With all the buzz and promise given to social commerce, neither the social nets nor those who want to sell via these untapped touchpoints seem to have figured out how to turn Likes and re-Tweets into transactions. It may be wise to dive into the media history books for some well-needed guidance.
Long before digital marketers and retailers considered jamming the square peg of e-commerce into the round hole of social media, there was direct response television. Known more commonly as infomercials, these 30-minute programs (which later spun off shorter 30, 60 and 90 second TV spots) were masters of selling through an emerging digital channel—television. The concept was simple; a product that fulfilled a basic human need (make you smarter, prettier, slimmer, healthier, etc..) was presented by a well-known (but never too well known) host. The smiling host demonstrated the product and led the viewer through a series of well-scripted testimonials that made the product a must-have. “My son’s reading improved two grades after using Hooked on Phonics.” And then there was the omnipresent toll-free number on screen that led to a surprisingly powerful telemarketing infrastructure.
Out of the early success of the infomercial business, combined with early ‘80s explosion of cable television networks, were two 24-hour DRTV/Infomercial/”home shopping” channels—Home Shopping Network (HSN, now owned by IAC) and QVC (now owned by Liberty Media). These networks took the best of the infomercial playbook and upped the social component several notches. The formula was and still is very simple—each product is presented by a host who is as generic as your average weatherman, oozing the same feeling you get when talking to your neighbor over the back fence. The host is your peer, your social buddy who (if he or she were on Facebook) would be smack in the middle of your social graph. For most shopping channel segments the host is accompanied by a celeb such as Rachel Ray, Isaac Mizrahi, Joan Rivers, Emeril or Paula Dean who demonstrates the product, points out its benefits and chats with those who call in to lavish praise on that special pressure cooker that saved them time and money while pleasing a hungry family. All the while, that toll-free order number sits affixed to the screen reminding the viewer that you too can own that charming bracelet Joan Rivers wore to her latest Comedy Central Roast.
Does commerce get any more social than that? The mix of your neighbor and his celebrity friends touting the benefits of a product while offering you a dial-to-buy and click-to-buy in Amazon-like commerce experience is near digital commerce nirvana. And lest we think the HSNs and QVCs of the world have not fully embraced the Commerce Everywhere mantra, these two powerhouses allow shoppers to use their mobile devices while watching live and order from their Smartphones or tablets. Missed last hour’s segment featuring a new, exclusive food processor? Just search on your device, remind, watch and buy. Nirvana keeps getting better.
Digital marketers may be looking for a few takeaways from social commerce as deployed by QVC and HSN (not to mention infomercial producers). For one, keep it simple: out of the gate, each segment describes a product and focuses on its benefits. Second, social is measured in quality, not quantity. One somewhat overly chipper Rachel Ray endorsement is worth several hundred Likes from any social graph.