Social media isn’t just for fun — it’s big business. We evaluate major platforms’ recent upgrades, which make selling and advertising online easier and more effective.

On average, internet users spend an hour and forty minutes on social media every day – this translates to huge potential for marketers and bodes well for the platforms themselves. To capitalize on this potential, social media sites are increasingly implementing marketing-friendly strategies, creating platforms that are mutually beneficial for users, businesses, and the networks themselves.

Open For Business

Over the last few years, there has been a significant trend towards optimizing social media platforms for users and marketers alike. It largely holds true that users are okay with advertisements, as long as they’re useful to them, which explains why almost 40% of users are likely or very likely to click through sponsored content, much higher than other ad types. With the exponential growth of ad blockers, social media sites need to focus on strategies that bring retail-centric content to their customers in a more relevant and integrated way.

Here’s the low-down on what the four biggest social-media power players have on their retail horizon:

Pinterest

Pinterest

Pinterest might not command the same mass appeal as Facebook and Twitter, but looking at their demographics, it’s easy to see why they’re ahead of the game in terms of collapsing the gap between seeing a product and making a purchase.

28.1% of Pinterest users have six-figure incomes, and 50% are parents (who are both buying for more people and can instill early brand awareness in their children). Pinterest users are predominantly female (68.2%) in the 25-34 age bracket — in other words, their core audience comprises of the prime sharing demographic, which is consistent with the data that 5% of all online traffic originates from Pinterest. Simply put, Pinterest is a retailer’s paradise, and last year, they made it even easier for their users to pin their money where their mouth is.

On June 30, 2015, Pinterest rolled out buyable pins for their US users. When users click on the blue “Buy It” button, they are taken either to a size screen (for clothes or shoes) or directly to checkout: users can add their credit or debit card and address without ever leaving the app. Interestingly, Pinterest doesn’t take a cut of these sales, instead making money via advertising on promoted pins.

Web purchase

So far, business has been good: speaking to eMarketer, Pinterest’s Head of Commerce, Michael Yamartino, explained how the new feature has been a hit both with customers and merchants:

When you pin a buyable pin, we let you know when the price drops. When all of those things went on sale on Black Friday, we notified a lot of people that the things they loved were now cheaper. It was great to see them come back and buy through the buyable pins.

More recently, Pinterest launched a visual search tool. Now (at least in theory) Pinterest users can snap a pic of something they like, and be presented with a convenient “Buy It” pin for the coveted item, or something very similar. The feature is still in its early days, but this innovation has the potential to be a game changer.

visual-search-results-blog-1

Facebook

iPhone

Facebook had a similar buy button in testing as far back as 2014, but we’ve seen a lot less of it: making it easier for users to do more (and buy more) without ever leaving the platform is obviously something that Facebook wants to take advantage of, but the world’s most popular platform is simply not as optimized for this feature as is Pinterest.

But what Facebook does have is sheer numbers: 1,654 million daily active users and counting. Having access to this many people means that Facebook is uniquely well placed for conducting market research and refining their model. Recently, Facebook announced new capabilities that would make it easier for businesses to track customers’ shopping and buying behaviour, enabling them to measure their ads’ effectiveness and boost ROI.

Twitter

Twitter2

At the Digiday Retail Summit back in January, several retailers expressed frustration with the platform, complaining that Twitter’s existing promotional tools don’t translate to improved sales. And with its rivals’ strides in incorporating marketing and ecommerce with their platform, Twitter couldn’t lag behind for long.

It isn’t for a lack of trying, though: Twitter hopped on the buy button bandwagon in early 2015, but Buzzfeed recently reported that the Twitter commerce team had been disbanded and development on the project has ceased (the button is still live on Twitter, but those on the ecommerce team have pivoted to other departments). Twitter is notorious for its super cautious approach to upgrading its platform, but next to its competitors, the site appears to be standing still — and both its user engagement rates and stock prices are suffering as a result.

So is Twitter a dead end for businesses looking to drum up sales? Perhaps not: it’s still a great place for connecting with customers, which gives scope for exercising good old-fashioned sales skills. Twitter has an engaged core of users, and the potential is certainly there: but next to its rivals, there’s some catching up to do.

Instagram

instagram-retail

Instagram’s agile design strategy is the polar opposite of Twitter’s, and it shows: the newcomer recently came out in front of Twitter as the most popular social media platform for advertising. The platform’s inherently visual nature has been used by many top brands, particularly in the fashion sector, to showcase their products and vision, and it’s working remarkably well: Neilsen found sponsored posts had 2.8x higher recall than their measured norms.

And if marketer’s didn’t already love the ‘gram, converting brand awareness into sales is about to become easier than ever: Instagram recently rolled out their own “Shop Now” feature, together with a new, automated advertising API.

The fact that Pinterest and Instagram, both highly visual platforms, are among the most successful, suggests that a strong command of visual marketing tools will be a key component of successful brands’ marketing arsenal.

Selling Socially Seamlessly

Social media sites are pulling out all the stops to make advertising and selling on their platforms easier and more effective, but integrating these functions is far from foolproof. The problem is that people primarily still use social media to relax and unwind with friends — a hard sell simply cannot succeed fit here.

Businesses that are successful on social media do so by affecting a casual, funny, and offbeat presence, often barely alluding to their products or services, which helps instil a level of trust between brands and users. Integrating shopping functions into social media sites could alter this carefully cultivated impression that sales are secondary to promoting the brand’s personality. In future, it’s possible the Adblock war could begin to extend to shoppable social media, with users opting out of all such content.

The key to maximizing social media’s sales potential is easing the “friction” that a customer might experience during the sales experience. Pinterest’s “Buy It” feature means that users no longer need to click through to a vendor’s site, eliminating a step and tipping the scale in favor of making a sale.

The “one-stop shop” has surged into prominence: we’re unwilling to move between platforms to complete our purchases, and sellers are all too eager to facilitate our path to checkout. Social media is definitely ingrained in our culture, but only time will tell if social shopping will become as inextricable.

Longneck and Thunderfoot offer social media management services to build a vibrant audience for your brand across all media channels. Learn more about social media and PR here.