This Spotlight on Social Commerce series is brought to you by Bazaarvoice, bringing the power of social commerce to the world’s best brands. Once a month, this blog will focus on the tactics, best practices and trends on the intersection of social media and commerce.
There’s no shortage of companies using Facebook to enhance their sales operations, but relatively few companies have embraced the network as a sales platform on its own.
And why not? Every other communication technology in existence moonlights as a sales tool. Yet social networks are most closely associated with marketing, public relations and customer service. Last year, however, that began to change as more big-name brands explored the possibility of Facebook as a sales platform — a trend now known as F-commerce. Delta joined the pack in August with its Ticket Counter application, which lets customers who “like” the airline’s Facebook page book flights without ever leaving the social network.
A Delta spokesman notes that when passengers log on to the airline’s in-flight Wi-Fi, Facebook is the site they most often visit. Microsoft’s Sean Seibel is fond of saying companies need to find way to reach their fans at “the moment of excitement” — the time when they’re happiest with a company. For an airline, that’s when a passenger is in the air. If the company’s plan is to create repeat business mid-flight, then Facebook is a great starting point.
But just because a company has the technical capability to integrate a sales tool into their social presence doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily figured out how to blend sales pitches with the usual chatter of social networks. There are still cultural hurdles that must be overcome for a social sales tool to really take off. Users say they have concerns about the privacy of their personal information on the site.
And while many users say they are following brands so they can hear about special deals, studies show that’s far from the only reason users chose to connect with a company. Selling too aggressively can even hurt a company’s efforts to build a real community around their brand. With so many potholes on the road to F-commerce success, how can a brand strike a balance — allowing customers the option of making a purchase without overwhelming them with offers?
Delta largely keeps the sales part of its Facebook presence separate from its other social media efforts. A Delta spokesman says the company views its social media activities as tools for building awareness. The discussions on the wall of the airline’s Facebook page don’t overload visitors with offers. Posts tend to be focused on company culture and travel tips. What few offers there are tend to point to ancillary offerings, such as smartphone apps.
While the Ticket Counter app doesn’t encroach on the discussions happening elsewhere on the company’s Facebook page, it does have one neat social trick up its sleeve. Users can choose to give their friends a heads-up on their travel plans using the Ticket Counter. The lure of letting a friend know you’re going to be in town could be a powerful tool for getting customers to talk about their travel purchases online.
Unfortunately, the company hasn’t disclosed how the new application is faring compared with its traditional e-commerce efforts. A spokesman notes only that the company is continuing to evaluate the tool’s performance. What can be gauged from Delta’s app is that companies are finding way to move beyond the traditional social media tools of offering discounts and discussion and are well on their way to treating Facebook as a fully functional Web portal.
How can companies balance their sales and engagement efforts within a single platform? What other companies have mastered the art of selling via Facebook?
Image credit: Deejpilot, via iStockPhoto