Social in 2014 is just like the web in 1996

If social media existed in the '90s

Take a look at your favourite brand's Facebook page. It's pretty mature, isn't it? It's well managed, it's active, those guys really know what they're doing. And it's not just Facebook - look at the way businesses use Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest and a million other tools. Social has definitely come of age.

And then step back and put all this into context. It might seem like we've reached an end-point, like we've gone as far as we possibly can but, in truth, we've only just begun to scratch the surface of social's potential. How do we know that? Because it's happened before - with the birth of e-commerce.

Back in the early to mid '90s, the only corporates who saw a business use for the web were the marketing guys. Excited by this dynamic new platform, they were the ones who established websites for their brands. But the new tech didn't automatically deliver a new way of thinking and, consequently, these websites were little more than online versions of the print brochures and corporate resources they were already producing, coupled with some touchy-feely fun for the customers.

ASDA's website in 1996 offered everything from jobs and recipes to java games to entertain their customers. The one thing it didn't offer, though, was the ability to buy things. The UK supermark ASDA's website in 1996 offered everything from jobs and recipes to java games to entertain their customers. The one thing it didn't offer, though, was the ability to buy things.

Meanwhile, pioneers like Pegasus (who set up the world's first online travel agency, and now power giants like Ebookers, Orbitz, Lastminute and Hotwire), eBay and Amazon had identified an infinitely greater potential for the web - the ability to sell direct to customers, any time day or night, anywhere in the world, disintermediating traditional retail, shaving overheads to a bare minimum, reinventing shopping forever. These pioneers invented a whole new channel - e-commerce - and the reward for their innovation was 20+ years of dominance. Brands and traditional retailers are still paying the price for their tardiness back in the '90s, and you only have to look at what's recently happened to the likes of HMV and Jessops to see how costly that price has been.

The same thing will emphatically happen with social. We're still in the mid '90s when it comes to how brands interact with their customers via social. It's a toe in the water - something for marketers to play with. Just like the brochure sites of old, corporate social outposts collate information for their customers, they engage them with fun distractions (competitions, polls, Pinterest boards, pictures of fluffy kittens to share), they stick a flag in the sand for their brands.

But the future will only arrive when social expands beyond the social media we're playing with now, or even the social media marketing people assume is cutting edge. The inevitable, essential future is Social Commerce - shopping where we socialise, buying things with our friends, accessing offers and exclusives via viral networks, influencing the price and nature of products with our collective, social voice.

The question, though, is whether brands and retailers will make the same fatal mistake they made 20 years ago and allow someone else to corner the market before they can get so much as a foot in the door. There's still time to act, but the next six months are going to be fascinating to watch.

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Big hand for a pioneering brand: BrewDog Beers

MashTag Beer

We spend a fair bit of our time talking about what's NOT social commerce. Using a reviews plug-in for your ecommerce store? Not social commerce. Linking to your seasonal sale via Twitter? Not social commerce. Posting pictures of your products on Pinterest? Not social commerce (and also really hard to say). So, what makes us such experts in what's not social commerce? Spending all day every day helping brands sell things in social: your actual, proper, bona fide social commerce. That's what.

But there's more to social commerce than just the selling bit. Social commerce also means listening to your customers, giving them what they want, using your audience to help shape _what _you sell and how you sell it. And here's a great example of that kind of community involvement in action - the first ever recipient of our BUYAPOWA BIG HAND AWARD*, BrewDog Beers.

Scotland's BrewDog did something really cool last week. Over the course of five days, they asked their Twitter followers, Facebook fans and blog readers to vote for all the constituent factors that shape a brand new beer: style, booziness, bitterness, special twist and name. They received almost 5,000 votes in total and their

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Pepsi's crushing Coke in social

Pepsi's crushing Coca-Cola in social

The social media marketing world has been all in a tizz about Coca-Cola Senior Manager of Marketing Strategy and Insights, Eric Schmidt's, recent comments about their industry. Specifically, his revelation that all the positive buzz generated by his social team only bolsters Coke sales by a miniscule 0.01%.

Well, forgive us - this is going to sound a wee bit blunt. But what do Coke expect? No one buys a can of Coke online. Not unless they're seriously patient and a little bit strange. And, sure, there might be a little ambient goodwill that ferments in the soul of a Fan or Follower until they next pass a newsagent but a) you're going to really struggle to track this and b) you're ceding all control at that stage to the retailer. One big promotion for a rival and all your hard work will probably be undone.

But Coke's problem isn't that they're using social. It's that they're using social media marketing instead of social commerce. The moment you start selling in social, everything changes. Why? Because there's an immediate action. There's instant engagement. You create a desire and serve that desire right there in the social arena. And, if that sounds a little theoretical, it really isn't. In fact, we're already doing exactly that with Coke's biggest rival, PepsiCo - and it's working amazingly. Here's a lowdown...

Pepsi Max Social Commerce Case Study

So, here's the good news for Mr Schmidt and Coca-Cola - brands like his can sell via social. But you need to think about what you're selling and you need to sell it socially, where the audience is, not wait for them to purchase later or send them off to a faceless e-commerce store. Get that nailed and you'll see a massive upswing in engagement, sharing and sales. Carry on doing what you have been doing (and Coke have been quick to clarify that they have no plans to change their strategy) and the results will be disastrous.

Robin Bresnark

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