Does Social Search + Social Media = Social Commerce?

In Chapter 5 of Socialnomics, Erik Qualman (2013) asserts: “In the future, we will no longer seek products and services; rather, they will find us” (p. 72). While on one hand this idea seems a bit frightening, on the other, it is sometimes daunting to have to make a decision about what to buy when there are so many options available, and it seems rather comforting as well as helpful to be able to narrow down the options based on reviews from friends whom, as Qualman aptly points out, we trust more than reviewers we don’t know.

Qualman explains that this is all part of social commerce, a method of using social media as a vehicle for searching and marketing. Qualman refers to the searching aspect of social commerce as social search. He gives the example of Steve who is expecting a new baby and needs to buy a car seat. From Steve’s social search, he can tell who of his friends has recently bought a car seat, which model they bought, the average price of the model they bought, and many other helpful nuggets that will make his purchasing decision much easier. Steve then conducts a similar social search which helps him to decide which new car to buy.

While social media is certainly a very powerful tool for finding out the product preferences of one’s social network, it does not yet offer the advanced level of searching abilities that Qualman refers to with his concept of social search. While the missing components of the social search Qualman describes may evolve naturally with social media, I wonder whether there will ever really be a way to search for a generic product (like a car seat) and find out how many of one’s friends have purchased that sort of product recently, and then narrow the search by brand, model, price, reviews, etc. This seems to me like it would be complicated and privacy invasive; most importantly, I wonder who would profit from implementing a search like this.

In addition to describing the way social media affects searching, social commerce also describes how social media is transforming marketing.TripAdvisor recognized the marketing opportunity afforded by the Where I’ve Been Facebook application, which allowed users to track places they’ve visited, and tried to buy it. When the asking price was too steep, TripAdvisor decided to develop its own version of the application, Cities I’ve Visited, making use of established and free technology like Google Maps.TripAdvisor’s application quickly soared in popularity, and while they didn’t have specific user contact information, they did have great access to information about popular destinations and the ability to provide links for their users to best selling trips. By creating this application, TripAdvisor developed a value-added approach that provided significant marketing opportunities.

According to Qualman, social commerce will also lead to more sophisticated product placement opportunities for companies. As e-books continue to gain popularity, Qualman believes that brand names will be clickable and the site visits will be trackable. While it may be helpful to be able to click on a product I don’t know about to find out what it does, it might be annoying to have every single product mentioned in a book linked to advertisements.

I found Qualman’s example of the “Tom Sawyer approach,” in Chapter 7 of Socialnomics, especially interesting. Just as Tom Sawyer made painting a fence look so appealing that others begged him for the opportunity to help, ESPN similarly offered people the unpaid, responsibility-heavy opportunity to become a Super Fan and report frequently on their respective teams, and people were so eager to have this opportunity that ESPN had a large pool of applicants to select from. This example offers a bigger lesson about how letting fans contribute to a product, show, or service adds value for those fans and for other fans as well as shifts some of the production and marketing burden away from the company and onto the fans. This seems to me to be an incredible marketing and production strategy which will almost certainly gain traction in the coming months and years.

Posted on October 20, 2013, in Social Media, Society and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. The Tom Sawyer approach seems quite brilliant to me. It makes sense, too, because it seems like people today just want to belong and feel like a part of something. And it also goes back to the whole notion of braggadocian behavior. People want to be heard and be the center of attention. Why not let them do that while marketing your company at the same time (for free!).

  2. I also enjoyed reading the example of ESPN. The company was smart to realize that they could use the Super Fan strategy to promote itself. I like that you said, their strategy “offers a bigger lesson about how letting fans contribute to a product, show, or service adds value for those fans.” I think you’re right — having fans participate and be a part of something makes them feel welcome and that they are part of the company.

  3. You wrote, “As e-books continue to gain popularity, Qualman believes that brand names will be clickable and the site visits will be trackable.”

    In such a click-able world, I do have to wonder if we do really want to be so distracted while trying to read. Like you note, it might get really annoying if product placement and advertisements get in the way of reading the e-book, and I know that happens to me at times. Links and ads take me away from my original point.

    Even when I think about using e-texts in school, I have to wonder about how much is too much when adding links. When does it become too distracting and take away from the purpose at hand: to read the book? While it is really cool for students to have access to links that connect to the textbook content, would they really want advertisements or many other additional resource links that result in lost time when they need to read the content?

    I enjoyed you post and thoughts on social commerce.

    • I agree that more links cause more distraction and often detract from the original point, which is reading the content.

      I do think, though, that there might be a distinction between Qualman’s example of links in e-books and links in e-texts used for school. I can imagine a scenario where a teen novel e-book mentions some cool product and the link takes the reader to a page where they buy that product- this is distracting. I can also envision a scenario where a student reads a chapter in Alone Together and then clicks a link to a video clip of an interview with Sherry Turkle; while this may be a bit distracting from the reading, it at least might add reinforce the points in the reading and add value there.

  4. evelynmartens13


    I had the same thoughts about e-books and product placement. It would be very distracting if they were hot links or if you could read things when you hover over it. Also, I sort of wondered what impact it might have on authors? Do you think some might be tempted to “overindulge” in product placement if it meant more revenue? That’s kind of cynical, but it might have an effect. What do you think?

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