Sociable Labs may be the secret weapon retailers have been waiting for when it comes to social media.
The San Mateo, California, startup offers a suite of social applications that can be incorporated right on a retailer’s e-commerce site. The main thing Sociable does, founder Nisan Gabbay tells Fast Company, is to help retailers focus on maximizing sales through social media, not just buzz-building. This can happen more effectively, Gabbay says, if a business gets out of the way of conversations between friends, which are happening on Facbeook (and elsewhere).
Active.com—the listings and registration site for outdoor and fitness events like marathons, bike races, and sports camps—used Sociable’s RSVP and Purchase Share applications on their Event Detail and Purchase Confirmation pages early on. People looking through those pages could see listings for events in their area, which events their Facebook friends had signed up to do, and then share their own plans to attend or participate in these events, as soon as they've signed up (and paid) via Active.com.
Broadcasting news of users' commitment to fitness events translates to awareness and participation in other events listed on Active.com, Gabbay says. User engagement is driven more efficiently than a passive "Like" on Facebook. Active.com achieved 300% higher conversion rates than it got previously with Facebook and other social media.
Over the past year, the San Mateo-based startup’s been operating in stealth mode with a $75,000 cash infusion from Facebook's fB Fund, and $1 million in subsequent angel funding. This week, Sociable Labs takes its site and service public, and has attained and additional $7 million round led by Battery Ventures.
Gabbay says that the capital will be used to hire more staff, as well as for sales and marketing. So far, the startup's ten customers include "private sale" style fashion sites Haute Look, Rue La La, and a retailer of clothing and gear for outdoor enthusiasts, Backcountry.
The second big piece of what Sociable Labs does, via its test-and-learn ROI platform, is to help retailers avoid social media marketing efforts that fail, and repeat the efforts that work. "In the past couple of years retailers have spent millions of dollars on social media, yet most are still not seeing hard ROI from these investments," says Brian O’Malley, partner at Battery Ventures. "We believe Sociable Labs, with its unique approach to experimentation and ROI optimization is very well positioned to change the status quo."
The status quo is ready to be shaken up. A recent Forrester study found 62% of retailers said the ROI from their social commerce programs is unclear. Part of the reason may be that it’s too tough to quantify the "soft" results driven by social graphs such as the number of Facebook fans, and the impact of increasing customer engagement or monitoring complaints on Twitter.
Making a sale is a measurable outcome, and having the means to do that right on an e-commerce site can be more effective than setting up a separate storefront on Facebook, says Larry Pluimer, CEO at Indigitous, a provider of "tactical resources" for businesses navigating the digital economy.
"There has been some push back on Facebook," Pluimer observes, because that is a platform where people just want to talk to their friends. However, friends are the highest authority when it comes to making a purchase, he beileves. More people trust a friend’s advice over a retailer’s recommendation.
Peers are the highest authority, potentially wielding even more influence than a celebrity or an expert which is the key to several emerging social commerce players, including the Twitter-inspired shopping site OpenSky.
Gabbay suggests, while they may be good for buzz-buiding in some way, "Business-to-consumer social campaigns aren’t the solution for retailers to increase sales from social. Instead, retailers should create ways for consumers to effectively do the selling for them on their sites— where the vast majority of consumers go when they are ready to shop."
By Sociable Lab’s measurements about 40% of U.S. web users are simultaneously signed into Facebook while they are browsing e-commerce sites. But still, Gabbay says, web users go to retailers' e-commerce sites to learn about and shop for products.
Though Sociable currently only targets e-commerce, he can see it extending to help market business-to-business products on platforms such as LinkedIn.
"Let’s move away from business to consumer marketing and go back to people to people," Gabbay says, "This is the future of the social space."