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Influencer Marketing 101

The Guide to Social Commerce & Influencer Partnerships

How can my brand successfully use social commerce?
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Influencer Marketing 101

The Guide to Social Commerce & Influencer Partnerships

What is social commerce, and how can brands successfully leverage it?
  • Now: Social commerce is a rising subset of e-commerce that is enabled by social media, and often facilitated by influencers. Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Pinterest are all racing to offer top tools to aid social commerce - including augmented reality, influencer marketplaces and creator tools.
  • Next: Live shopping is already a $66 billion+ market in China, and now U.S. and European consumers seem primed to accept this format too. Conversations about live formats like Instagram Live saw a 716% increase in H1 2020 and tech companies are responding by developing tools to support live stream shopping.
  • Challenge: While the rapidly growing ecosystem is exciting, it may make it difficult to know which platforms, partners and technologies will help you reach your target buying audiences and understand ROI.
  • Tips: To succeed with social commerce brands should think about embracing “shoppertainment”, collaborating with influencers as the new storefront, and building a tech stack that provides transparent data, streamlined workflows and standardized performance measurement. 

What is Social Commerce?

Social commerce is a subset of e-commerce that is enabled by a social media platform; whereas traditional e-commerce happens through a retailer’s direct website. Social commerce (at least as it stands now) is a flexible term that includes a breadth of purchase enablements from socially shared affiliate links, ecommerce integrations, to native in-app purchases.

In the U.S., all of the major social platforms have added some sort of social commerce capability in the last year including Snapchat, Pinterest, Facebook, TikTok, and of course, Instagram

The intention of social commerce is to streamline a user’s buying experience by allowing them to easily purchase a product through a social media channel. In its most basic form, this could mean a consumer buying a product by clicking an affiliate link in their favorite YouTube influencers’ video. In its most recent form, this means giving the consumer the option to funnel from a social platform to a website via an ecommerce integration (e.g. Shopify) or buy directly on a social platform, therefore eliminating the need to ever visit a brand’s website. The ultimate goal is to reduce abandoned carts and increase impulse purchases. In fact, TikTok has already reported that it set new records for unplanned and impulse purchases during the 2020 holiday shopping season - in large part due to its social commerce features.

Social Commerce by Platform

Pinterest

Pinterest is known as the app for finding inspiration, and marketers are well aware of how important the app is for driving website traffic. So it’s unsurprising that they’ve implemented social commerce into their platform. Now Pinterest gives you the option to “explore” or “shop” the search terms you’re looking for. Though the checkout process is still mostly outside of the app, the experience is easier than finding inspiration on Pinterest and then having to do the legwork yourself. 

Snapchat

Snapchat is banking on their augmented reality capabilities to stand out in the landscape of social commerce. They made AR mainstream with their introduction of filters into society, and now they’re the first to do virtual try-ons with sneakers, sunglasses and, most recently, make up (in partnership with Estée Lauder). They also have a shop option that is connected to Amazon.

TikTok

It’s unsurprising that TikTok, with its young user base, is already hard at work developing its social commerce play. Unlike Snapchat and Pinterest, TikTok decided to partner with ecommerce powerhouse, Shopify, last fall. Using this ecommerce integration TikTok tested out live shopping capabilities with both Walmart and Levis (more on live shopping later). According to Adweek, 83% of users have been inspired to purchase something they discovered on TikTok, positioning them to do quite well when shop opportunities fully launch.

Twitter

Twitter is the latest app to dip their toes into the opportunities presented by social commerce, with a potential collaboration with Shopify meant to help highlight organic shopping suggestions. Twitter has also acquired other services, such as Revue, a newsletter platform, to enable its users to monetize their content which could lead to interesting revenue streams for creators. As of right now, there hasn’t been any talk of in-app purchases. 

Instagram

With the launch of Instagram Shop, the platform was one of the first to produce an in-app purchase experience. There’s a nice flexibility to the in-app shopping options - brands and influencers can opt to tag their photos with built-in product tags, which allows users to see prices, navigate over to the in-app shop, or even click over to the brand’s own website. Given that an estimated 70% of shopping enthusiasts use Instagram for inspiration these features have the potential to be incredibly powerful for product discovery and purchasing. Note: Instagram monetizes this feature by charging a 5% processing fee from Instagram when customers make an in-app purchase. 

Instagram has also announced in this live-stream chat that it has more features coming down the pipeline. The new features are specifically designed to help influencers make more money on the app - one is a product recommendation affiliate program, and the other is a “marketplace” that helps connect brands with relevant influencers.

The Proliferation of Live Shopping

According to CNN Business, live shopping is not only estimated to be a 66 billion dollar business in China, it currently represents 9% of the country’s total e-commerce market. For context, Business Insider has estimated that the U.S. influencer marketing industry is projected to be valued at a mere 15 billion dollars by 2022. 

One striking example of live shopping’s potential is Alibaba’s Singles Day, which occurs on November 11th each year. The holiday (originally called Bachelor’s Day) celebrates single people and is the biggest day for online shopping in China, attracting global talent like Taylor Swift as promoters. The event is similar in spirit to Amazon Prime Day, but on a whole different level. To compare, Singles Day produced 20 times more sales than Prime Day in 2020. 

It’s clear that there is a lot of potential in live shopping, so when will it come to the U.S. and Europe? 

Our recent data findings indicate that the interest likely already exists amongst American and European consumers. According to our State of Influence 2020, live video formats were a hot topic - Instagram Live saw a 716% increase in mentions and a 508% increase in the number of influencers posting about it (comparing H1 2019 to H1 2020). Furthermore, we aren’t just seeing conversational buzz around live shopping increase, multiple tech companies are working on live shopping capabilities, including:

  • Amazon. It’s unsurprising that Amazon got into the live shopping game early, as it undoubtedly competes with Alibaba (all-time live shopping champion) on a global scale. The company launched Amazon Live, its live stream shopping platform in 2019 and has already generated traction. Amazon, along with other brands, uses this format to sell products with daily hosted shows dedicated to everything from cooking, to fitness, to makeup. 
  • Facebook. The social media giant launched its live streaming capabilities in 2017 with the hope of getting celebrities to adopt live shopping as it gained popularity in China in the mid 2010’s. The live stream feature had a rocky start and for some time was known to have some really horrendous content. However, in May of 2021, the platform launched a new event series dubbed “Live Shopping Fridays”, a renewed effort to get quality content and brands using its live stream shopping feature. The event series is specifically targeted for beauty, skincare, and fashion content.
  • TikTok. In December, Walmart partnered with TikTok to pilot live shopping and Levi’s did the same, using their new shopping capabilities powered through Shopify. TikTok may very well be the main live shopping destination in the near future, (as China’s version of TikTok called Douyin is already a social commerce hub) it has not yet fully launched.

Legacy social and ecommerce platforms are definitely diving into live stream shopping, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll dominate. For example, there are new platforms like Newness that are super specialized (this one is focused on beauty) and centered around values that consumers care about like authenticity and kindness.

Tips for Social Commerce Success

Employ shoppertainment

The term “shoppertainment” has recently become a bit of a buzzword, but essentially it's just a twist on an old concept - offer value to your audience. Employing shoppertainment means offering an experience that draws folks in and keeps them returning to your brand’s space, even when they don’t necessarily need products. If this is done well, it theoretically has the potential to increase impulse and unplanned buys.

In digital spaces, shoppertainment is even more important because there are so many people, brands and things competing for your target audience’s attention. We’ve found that there are two key pieces to building the virtual space your audience loves being in: 

  • Center your brand’s social identity around values. Audiences care about the values a brand holds and, more importantly, they want to see how that brand authentically lives those values. Part of this comes down to trust – we all want to feel like we can trust the brands we buy products from. The other part of this comes from the natural desire to humanize a brand — we want to see the brand as a clear representation of the people we know are behind the scenes. If done right, centering your brand’s social identity around values will result in content that is not just useful, but also authentic and creative. Rare Beauty is a great example of a brand that does this well! 
  • Establish meaningful partnerships. It’s likely your target audience already has a place or, more specifically, a person that they go to for their educational and entertaining content. Seeking out and finding those people will make it much easier for you to come up with fresh and creative content, tailored for your content audience. 

Bonus: when you find those partners, give them creative power. They know what’s best!

Leverage the “social” in social commerce

Influencers have historically been great partners for building brand awareness, but now their impact is moving on down the marketing funnel. In fact, 87% of Instagram users claim to have made a purchase based on an Influencer’s suggestion. 

“Instagram is widely regarded as a critical component of e-commerce and even bricks-and-mortar buyer journeys. It is a powerful store-front that supersedes every mall, shopping district or fashion magazine. A user’s ability to buy natively through Instagram radically shortens the buyer journey allowing businesses to easily find, inspire and convert a window shopper into a customer.”  — Anthony Svirskis, Forbes contributor 

With the advent of social commerce, an influencer’s impact on the marketing funnel could move even further down. It’s possible that we’ll see influencers take on the role as the “new storefront”. Concretely, this means that influencers could hold the key to your audience’s journey from discovery to conversion.

For brands, this means that it is even more important to have good, long-term relationships with influencers who have the right audiences, creative content with high engagement, and strong brand affinity. When it comes down to it, people follow influencers, not platforms. In this sense, influencers are the ones with true staying power in a world of changing social and social commerce platforms.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when building winning influencer partnerships:

  • Experiment with tier type. Bigger isn’t always better! Our brand partners have found that while smaller influencers in the mid (50K+), micro (10K+) or nano (1K+) tiers may not offer as much reach as their larger-tier counterparts, they can have a more targeted audience and higher engagement.
  • Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. There is now a decent amount of competition amongst brands to work with the top industry creators. The beauty industry, for example, has a lot of fierce competition over top beauty influencers (e.g. Nabela Noor, Nikkie de Jager, etc) which can often make it extremely cost prohibitive. To solve this problem we’re seeing a lot of brands look for partners outside of their specific industries. For example, Revlon got creative when launching its Wonder Woman 1984 collection, looking for lesser known influencers with ideal audience size, engagement and creative content. For that particular campaign, they partnered with cosplay artists because they could bring the spirit of the Wonder Woman collection to life.

    Similarly, Beekman 1802 picked influencers for its TikTok program not based on specific beauty content, but on shared values. The alignment of values and willingness to trust in their creators led to incredible success… they sold out two product lines in Ulta!
  • Try different types of engagements. Traditional paid engagements are not always the way to go - in fact they may end up costing you more than their worth. Instead, consider building a mixture of organic, paid and long-term plays. Caudalie recently did this well in its partnership with influencer, Stephanie Valentine (@glamzilla). Instead of doing a one-off paid engagement, the brand did a series of engagements - from a video review, to a live co-hosted event, to cross-promoted content - that not only performed well with audiences, but managed to catch the eye of Elle USA (see the full analysis here).

Bonus: Looking for more specific strategies and examples? Check out our analysis of top beauty influencer collabs from April and May of 2021.

Get your marketing technology stack ready

The rapidly growing social commerce ecosystem is exciting, but it brings new complications that require a thoughtful approach to technology selection, integrations and implementations to empower you to understand ROI. 

A few questions to ask yourself when building your marketing stack:

  • System of Record: Do you have system of record to manage influencer campaigns across markets, brands and teams? How will you ensure transparent data reporting?
  • Affiliate Tracking: If you are using affiliate links as your initial social commerce strategy, how will you track and attribute revenue?
  • Integrations: If you are using several types of tools and platforms (e.g. social listening, influencer marketing platform, affiliate platform, ecommerce platform, etc) how do you make sure all of them are working together smoothly? Which platforms should track which metrics?
  • Reporting: What metrics beyond sales matter to you? How will you measure impact across the entire customer journey–from awareness, consideration, through to conversion? 

Bonus: Check out the beauty brands who have the best influencer marketing programs this month, based on influencer generated content, engagement, and other performance metrics.

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