behaviour – we do things only when there is some incentive to do them, and avoid others when there are incentives to avoid them. Examples of incentive-based social commerce strategy might include using social technology as a platform for running loyalty rewards programs or referral rewards programs

If you’re looking to learn about customers…

If your primary social commerce objective is to learn more about your customers, then you may wish to experiment with these nine insight-led strategies but with a particular focus on using Facebook’s ever-evolving Open Graph.  The Open Graph – containing demographic, taste and behavioural data shared with Facebook – has the potential to offer an unprecedented level of granularity for consumer profiling, segmenting and targeting.  You can also deploy strategies with a view to using social commerce as a live learning lab, a sandbox for piloting, trialling and experimenting with new ways of selling and products to sell. For example, you could use Facebook as a channel for soft-launching a new product, and use the platform’s interactive features to capture feedback and optimise the product prior to general release.  Likewise social platforms can be used to conduct consumer research amongst the consumer most important to you – those that care about you enough to connect with you in social media.


So there you have it, nine insight-led social commerce strategies to explore, adapt and develop based on your primary social commerce objective.  They’re not exhaustive, and their success will depend as much on how you deploy your strategy as the strategy itself.  And there’s no right answer as to which particular insight is best for building your business’s strategy – that will depend on brand fit, personal preference and above all relevance to your customers.  One way to help you choose which insight-led social commerce strategy is right for you may be to adopt the McKinsey LEAD approach;

  • LISTEN – Listen to your customers: how would they like to shop with social technology, what problems could social technology solve for them, how could it be deployed to enhance the shopper experience?  You always wondered what your Facebook page was for.  Now you know – listening to your customers
  • EXPERIMENT – Limit initial investment to a range of small scale trial experiments that build on different insights – measuring adoption rates, and impact on furthering your primary objective
  • APPLY – Build out your strategy based on what works, selecting a key insight that produces solutions with traction, and deploy across your various sales outlets – on site, in store, on social, and on mobile.
  • DEVELOP – Continuously develop your insight-led strategy, finding new ways to build on the insight to help customers shop smarter and improve the shopper experience

Now you have a roadmap for developing and social commerce strategy that lines up with you social commerce objective, all you need to do now is deploy it!

Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.