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Facebook store flops demand a shift in emphasis February 22, 2012

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Last week, a pretty negative Bloomberg story about Facebook storefronts got wide pickup. It described how GameStop, Gap, J.C. Penney and Nordstrom had closed their Facebook stores. Social commerce is doomed!

Well, not exactly. I have been bearish on how many commerce transactions stores on Facebook would generate since the concept of “f-commerce” was introduced, but that doesn’t mean retailers should give up. Instead, they should put their Facebook stores in the hands of their marketing and promotions staff and prioritize marketing objectives over sales.

I have described before how storefronts built on Facebook pages face at least two significant challenges. Most e-commerce arises from directed shopping that exploits the Internet’s searchability and price transparency rather than the impulse purchases a buyer might make on a social media site. And I have also suggested some ways to accelerate Facebook storefront success: in-stream promotion, social commerce integration and ties to brick-and-mortar loyalty programs. Plenty of smart companies are implementing the first two, but they are still thinking too hard about sales volumes. Just like daily deals, f-commerce efforts should initially concentrate on customer acquisition, engagement and loyalty.

Feeding the feed gains user attention

E-commerce sites like Ticketmaster, TripAdvisor and Fab.com were quick to take advantage of Facebook’s October Open Graph enhancements that enable “frictionless” auto-sharing of activities without a user creating a post or pushing a Like button. Social commerce believers like Yardsellr.com think it is best that promotions come from customers rather than marketers. And store builder 8thBridge reports that 90 percent of Facebook shopping activity comes from friends sharing with friends.

That approach makes sense, but it oversimplifies some issues. “Frictionless” sharing doesn’t show up in Facebook’s main news feed but rather off to the right, in the live ticker. That means those kind of shopping activities may be quick to appear, but they will also disappear just as speedily and likely won’t be called to a user’s attention by Facebook’s ranking algorithm. In contrast, Ticketmaster and Lucasfilm encourage their customers to pass the word — leading to new customers — and actively engage in logical social activities like group travel-planning or event-planning.

Another store builder, Payvment, is also using Open Graph, but not the way Spotify does, where every interaction with the app is broadcast. Payvment is conscious that shopping activities might require more privacy and user control than music listening. So Payvment is focusing on the new action verbs, like Want and Own and claims they are starting to catch on. But the new actions are mostly on apps or Facebook company pages and have not spread outside Facebook on the Web the way Like buttons have.

And friend-to-friend sharing faces other scale issues: Payvment concedes that most users don’t have enough friends to deliver the kind of volume that big retailers want. So it is promoting the idea of a “taste graph” that aggregates interests — as described by Likes, Wants and Owns — across strangers as well as friends. That would enable offer targeting and the personalization of Payvment’s mall of Facebook stores. It is an intriguing big data play, but companies like Groupon and LivingSocial, with far more resources and data than Payvment, have yet to pull off customized targeting that would improve sales conversion. These are longer-term payoffs.

It’s all about marketing

So before f-commerce stores can generate many sales, smart sellers are treating social commerce as a means of branding, customer acquisition and loyalty building. Heinz says a “get well” soup campaign in the UK generated the sale of one can of soup for every eight fans, and it had to buy plenty of Facebook advertising to deliver that much. Wisely, Heinz was more concerned with adding fans and generating PR than selling soup. Similarly, ad agencies and marketing firms like TBG Digital think that over time, those new action verbs will be a key part of Facebook advertising.

Meanwhile, retailers looking to get the most out of Facebook for the next 18 to 24 months should reassign some of the merchandisers and retailers working on their Facebook storefronts. They should move staff in marketing, promotions, advertising and customer acquisition onto the job. The measure of their success will come from metrics like new customers, visit frequency and brand lift. That is where advertisers and marketers have expertise. Then two years down the road, the retail experts can start thinking about total sales, conversion rates, cost of sales and other transactional measurement.

Question of the week

How else can retailers use Facebook?

Pinterest: signs of staying power February 13, 2012

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Everyone’s favorite “it” startup, Pinterest, got a slap on the wrist last week for sneakily snagging affiliate fees from users’ links. But there is no mistaking the social curation site’s growth and momentum. Will Pinterest be a fad that flashes and burns, as Turntable.fm shows signs of doing, or will it end up a midsize link sharer like Digg or Reddit? It is worth examining Pinterest’s growth, usage, influence and money-making potential for startup lessons and marketing opportunities.

According to comScore, Pinterest reached the 10 million monthly user mark faster than any other U.S. site. And that is while it remains an invitation-only affair. The average Pinterest user spends more time with the site (80 minutes per month, says comScore) than other social media like Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ (each under 25 minutes), although it is no Facebook (7 hours).

Pinterest’s audience is a little concentrated — on a desirable young female demographic — but I wouldn’t call it a niche. It is well beyond the early adopter, Silicon Valley crowd that still dominates Quora. Of course, Pinterest faces the risk of faddishness, but it has at least a little guaranteed user lock-in. It takes a long time to kill a photo site, as Flickr’s survival in the face of Facebook demonstrates. But users may deem a group of collected images less valuable than personal photos.

Smart tech implementations

Social curation is a real phenomenon, but not everyone wants to curate. Pinterest enables easy off-site sharing with a simple browser plug-in, even before it has established a Facebook- or Twitter-like “pin this” distribution network. No doubt over time Pinterest will display Pareto principle–style 80/20 distribution of viewer to sharer. But Pinterest encourages passive usage with friend- and topic-following at a user’s first experience along with regular reinforcement.

Pinterest has been smart in how it uses Facebook. Its Facebook log-in and app uses Open Graph auto-sharing features to juice demand for invitations. Yet pinning images into “boards” helps encourage Pinterest usage on its own site rather than just within the Facebook news feed. There is some talk of Pinterest APIs, but the company hasn’t articulated what you could call a platform strategy yet. Still, Pinterest has demonstrated wise tech moves that will gain it a bigger audience, induce usage and exploit Facebook.

Rating Pinterest’s influence

Pinterest’s highly visual layout has already inspired imitators like Lady Gaga’s social networking site, also invitation only. But reports of Pinterest’s influence in driving traffic to other websites are based on a fairly dubious study from a referral tracker with medium-size reach. That said, anecdotal evidence from sites like Time Inc.’s Real Simple magazine suggests that Pinterest could play a big role. Media companies and retailers are rapidly building out their presence on Pinterest. The Wall Street Journal is using the site for its Fashion Week coverage, and Pinterest has caught the eye of the New York Times, possibly at the expense of a Facebook app from the Times.

What about revenues? Right now Pinterest doesn’t show advertising or charge companies to camp out on its site. And it also does not give them an efficient vehicle for finding or promoting that presence. Pinterest uses Skimlinks to insert itself in the path of affiliate deals. It attracted some criticism for not telling its users it was doing so, but most users won’t miss the potential pennies they might collect from retailers. In contrast, that might actually add up in the aggregate for Pinterest. It is unproven so far, but with scale those fees might prove a quicker social commerce payoff than Facebook stores or dedicated shopping communities like Kaboodle, without Pinterest’s having to do the hard work of a real retailer like the similarly visual Fab.

I will disagree with Forrester interactive marketing analyst Darika Ahrens, who says marketers should ignore Pinterest in 2012. On the contrary, they should get on board quickly, before Pinterest starts charging for company pages. The company may never do so — neither Facebook nor Google do — but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is considering it. It should charge media companies and build out paid pages for brands. Because although you might think its visual displays would be extremely brand-advertiser-friendly, those advertisers may shy away without guaranteed placement and safety from potential copyright violations. They would be more comfortable paying for their own space, especially if Pinterest would spend some of its $27 million in funding on audience analysis services.

Though Pinterest hasn’t talked much publicly, its actions reveal a smart startup with staying power. Its growth is working across a broad audience, and its tech choices enhance that growth. And Pinterest is starting to show some power in driving traffic to other sites. A little emphasis on marketing support could add dollars alongside its affiliate revenues.

Question of the week

Is Pinterest a fad?