4 Questions with Paul Marsden, Social Commerce Expert


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Many enterprises struggle with the concept of direct sales through social channels. Paul Marsden’s upcoming book, The Social Commerce Handbook: 20 Secrets for Turning Social Media into Social Sales, takes on this challenge, providing techniques and best practices to build profitable strategies for turning interaction into transactions. In anticipation of our upcoming webinar Social Commerce: Secrets for Turning Social Media into Social Sales, we sat down with Paul for some Q & A.

Who inside a company will most benefit from the lessons taught in your book?

The target reader of this book is the CMO of a large retail chain such as Target. However, both The F-Commerce Handbook and The Social Commerce Handbook would appeal to any marketers, from those in corporate marketing to retail departments, in almost any sized company – SMB to enterprise organization. It even has appeal to advertising agencies and PR firms.

What are some common mistakes you see organizations make when it comes to social commerce? How can they avoid these pitfalls?

Certainly one of the biggest mistakes is to think of social commerce as just another iteration or extension of e-commerce. A few months ago several large retail brands shuttered their Facebook stores. In our opinion, they did so based on a widely held misconception – by simply creating a Facebook store, people would naturally want to do business there. (One retailer went so far as to implement its entire online catalog in a Facebook store.) Sales didn’t follow and the stores were closed.

A recent research report from Get Satisfaction and analyst Incyte Group revealed that only 13% of people log onto social networks like Facebook to interact with brands, and that “when customers want information to make purchase decisions, they are more than four times as likely to go to the company’s website (89%) as they are to use a social network (21%).” This points to a difference of intent. People go to e-commerce sites to shop and to social networks like Facebook to socialize. One is about “stuff,” and the other is about “socializing.” Until brands figure that out, they will most likely be misguided in their efforts to be successful in social commerce.

Brands can avoid these pitfalls by doing two things: first, “reimagine” shoppers and replace an outdated understanding of yesteryear’s shopper with a new “SoLoMo shopper”– shoppers who shop smart with social, location-aware and mobile technology. Second, brands need to offer what we refer to as “social utility” – using social technology as a service to help customers solve problems socially or solve social problems. These themes are examined and discussed in detail in the book.

Can you share some examples of companies doing social commerce right? How and what sets them apart from their peers?

Successful vendors have adopted a service mentality when it comes to social technology. Rather than asking, “how can I sell smarter with social technology,” they’ve turned the question on its head and asked “how can I help my customers shop smarter with social technology?”

If there is one “mega-” secret to unlocking sales with social media, it’s this – sell with social utility – and use social technology to offer a service that helps customers either solve problems socially or solve social problems. We believe that social utility is the central and sustainable value proposition of social commerce, and the true secret for turning social media into social sales.

Here are two examples:

Oscar de la Renta

The brand used exclusivity, one of our secrets, to sell a unique perfume ring containing a new fragrance, Esprit d’ Oscar, via a Facebook pop-up fan store. The company used a successful, emerging two-step formula: Facebook Fan-Sampling + Facebook Pop-Up Fan Store. That is, run a Facebook sampling campaign at launch, and then sell exclusive fan-editions via a pop-up fan-store. Step one activates fan advocacy, step two boosts and converts the advocacy. From the standpoint of social utility, this appeals to the need for social status, the idea of being able to have something others can’t and makes us feel special.

Proctor & Gamble

P&G used the heuristic of selling with scarcity to launch a new line of diapers, called “Cruisers,” via a Facebook flash sale on its Pampers Facebook Page. Only P&G wasn’t really selling diapers; it was selling perceived value. By offering only a limited quantity of a new range of diapers, P&G increased their perceived value. As a result, there was an impressive rate of sales, to the tune of 1,000 packs of diapers sold within an hour.

While buying diapers online is not newsworthy, getting your hands on a new range of diapers before anyone else may have conversational currency. By using scarcity to sell, P&G made the unremarkable remarkable and newsworthy. In doing this, they turned fans into super-fans, loyal enthusiasts, and active advocates. P&G also created social utility – enhanced social status, and doing so with bragging rights that come with getting something exclusive, early and that’s not available to others.

How should an organization approach social commerce? What are the steps to getting started using social as a sales channel?

We are in an era of experimentation. The only hard and fast rules are those outlined earlier:

– Have a service-oriented mindset and keep the needs and wants of the customer uppermost in mind;

– Recognize that a new type of customer – SoLoMo – has emerged;

– Sell with social utility.


Those are the philosophical underpinnings that brands must engrain into their sales and marketing DNA if they plan to be successful in using social commerce. Aside from that, think “shopping first, social second.” With that in mind, here are some recommendations:

– Incorporate the use of Facebook’s free social plugins and Pinterest “Pin it” buttons on your e-commerce site to add a social dimension to the online shopping experience;

– Integrate rating and review software so customers can see what others like;

– In-store: display a bestseller list or customer testimonials and reviews next to product displays;

– Online: use popularity lists to allow shoppers to view options by “most popular,” “most viewed,” and “most commented,” which provide social proof;

– Utilize group-buy tools to allow shoppers to band together to get the best deal.

In addition, mobile commerce is making huge headway into retail, so brands might consider allowing people to shop smarter by connecting with each other via mobile handsets. These range from group-buy apps such as Groupon and LivingSocial, to mobile apps that allow customer to get instant in-situ feedback from their friends on whether or what to buy.

In-store uses of mobile apps include “check-in” apps that reward people for sharing their whereabouts when they enter your store with their mobile handset. Foursquare and Shopkick are two examples of such apps.

Lastly, consider using web apps for social shopping that allow vendors to promote and sell their products on sites where shoppers congregate, share, exchange and buy. These range from “flash-sale” shopping communities such as Fab and Gilt that run regular retail events for vendors, to community-based marketplaces such as Etsy and Shoply that allow vendors to do true customer relationship management by cultivating one-to-one relationships with their customers. Web apps for social shopping also include platforms such as The Fancy, Svpply and, increasingly, Pinterest, that offer curated product selections.

We outline 20 steps in The Social Commerce Handbook designed to help brands on their journey social commerce success. The journey will be different for each business putting these principles into action. The point is not “where” to begin, or even “how.” The point is simply to begin.

For more insights from Paul Marsden, be sure to attend our upcoming joint webinar: Social Commerce: Secrets for Turning Social Media into Social Sales. You can also download chapter 10 of Paul Marsden’s previous work The F-Commerce Handbook: 10 Secrets for Unlocking the Sales Potential of Facebook.

Mike Lewis
Mike is an entrepreneur and marketing executive with a 14-year track record of success as a senior manager at early-stage technology companies. He is currently the vice president of marketing and sales for Awareness Inc., an enterprise social media management platform


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