3utilizeThe term "social commerce" evolves constantly, as you can imagine, since it includes customer ratings and reviews, user recommendations and referrals, social shopping tools that are sharing the act of shopping online, forums and communities, social media optimization, social applications and social advertising. In general, it stands for the use of social network(s) in the context of e-commerce transactions. Nowadays, however, it is even expanding into technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), that allows shoppers to visualize apparel items on themselves and solicit feedback through social media tools.

It is said that the term “social commerce” was actually introduced by Yahoo! end of 2005 to describe a set of online collaborative shopping tools such as shared pick lists, user ratings and other user-generated content-sharing of online product information and advice. So, you see what I mean when I emphasize its increasing development.

Social commerce is basically taking place wherever people, and sometimes even brands, support consumers in their purchasing decisions or enable a sales process, based on real user experiences, ranging from comments in an online forum or social network to opinions that are exchanged on the website of a retailer. The bottom line is that everything is based on content contributed by users – as that's what makes commerce social.

Fans and Followers

Today, many brands get a large part of their user-generated content from their own digital activities: information comes from their fans on Facebook, their followers on Twitter or customers who have bought a product and then leave a comment on the website. All this provides a wealth of insights into what customers think of the products, the brand, as well as the services received.

Still, despite such a plethora of useful information, many brands don’t make use of the knowledge available for their digital and social activities as much as they could. Rather, companies can and should look beyond the pure e-commerce advantages and involve user-created content for brand benefit.

The three areas in which such content could create added-value for a company are: the analysis of the mood and the profile of customers, the boost of positive interaction with customers or prospects, and the possibility that different departments within the company can streamline their processes based on customer feedbacks.

The following points describe how user generated content contributed can be used best to gain important insights into potential and existing customers:

1. Basically, all insights gained from digital social activities can be used as a kind of simple barometer for brands in order to find out how much positive or negative feedback they received online. This feedback can easily be measured and tracked by detecting what the customers say. Capturing important data from the feedback and using this information accordingly is the way to go.

2. In the next step, brands can highlight the qualitative statements of confirmed customers and generate a data set based on customer feedback, which has a quantitative value and allows a quick analysis. For example, terms such as "like", "happy", "wrong" or "disappointed" can be tracked accordingly, to get insight into what customers just think of a specific product.

3. If there is a problem with a product or service, companies can use real-time feedback from social commerce activities to respond to each customer and solve the problem quickly. So, potential crises are prevented, which would be impossible if you only relied on retroactive market surveys.

Direct, personal exchange form the basis of the social web

The Internet in general and social networks in particular open up direct and easy communication channels, and mail order operators need to take full advantage of these possibilities to contact fans and the public, and give them individual feedback, get into dialogues and invite comments and reviews.

In equal measure, brand, clients and potential buyers have access to direct communication channels, which every company can benefit from. Customers can be thanked for a nice comment, tweet or picture. Besides that comments can be answered personally and the brand ' voice ' communicates in real time. Ultimately, this form of social communication of a brand provides something "human" and demonstrates empathy and attention to customer feedback. In fact, a real-time concept for the online communication strengthens personal relationships with customers and is noted positively by consumers.

Providing a platform for customers and interested parties to exchange information simply enables productive communication, as companies can interactively enter in contact with their customers and get into a conversation with them.

Social commerce can be used for questions and answers, either between the customer and the brand or between two or more persons who have purchased a product. This not only helps customers that have a question regarding the product, but businesses to uncover weaknesses in their own buying process. Thus, companies should use the gained knowledge of customer needs, rating of own products, etc. that usually develops in the social web, for product development, service, support and sales.

Social commerce knowledge can be evaluated differently for each and every area. But to use the data collected for further use, a company could integrate them into an existing CRM or other data aggregation systems. This way not only the sales department can benefit from social content, but marketing, customer service and technical support, too.

Content from social commerce activities even gain more value when the content contributed by users is put to even further use. User feedback, such as positive quotes and reviews, provide great marketing material and useful insight into areas that may need further development, too.

The wider use of the online social ecosystem allows the inclusion of user-generated content from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest. Businesses can support customers and prospects regardless of where they happen to be. It is even more subtle when these links are tracked to see where and how often content has been shared to further improve communication and to thank the advocates.

By Daniela La Marca