The 5th C of Community, Social Commerce

Brands are racing to create a social presence on Facebook, Twitter, and the hottest social networks of the moment. The initial goals, of course, are to increase brand awareness and build community. To do so however, takes a holistic approach that extends beyond the regiment of broadcasting messages to silent audiences. Now, brands must establish a social equilibrium whereby the 4C's of community drive measurable and mutually beneficial activity and engagement through the thoughtful introduction of content curation and creation, conversation, context, and continuity. More importantly however, brands must now find creative means to recognize the role of a more informed and connected consumer and the varying influence they wield in the social ecosystem.

Recognition and empowerment represent the social sparks that can help businesses not only socialize their brands but now also activate consumer behavior. While editorial programming and meaningful engagement unlock the spirit of community, it ultimately sets the stage for not only conversations and connections, but also monetary transactions.

As social media matures, brands must introduce new social sparks that convert decisions and intentions into outcomes where and when attention is focused. Doing so introduces us to potentially viral opportunities that trigger a social effect propelled by a new "C" in the 4C's of community ... social commerce.

The Rise of the Social Consumer

Consider for a moment, the attention stream of the social consumer ...

People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook

More than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) are shared on Facebook each month

YouTube serves over 9B streams per month

More than 100 million Tweets fly across Twitter every day

The pervasiveness of social networks is transforming business as the attention of the consumer is increasingly focusing on their social streams. It's where they learn, discover, and share. And as in anything, there are those who get it and those who don't. Those who do however, are increasingly taking to social channels to seek advice and guide purchase decisions in their social networks. This changes everything, requiring businesses to augment strategies to reach both traditional and now also social consumers respectively.

The rise of the social consumer warrants much more than attention however, it requires an understanding of what motivates them to click, act, and share. These drivers are different than that of a traditional consumer however. They are not motivated by the clever gimmicks nor are they inspired to seek out your presence within social networks. Attention is a precious commodity and these individuals require direct engagement that recognizes their stature in the social web and rewards them for it. And it is this stature, that introduces brands to a social consumer hierarchy where varying levels of influence are met with dedicated engagement and activation programs. Why? The social consumer is connected and their actions reverberate across social graphs to spark conversations and ultimately clicks to action. And, when motivated or inspired, the social consumer can exact change through the unification of conversation.

As we witnessed recently with the Gap, its new logo was met with a firestorm of controversy when the connected consumer responded en masse using their social soapboxes to express discontent and demand resolution. The lesson here is that any brand can benefit from engaging their community to convert consumers into stakeholders, allowing them to take part in the evolution of the company. This is how we earn relevance in the social Web as the touchpoints to reach consumers also in turn, reach us.

In the 2010 Social Media Report, ForeSee observed that 60% of online shoppers already use social media sites and networks regularly. And, 56% of those online shoppers friend or follow retailers, but they can only do so, if the retailer is actively engaging within those networks. The study found that only one-fourth of the top 100 e-tailers (e-retailers) has yet to create a Facebook page. If that information wasn't enough to move you, consider comScore's report that found Twitter and Facebook users to spend more than 1.5x more online than the average Internet user.

The Role of the Social Consumer

It is the responsibility of all businesses to embrace their social consumers. Earning their attention and partnership allows us to harness their reach and authority to impact the decisions of those around them.

Walmart recently introduced a new program that borrows from the Groupon model of social commerce, combining the benefits of group buying and social effect of the News Feed on Facebook. Like Groupon (pun intended), Crowd Saver leverages the power of group buying to reward consumer with exclusive deals. However, the difference here is that it integrates the social graph into the mix, requiring a fixed amount of people to "Like" the offer to unlock it. This does two things. First, it heightens the demand for the deal, much like Black Friday and Cyber Monday does every year following Thanksgiving in the United States. Most notably however, Crowd Saver acts as a social object. With each like, the potential offer is spread to the News Feeds of every corresponding social graph, thus increasing its reach, appeal, and the visibility of the brand overall. For example, in a recent experiment, Walmart required 5,000 Likes to unlock a deal on a plasma TV.

Why stop there? Walmart and any online e-tailer for that matter, can capture attention, trigger a response, and convert intention into commerce without ever leaving Facebook. The era f-commerce is upon us enabling brands to host an online store within Facebook.

There are great advantages to capturing attention where and when it's focused. For example, 1-800-Flowers.com hosts a shoplet within Facebook where consumers can browse through arrangements and order directly from the Facebook tab. Doing so, sparks a social effect that broadcasts the action to their social graph.

Integrating social commerce as the 5th C of Community unlocks much more than a new channel to sell, it surfaces the ability to shift social media from a cost center to a profit center. The more we experiment, the more we learn. Ultimately, the discussion of ROI becomes a matter of process as we're able to measure investment and return as well as improve conversions to escalate ROI overall. By heightening value and delivering personal experiences, we empower and reward social consumers and as such, improve the online experiences for our community.

If we are not competing for tomorrow, today, we lose critical opportunities to capture attention now and in the future. It's a matter of digital Darwinism, where if we are out of sight, we are indeed out of mind.

Reprinted from BrianSolis.com

Brian Solis is the author of Engage and is one of most provocative thought leaders and published authors in new media. A digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist, Solis's research and ideas have influenced the effects of emerging media on the convergence of marketing, communications, and publishing. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSolis and at BrianSolis.com.

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