Social Commerce: What You Need to Know

Written by Sarah on 24th February 2016

What is social commerce?

You might be wondering just what is social commerce, and, really, it’s pretty straightforward. Social commerce just refers to sales that happened as a result of social media, whether that was users purchasing directly on social media using a buy button, or through a referral to your site.

Though the term first appeared in 2005 when mentioned by Yahoo, it’s only in recent years that it’s begun to be taken more seriously by retailers.

Why do I need to take it seriously?

I’ll keep my answer simple on this. In 2014, social commerce sales for the top 500 businesses in US & Canada increased by 26% to $3.30 billion. While social’s total share of eCommerce web traffic is still small compared to other more traditional channels, it’s rate of growth is still noticeable and one that is surely only going to continue to grow.

Where do I start?

Deciding which social network you should focus on for social commerce really comes down to two questions:

  • where are your customers hanging out?
  • how much time do you have?

Do some research and find out where your customers tend to hang out the most – if the majority of their conversations are happening on Google + and you’re posting most frequently on Facebook, you need to reassess your social strategy.

social commerce

You also need to consider how much time you have. Sure your customers might have Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, but can you afford to spend the time on all three networks in a way that is as engaging as possible? If the answer is no, just focus on one – far better to provide a great service on one network, than a poor service on several.

So what should I be doing?

Before we delve into the networks themselves, here’s some tips, including some as recommended by Receiptful, that you should take when approaching social commerce. As well as only focusing on the networks that you can provide the best service on, you should also being doing the following:

Social Proof

How many times recently have you bought a product without checking out the reviews? I bet it’s not often, and it’ll only be because you already knew the product or business was trustworthy?

Encouraging your best customers to leave reviews on your social channels is a great way to build that level of trust for new customers. Whether it’s via actual reviews on your profile, or encouraging them to share their purchases via a hashtag that you then share… social proof can also improve your brand image.

Build Authority

Becoming an authoritative brand can also increase your level of trustworthiness with new customers and keep you in customers’ minds. While you can create all the top content in the world and post it to your social channels, a simple yet effective way to build authority is to work with experts and influencers within your industry.

Bloggers and vloggers are particularly effective in this area. They’ve already got a substantial social following (in fact they’ve effectively built their career off it), that you can jump in on, and you’ll no doubt learn a thing or two about how to do social from them.

As with choosing your social networks though, make sure you choose an influencer who’s both relevant to your target audience and who you’re comfortable with representing your brand.

Provide a Great Customer Service

While you may want to use your email or live chat as your dedicated customer service channel, your social networks provide a great opportunity for you to give customers yet another reason to shop with you. Whether it’s good or bad queries, you should be responding to as many as you can. Good queries are opportunities for you to use user-generated content as social proof, so definitely get involved in those conversations.

Though you may want to take negative queries offline as quickly as possible, by responding to them and resolving their issues efficiently in a public forum, you’re showcasing your amazing customer service to potential customers, who now know that should anything go wrong, they don’t have to worry too much!


As Receiptful says, “Your buyers are more likely to view your products are more valuable – and therefore more likely to buy them – if they’re time-limited or exclusive.”  

Whether you’re creating flash sales exclusively for social followers to use or letting them vote on the next product to be reduced, if it creates a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), you’ll be onto a winner.

Which social network should I use?

To help you decide on which social network you should use, and also show you how to get the most out of it, I’ve compiled below a list of the best 4 social networks you can use for social commerce.


Wherever you look, the data tells you that Facebook is definitely one to focus on. According to data from Shopify, 63% of all social media visits to Shopify sites were from Facebook, and 85% of all orders belonged to the network too.

Out of their results though, they did find that the average order value wasn’t the best out of all the networks, at $55, Polyvore actually beat them with an AOV of $66.75.

How to make the most of Facebook?

The simplest method is to really utilise the reviews tab on your Facebook page. Getting happy customers to leave a reviews is a simple yet effective way of creating social proof. Particularly when purchasing from somewhere unheard of, seeing other people share their positive experiences with your business can give reassurance to potential customers.

You should be asking for customer feedback often (perhaps after each order is completed), Facebook Reviewsmake sure you ask those with positive responses to add a review to your Facebook Page. (And, of course, don’t forget to solve the problems raised by those with negative responses.)

You should also make sure to utilise Facebook’s call to action buttons on your page itself. While only a small button, and once your page has been liked most users will likely only see your posts in their newsfeed, you should make use of all the tools that Facebook has put at your disposal.

If you’ve got a bit of cash budgeted for paid advertising, Facebook has arguably one of the most powerful methods of targeting users out of all the social networks.

You can target users who are likely to be purchasing right now, based on their demographic, based on their interests; you name it you can probably target with it.

This means you have much more granular targeting than in say Google Adwords, so if you’ve got the right customer profile, you should be getting more for your money.

Also similarly to Google Shopping campaign, you can upload your product catalog to Facebook to create Product Ads. These can become particularly lucrative when used as a remarketing campaign for products users previously viewed or added to their cart.

Building on the actual commerce side of Facebook, there is a new feature currently being tested (and thus not available to everyone currently) that allows you to add a shop section to your Facebook page.

Finally, Facebook also has the functionality for you to create an offer. This is a great way to create a sense of urgency and scarcity with an exclusive offer that, hurry, ends soon!

You don’t even have to use the Offers function for this, you could just as easily create a post about the latest offer on your site with a link.


One of the networks to watch for social commerce, Pinterest is certainly the most interesting in the space currently. In the previously mentioned Shopify report, Pinterest was the second highest referrer of social traffic to Shopify sites after Facebook, but at substantially smaller rate of 13% (compared to 63%). The number of orders has increased YOY by a huge 79% however and though the Shopify report gives Pinterest an average order value of $58.95, others are reporting it as high as $123.50.

What’s most noticeable is that it drives 16% of social revenue despite having an audience 6.5x smaller than Twitter.

How to make the most of Pinterest

buyable-pins-pinterestPinterest stands out as one of the most useful sites for eCommerce simply because of the way that it’s users utilise the network – they pin items on a board as a way of creating a wishlist or shopping list. By throwing buy now buttons into that, Pinterest have effectively created an interactive shopping list from across multiple sites.

As of October 2015, there are 60 million buyable pins, and though the feature still requires a waiting list, it’s available for websites using eCommerce platforms such as BigCommerce, Shopify, Magento.


Though Twitter has the lowest average order value ($46.29, again from Shopify’s Report) out of the networks we’re looking at in this post, it’s not to say that it’s not an interesting platform for commerce. With big brands such as Domino’s experimenting with tweet-to-order using the 🍕emoji, there’s plenty of room for experimentation.

How to make the most of Twitter

The simplest way to make the most out of Twitter, besides tweeting links to your products and offers, is to utilise Twitter Cards and Twitter Buy Now that come with them.


Though it’s currently only available for US merchants, Buy Now allows Twitter users to purchase products right from their Twitter timeline, without ever having to leave Twitter. If you have Stripe, Shopify, Big Commerce, or Demandware this functionality is already available, and is relatively simple to set up.


Instagram is another interesting network for social commerce, partly due to it’s much more visual nature than its counterparts. Impressively, despite the only clickable link on organic posts being in the bio rather than the actual post, Instagram has the second highest average order value for Shopify stores ($65) and a higher conversion rate than Pinterest at 1.08%.

It’s also worth noting that the 25 most engaging profiles on Instagram get 50x times more engagement on Instagram than on Twitter. Coupling that with the fact that only 36% of marketers currently use Instagram, giving you much less competition, and it’s clear to see that Instagram could be the social commerce darling alongside Pinterest.

How to make the most of Instagram

Instagram Ads were announced as available to everyone last year, and already studies have shown that Instagram ads had an average 17pt recall lift. What’s more, if you’re already running Facebook ads and so familiar with the Adverts Manager, it’s as simple as including Instagram in your campaign and going from there. For more information, you should check out AdEspresso’s excellent post on Best Practices for Instagram.

Similar to Facebook, these ads can include various call to actions, including Shop Now (ideal for social commerce), Install Now, Sign Up, and Learn More.

There’s also other ways you can add shopping functionality to Instagram, though they can be costly. Brands such as Black Milk Clothing use the link in their bio to send users to an almost duplicate version of their Instagram feed, except now you can click each image to be taken to the product featured in

Of course there are other social media networks that can work for social commerce, and we’ve only covered the main four here. Let us know if you’ve found particular success on any others below!