The Future Of Facebook: Commerce, Engagement And Platform Growth
A two part series on the future of Facebook as a platform for commerce and engagement for fashion brands.
Post By Macala Wright | Part One Co-Written By Jessica Quillin
Many fashion brands and retailers realize the power of social media—i.e. Facebook, Twitter, and micro-blogging sites like Tumblr and Posterous—in engaging with customers directly. In the past year, the entire retail paradigm of the Internet has begun to shift from a focus on bringing customers to a brand or retailer’s environment (company website) to brands and retailers focusing on how they can integrate themselves into their customers’ social environments. Their primary target: Facebook.
Facebook offers brands and retailers the powerful opportunity to exist in the same social space in which their customers are interacting with family, friends, social causes and things that represent their daily life.
Facebook’s Growth – Demographics & Statistics
According to iBid, during the past four years, Facebook usership has skyrocketed from a humble 30 million users to nearly 600 million users, which means that nearly one out of every 13 people on the planet are on the site and over half of them log in daily. There are over 206 million Facebook users in the United States, but over 70% of the site’s user base reside outside of the US.
In terms of the average age of users, for a site that started among college-age students, it is not surprising that the highest proportion of users and the highest year-to-year demographic growth fall into the Gen Y category, ages 18-24, with nearly 188 million users and over 75% growth in the past year. The next highest category of users are ages 25-34 with nearly 155 million users and over 59% growth in the past year. However, people over 35 comprise more than 30% of all Facebook user base, a figure that is rapidly increasing with year-on-year growth rates of 59% for 79.3 million users in the 35-44 age range, 68% for 43.8 million users who are 45-54, and 73% for users who fall into the 55-64 age range.
This rapid increase in adult Facebook users is a gold mine for retailers and brands because it not only provides a direct way to engage with the customer base; but it also opens up the possibility of more targeted, cost-effective marketing and promotional opportunities.
Will Customers Engage With Brands Via Facebook?
The question remains in regards to what customers are interested in when they log into Facebook and how retailers and brands can most effectively leverage these interests to capture and sustain customer engagement.
The simple answer is YES. According to a recent survey by Get Satisfaction, over 97% of people say that social media has influenced their decision to make a purchase of a brand or product. In this same survey, the top reasons that people cite for following brands on Facebook include 32.9% current customers; 36.9% special offers/deals; 18.2% interesting and entertaining content; retailer or brand would want to “like” it on Facebook, the interest of these customers in special deals/offers and in interesting and entertaining content reveals the changing landscape of both Facebook and the online retail space itself.
DigitalBuzzBlog notes that over 700 billion minutes a month are spent on Facebook, 20 million apps are installed per day, and over 250 million people interact with Facebook from outside the official website on a monthly basis across over 2 million websites. The opportunities are ripe for retailers and brands to find creative ways to interact with their customers and bring them an enhanced retail experience.
Gone are the days when customers went to a retailer’s or brand’s website simply to purchase items and be finished. They are now highly analytical in their purchases, comparing prices, reading product reviews and soliciting advice from their social communities on apparel and accessories they are interested in purchasing. Moreover, customers are demanding more interactive online experiences; they want high-quality, relevant content that engages them at their own level and in their own space in tandem with can’t-miss deals/offers on goods that they want to buy.
Has Facebook Peaked?
The simple answer is NO; it’s just changed course. “Facebook’s growth always stalls when it hits 50 percent market penetration within a country. Facebook is now experiencing something unprecedented in the short history of social networking—it has captured every plausible user in several countries, and the only people who are left are folks without Internet,” says Farhad Manjoo from Slate. “Instead of growth, then, what we should consider, now, is what Web stats nerds call engagement—how much time people are spending on Facebook, and how they’re using it.” In short, Facebook is no longer a singular social network, it’s evolved into multiuse social commerce and customer communication platform.
According to the 2011 Social Commerce Study from Shop.org, purchase behavior fueled by social media is on the rise:
- 42% of US online adults follow a retailer via Facebook, Twitter or blog
- Average US adult follows 6 retailers; and does primarily for special deals (58%) – other top reasons were for new product news (49%) and to participate in promotional contest and events (39%)
- 28% of Facebook users have purchased something online via a Facebook link
How Brands Are Currently Using Facebook
The most common way through which retailers leverage Facebook is through integrated apps, social plug-ins and the newly-approved curated social search engine. Facebook social plug-ins, which debuted in April 2010, offer retailers the chance to launch brand-specific apps and micro-sites, which make possible Facebook-specific shops in which a customer can browse and purchase items straight from the site itself without navigating to an external website.
Editor’s Note: Facebook was recently awarded a patent for a curated social search engine, which involves ranking search results according to a link’s popularity with a user’s friends and connections. In conjunction with Facebook’s partnership with Bing, this curated search engine will potentially make Facebook a serious contender against bigger search engines like Google+, particularly as it offers users a more tailored search experience within their Facebook page itself.
How Brands Should Be Using Facebook For Consumer Engagement
As John Bell points out, Facebook offers brands the opportunity to “unlock more customer data and constantly deliver new ways to engage a fan base.” So how does a fashion brand or retailer do that? First, brands and retailers need to reconfigure the questions they are asking themselves internally. As cited in Bell’s post, Laurence Buchanan has outlined questions we believe brands can use in order to better define their approach to Facebook:
- How can we build stronger customer relationships based on true value co-creation that will be less susceptible to cannibalization by passing fads?
- How can we cut through vast quantities of customer data with accuracy and drive insight into action faster than the competition?
- How quickly can we embrace change within our organization?
- How can we keep track of where our customers are currently engaging with our brand and with each other?
- How can we spot changes? How quickly can we embrace change within our organization?
- How can we leverage innovation from our customers and partners as well as from the vast armies of open source, web and app developers who are either looking to build upon the dominant platforms of today or trying to create the platforms of tomorrow?
After you’ve answered these questions, your brand must figure out how it’s going to integrate Facebook as part of its overall customer/fan relationship management strategy. This is where brands start to address social customer relationship management (social CRM). Customers are talking about your brand in social channels whether or not you present or not. Sadly, many retailer and brand fan pages lack a basic engagement from the marketers or PR departments that set up the pages in the first place. After you’ve determined how you are going to communicate with your customers on Facebook, ask your marketing team John Bell’s question, “How can our brand build a large base of advocates who will support the brand in good and, more importantly, in bad times.” How are you going to build a team of brand advocates consisting of the right online influencers as well as customers? Use the answers to these questions to develop a continual advocate and customer engagement strategy beyond “likes” and fan acquisitions. These are numbers, and while useful, they are not to be mistaken for strategy.
FMM Marketing Goddesses –
I don’t understand all these big terms – what exactly is a social engagement strategy – and how do I continually do it? Please Explain it!
Confused Fashionable Brand Marketer
Dear Confused Fashionable Brand Marketer –
A social engagement strategy starts with how you are going to get people talking to you on Facebook, then it evolves into how you respond to their comments and questions they post to Facebook and then evolves into the cool content you provide them via video, photos and written editorial to entertain and delight themselves with when they’re updating their statuses for their family and friends.
FMM Marketing Goddesses
We looked at over a 100 fan pages of the 450+ brands that are present on Facbook and found six brands that are moderately to highly successful at customer engagement and working to create two-way conversations with their customers:
- Lululemon Athetica
- Moxsie.com (before it was acquired by FashionStake)
- Ann Taylor
- Clothing At Tesco
- ASOS (moderate)
The lack of social conversations with consumers and influencers on Facebook amongst fashion brands and retailers is disappointing; eMarketer has shown that consumers demand brand engagement.
Customer engagement is not as complicated and elusive as you may think. You can start with something as simple as soliciting their opinions (for customers in their mid-twenties and up, in terms of age). Loyal customers that believe your brand mantra will help deliver your message to their social communities and even evangelize for you if they love you that much, but you must connect with them in a meaningful way first. Asking for their opinions and taking a genuine interest in their opinions is the most sincere form of respect you can offer them. As a retailer, if you haven’t mastered this, then STOP – DO NOT PASS GO – don’t move onto social commerce via Facebook. Work on this first.
COMING SOON: Facebook and Customer Engagement: What Brands And Retailers Really Need To Do
Related FMM Posts:
- What Facebook’s Behavioral Ad Targeting Could Mean For Retailers
- The Fashion Industry Bible For Facebook
- Seven Things Retailers Should Know About Facebook Marketing
- How Luxury Brands Should Approach Social Commerce
- Digital Marketing Is Not A Drive By Shooting
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