Updated on 06/02/2023

Social networks and e-commerce: an introduction

Social media and e-commerce have an increasingly close bond and it’s not surprising. Facebook, Instagram, and others allow a more direct and human relationship with users, and they provide a range of new features that are perfect for making the shopping experience as enjoyable and immersive as in a physical store.

In a previous post about the relevance of e-commerce within the retail sector, we highlighted the incredible growth that the segment has had in recent years, and we identified some interesting trends that are destined to transform the online sales market in the coming years. We talked about voice shopping assistants, omnichannel experience, and the integration between a digital and analog shopping experience.

However, a particularly important trend has been overlooked. This trend, while not new, is impacting many sectors of the economy (from banking to media and entertainment). It is the spread of social networks and the relevance of these platforms in the development of their business. Many experts and observers have stressed this in predicting the future of retail: e-commerce and social media are inextricably linked. For this reason, all retailers are called, sooner or later, to integrate their marketing strategy with these platforms, for a number of reasons that we will explore in this post.


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Everyone is on social media 

The first reason is very simple and, in some ways, obvious: almost everyone has at least one social profile of their own. Two-thirds of the world’s population, almost 5.3 billion people, use a mobile phone, 4.8 billion surf the Internet, and 4.5 billion are on social media. 57.6% of the world’s population is registered with one or more social media and spends an average of 2 hours and 27 minutes each day. On average each Internet user is subscribed to 6.7 different platforms (source: Data Reportal).

This trend towards social growth is substantially widespread in all countries, and Italy is no exception.

According to the latest statistics, in fact, in Italy, in January 2022, out of a resident population of about 59 million people, there are about 50 million people connected to the internet (84.3%) and about 42.2 million active users enrolled in at least one social media (71.6%).

In light of this data, it is clear that social networks represent a huge pool of potential customers to reach with a company’s marketing messages. This is all the more true if you take into account the habits of users, who use their smartphones several times a day just to browse social platforms, to use instant messaging applications, and to enjoy video content. Therefore, not having one’s own social profile is tantamount to depriving oneself of a potential audience made, literally, by millions of people. 

People still talk about brands 

E-commerce and social media: it’s important for retailers of all kinds to have their own brand profile on a social platform and, inevitably, almost every brand ends up on socials, whether they want to or not.

Think of all the social pages dedicated to a brand’s fans, opened unofficially, without the authorization of the brand itself. Or think about how often a brand ends up on a social page simply because it is the subject of a conversation or maybe because one of its products ends up in a photograph or its campaign attracts the attention of users, thus becoming a trend followed by many people who leave opinions and comments.

Not being on a social platform means, first of all, giving up controlling all of this and letting your brand literally be at the mercy of the web

Instead, it is now clear to everyone how fundamental it is to control and plan your presence on social platforms, as they are the showcase through which you build (in part) your reputation. As a result, roles such as the social media manager require a range of different skills, ranging from creativity to the ability to read and interpret data.

Social equals data

We explain why e-commerce goes to social media. Conversations, photos, trends, likes: every action that a user performs on social networks represents a piece of data, which if tracked, becomes very useful information to use to decide how to build your marketing strategy and how to approach individual users. Not being on social media means, therefore, deciding to give up this incredible resource, whose value is now indisputable for e-commerce.

After all, being able to “track” your customers and users in order to implement retargeting strategies is considered a typical advantage of digital retailers who exploit it at the expense of traditional retailers. Social penetration, on the contrary, gives all players the same possibility to implement these marketing strategies, without the need to radically digitize their business.

More social, closer to the customer 

Another advantage that should not be underestimated is that for brands, being on social networks puts them in a position to be closer to users.

Social networks manage to reduce the distances not only between people (obviously) but also between consumers and brands. Thanks to social platforms, users have the opportunity to directly address brands, as equals.

And this is certainly not a secondary aspect for at least two reasons:

  1. The first is linked to the fact that when you have to sell something, the relationship with the customer is fundamental. In fact, the satisfaction you feel when you buy something is not just the result of obtaining a specific good, but the whole process. In this sense, the human component is fundamental: when you arrive in a store, the satisfaction of being received by an attentive salesperson who knows our tastes and guides us carefully towards the best products makes the whole experience pleasant and pushes the customer to come back, to feel the same sensations again. Social media, from this point of view, can be an interesting tool for e-commerce to provide the same type of satisfaction that users get from a physical shopping experience, giving the customer-user a more immersive customer experience.
  2. The proximity created by social networks also allow brands to significantly improve a fundamental aspect of retail, namely the customer care service.


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At the service of the customer, always.

Social networks also allow you to be always at the service of the customer. The weight of Customer Care in the purchasing process of consumers is increasing. Data from the Multichannel Observatory of the Politecnico di Milano show that for almost 7 Italian consumers out of 10 (67%, equal to 35.5 million individuals) digital has an important or even key role in the purchase process. In addition to this, the basis of a successful Customer Care is the ability to listen and respond quickly but, above all, effectively, offering assistance smoothly both online and offline.

From this data, it’s clear that customer service is a significant lever for the development and growth of its business. Having a customer care service that is reactive and efficient is what customers expect.

Suffice it to say, in fact, that the probability of selling to a satisfied customer is 14 times higher than that of selling to a new customer. Also, the amount that a consumer is willing to spend tends to be higher if that consumer has been loyal. Therefore, customer care is not a secondary aspect of the retailer’s business, and social networks can be a useful tool to provide high quality customer care.

Moreover, the trend of so-called social customer care, i.e. customer care through a digital platform, such as through Facebook and Twitter (the social networks that allow greater user interaction), has been emerging for some time now. 

This has many advantages:

  1. First of all, it allows companies to use messaging options to respond immediately to users. And this is crucial, since 84% of users expect a brand to respond to their requests within 24 hours of contact, on any day of the week (business.twitter.com). Social media offers a way to meet this expectation.
  2. Secondly, social customer care has the enormous advantage of adapting perfectly to the habits of modern consumers. Most users are accustomed to accessing a social network on a daily basis and are willing to interface with automated assistants who are able to learn from customer behaviors and profiles, in order to provide the most effective response, even anticipating future needs.
  3. This is the third advantage of using social networks to provide customer care services: you can learn constantly, identifying recurring problems and user expectations to improve your products and services.
  4. Another advantage that should not be underestimated when talking about social customer care is the fact that this type of customer service is a particularly versatile lever because it provides companies with many different tools that can be activated according to the situation and need, with the ultimate aim of improving the customer experience. For example, a retailer can equip itself with advanced chatbots to respond to requests from users through comments on Facebook or delivered directly, as mentioned above. Or, they can decide to use the features of a platform to engage users and learn their opinions about a specific product or service, for example, by using the poll tool or the open question tool on Instagram, or by launching a survey on Twitter. Another way could be the personalized app, which allows all users to have access, directly on their smartphone, to offers, prizes, and interactive games, as well as a privileged channel to receive information in case of need.

Many platforms, many offers

Finally, retailers will want to integrate social media into their marketing strategy because social platforms enable users to have easy, fast, and secure shopping experiences. This means that it is the social networks themselves that recognize the importance of this trend and move accordingly.

The phenomenon is referred to as social e-commerce, and there are many examples that we can point to.

The first, in order of importance, is Facebook, within which retailers can create real “Shop Now” stores also thanks to the use of Messenger that promotes communication between users and consumers. In 2017 in Italy, Facebook launched Marketplace, a section where everyone can easily buy and sell new and used items, collected according to geographical location.

Instagram also joined the trend by launching the Instagram Shopping feature in February 2018. Here, brands can tag products in posts and stories, thus directing customers to the item they want to buy. Among other things, to make the shopping experience even more immersive and enveloping, Instagram also launched the additional “checkout” feature, through which users don’t even have to leave the platform to buy the products they see in a post or a story.

Another interesting example that should not be underestimated is Pinterest, the social for those seeking inspiration. Thanks to its fluid and horizontal structure, Pinterest can be an interesting social network when it comes to inspiring people to buy. Considering that many users surf this platform in search of inspiration or because they feel creative, this platform is positioned in a very strategic phase where the consumer is more receptive. Thanks to the inclusion of Rich Pins, brands can direct customers to a landing page where he will find one or more objects represented in the photos.

This will not only push him to buy, but it will also encourage him to save the Pin, maybe inside a collection, becoming in turn a showcase for other users who share his passions and his own desire to buy.

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