From content to commerce

4th May 2017

Social media is growing up. For the first time, it’s becoming a genuine, measurable, bottom-line business tool.

Just as the internet has transformed media, social is reshaping commerce.

We can see this most obviously in China, the world’s largest ecommerce market, which has been a global leader in mobile adoption and behaviour, and where platforms are at their most advanced: 55% of ecommerce is mobile and that number is growing fast.

At the forefront of this is WeChat. This wonder app had its origins as a simple messaging app akin to Whatsapp. But now Chinese consumers can use it to do everything from banking, collecting coupons and ordering gifts, to reading the news, booking a cab and splitting the dinner bill with their friends; and, yes, following brands too.

Super-app WeChat, which has more than 700 million active monthly users, has a function at every point of users’ daily lives.

The experience is seamless, as consumers browse, network, game and shop on just one platform. This is at both mass and small scale: user groups of just a few hundred members are invited to make group purchases of everything from a daily catch to a limited edition vintage.

Ordering, payment and delivery are taken care of in one easy move. Brands have also embraced the platform as an emerging revenue channel across every sector from fast food to luxury handbags. As a result, 31% of WeChat users shop directly from the platform – and that’s doubled in the last year.

This evolution in social is exciting. It means we must move beyond measuring engagement in terms of reach, impressions, likes and shares.

As marketers, we’ve always built communities with great content. We created buzz, people liked us, they reposted us, and we grew followers. And that’s where it ended. Not anymore.

Now, as platforms and networks have become more sophisticated and influential, the missing link in measuring the business value of social media is falling into place. We are able to place a commercial value on a brand’s social activity; indeed social now drives commerce.

We call the way we do this (for our clients in China) C3: Content. Community. Commerce.

 We have started to redesign our social approach to move from the top of the funnel (awareness) down to conversion. This has required investment in a host of new capabilities, from data analytics to ecommerce and CRM expertise.

In simple terms, we create appealing content that engages and builds our community and now drives to commerce. In China we make heavy use of influencers to co-create content and drive conversion: livestreaming commerce is all the rage.

Recently, for instance, we integrated a social commerce live broadcast element into a launch event, turning the traditional product launch on its head by featuring a click-to-buy button on the livestream.

We’ve also recently launched a coffee brand that leapfrogged traditional communications by going social/mobile-first, engaging China’s millennials where they live.

But what about EMEA? There’s nothing quite like WeChat, but content-to-commerce is about to become huge in the West, too.

Facebook Messenger looks like it has the most potential to serve a similar role as a super-app.

Last year, Messenger (Facebook also owns messaging app WhatsApp and Instagram) introduced ‘Messenger Bots’, allowing brands to reach its one billion monthly users for marketing, sales and customer service purposes.

At the time of launch, Facebook Messenger said: “Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customised communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them.”

 Messenger bots are already facilitating loads of new ways for brands to connect with users –you can already do far more than just message on Messenger, from downloading a boarding pass to ordering a burger, and they have the potential to be the tipping point in the shift to commerce via content in the West.

Indeed, analyst Gartner reckons we are moving to a post-app landscape, as fewer apps are being downloaded, and predicts the big messaging platforms will cannibalise stand-alone apps and even outgrow the big social media platforms within two years.

There remains one potential barrier to a “Western WeChat”, in terms of sales via social and messaging apps. In China, over half of users have linked their bank accounts to WeChat’s mobile payment system. Messenger doesn’t yet allow payments direct through a credit or debit card added to the platform. Once that happens, the sky’s the limit.

Of course, commerce doesn’t just mean sales: the principle also applies to other conversion points. As Advertising Week reported last week, new consumer research shows that Millennials in particular want to use social media to search for and research products before purchase.

A huge opportunity is just round the corner for marketers and brands in EMEA to generate tangible value from the social communities we have been building for the past decade or so.

We’re watching with interest to see how the WeChat and friends model might evolve for the West (and in the Middle East and Africa). We are confident that the powerful combination of deep follower insight, great content, and the right influencers will mean that marketers can finally help clients go beyond engagement, to driving sales from social.

Weber Shandwick will be hosting a panel session – “Transform or die: cracking content-to-commerce and other business challenges”at The Holmes Report EMEA In2Innovation Summit in London on 23 May.