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Best practices for creating and driving social commerce experiences

As the increasingly social nature of the internet continues to alter the world of commerce, the most recent changes have seen the consumer take a more active role—a partnership role—in producing and consuming a brand’s content or services.

My most recent blog looked at how social commerce has defined the purchase process into three phases. In this blog, I’ll look at how social commerce is impacting the creation and consumption of products and services.

In the past, user testing held a prominent place in many brands’ product development roadmaps. Today, consumers essentially are driving product choice and design through real-time interaction with each other and with the brand. In the same way, consumers are participating as full partners in providing services and products offered by brands.

We’ll examine the new phenomena of Social Production and Social Consumption, and explore how they are changing the nature of commerce, brand strategy and success.

(Above: Threadless voting page)

Social Production

T-shirt company Threadless was one of the first social production websites; started with only a thousand dollars, the company has grown into a $30 Million design powerhouse. They achieved this with little risk: the model evolves around users uploading designs to be voted on by other users; top designs are put into production. The company doesn’t have to guess at what their customers want, they just have to listen; they already have a fanbase for each design. Social features are built in at every level of the site; one of their search filters allows customers to shop by ‘Popularity”.

It’s not necessary, however, for a business to be built entirely around the social production model. Small upstate New York-based supermarket chain Tops Friendly Markets wanted to promote their new Carry Out Café pizzas, so they designed a contest for their Facebook page. Employees submitted their favorite specialty pizza designs, and Facebook fans voted for the top three (and received $1 off coupons for doing so), which then went into production.

Customers love to feel that their voices are heard; dipping your toe into social production can be a delightful way to engage your biggest fans while gaining accurate customer feedback.

(Above: Rent the Runway)

Social Consumption

We’re in the midst of economic turmoil and all share increasing concerns about the environment. These factors combined with our need for sharing have precipitated the rise of social consumption. Some call this the sharing economy; other have called it rentership society or non-ownership. Blame it on Netflix.

Using the web, it’s now possible to share ebooks with our friends, to find a stranger’s couch to sleep on, and to borrow our neighbor’s ladder. This behavior has become integrated into business models as well. Customers can rent textbooks, prom dresses, nail polish, fine jewelry, tools, and pets.

Special occasion dress rental site Rent the Runway (named a “Top 50 Website” by Time Magazine in 2010) has turned sharing clothes into what is estimated to be a $200 Million business. Customers search by color, occasion, and date available, and rent the dresses for 4-8 days, at a fraction of the price of a new dress. The site offers free second-sizes and sells dress insurance; it is interesting to note is that they house the largest dry cleaning facility in America.

In a volatile economy with strong culture of sharing, companies like this are, instead of being intimidated by customer’s changing demands, building social aspects into every piece of their businesses.

There’s not a single part of the selling cycle that doesn’t benefit from some type of social engagement. You’ve already dipped your toes into the waters of social selling; these examples should give you some inspiration and ideas to help you take things to the next level.

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