Share this. Preparing for the rising tide of social sharing

Although social sharing has been around for years they are still only used by about 3-5% of site visitors. Some web properties and engaging sites like news and others are starting to see those numbers increase as more web visitors become more socially connected and engaged with their friends. Sites that have incorporated tools and infrastructure like open graph tags and google meta information are starting to take advantage of these early adopters and evangelical visitors. What is interesting though, is when you apply the same thought process to commerce.

If you rewind three years and asked some of the leading retailers that were selling online if people would share products that they were looking at or even products that they just purchased, the answer was “no” or “I don’t think anyone would be willing to do that”. Fast forward to now and you can see that the opinions have been practically reversed compared with the practices that are gaining popularity in today’s market. No one really thought that a service like Blippy would actually work. No one thought that sharing products and specials from a retailer could be responsible increases in traffic but also a drastic increase in conversion rates. Social attached to commerce is here to stay. With that in mind, there are several things that you NEED to do to make sure the tide isn’t going to wash you away leaving your competition ready to take over.

1) Open Graph Tags / Meta  (itemprop) Tags

Facebook has changed the internet and has developed what is commonly referred to the “Open Graph” essentially mapping how people are connected to objects (web sites, articles, products, music, movies) across the internet. Initially, facebook used meta tags for this information but moved into their own set of tags for web pages called Open Graph Tags, or OG Tags. These tags allowed facebook to concentrate on just the data they wanted to collect, including images and more.

If your site is performing well in search engines, you most likely know about meta tags. These content attribution tags have allowed search engines like Google to read (index) your pages for content, map them to the weight of terms and links, and present them to people through algorithmic means. These tags are now more important than ever as Google has extended the way they use these tags for Google+. They have also added the ability to specify different attributes for just Google+ sharing with meta “itemprop” tags and other options.

Both of these require integration work or a platform that supports their editing natively like ShopIgniter. The strategy though needs to be well thought out as once an “object” is shared in facebook or google, it is pretty much permanent. So, before you unleash your site to the world there are some things you should do above and beyond having meta and og tags.

2) Social Images

This is a pretty new concept born out of deep insight into enterprise eCommerce and have products can be shared and activated across social networks. It also speaks to how things are going to be consumed through new methods that social networks are employing to find and discover products and the relationship to them. Simply put, its a social image that has been optimized for sharing. If you are a brand or manufacturer, you can look at this image as a product photo with an overlay of your logo. The idea is, when this is sent out socially, you loose your branding and have to rely on the product image for all discovery efforts of your brand or store. If your images are already branded, they retain this when shared.

3) Short URL’s

Many large scale internet retailers are already using this tactic across the social actions on their site to make sure URL’s remain small and concise. More importantly it also means they they don’t ever have to change. Because they are small, they are easily shared and portable. A great example of this is looking at a store like Target:

A standard page url for a weekly special looks like this:
http://weeklyad.target.com/portland-or-97216/homepage#

When shared, it is much smaller and permanent.
http://tgt.bz/6035RY59

The importance here, just like a social image, is that the URL is still branded with a discernible name (here, you can see tgt is very close to target).

4) Social Action

Social actions have come a long way. Initially, when services like MySpace and Fyreball ruled the sharing universe, you had to copy a URL and paste it into their sharing tools. Now, enterprising startups and facebook has introduced buttons that effectively take the hard work out of sharing a product. The easiest tool to date is the “Like” button. If set up correctly, the Like button is an amplification machine – creating shared objects across facebook with a single click. Companies like Levi’s have proven that the Like button, when used correctly, has direct traffic and ROI results. Now with the expanded Open Graph, other buttons that could produce even more social impact are possible and brand-able.

5) Social Engagement

Moving past the infrastructure and implementation work on the above, ultimately you want to push social engagement on your site that can then be shared and acted upon. Social engagement is effectively taking feedback from users and exposing that to their friends like ratings and reviews, showing context of relationships of friends to products by showing names and photos of those relationships and even customizing the shopping experience based on those relationships and data. Anyway you slide it, the activity needs to provoke participation that is good for your brand, products and the users that are participating. More importantly, the participation and results should include tools to help broadcast that work across the social web.

6) Social segmentation

Not for the faint of heart, social segmentation allows you to gain new and valuable insight into your customers by looking at their open graph information. Although this is a very advanced practice that requires significant resources depending on the size of your company, it is valuable to mention here as it should be part of a long term social strategy as social becomes more commonplace on and off line.

Anyway you look at it, social is here to stay and its impact on commerce has just begun. Soon, social will touch every aspect of how a product is discovered, bought and shared and the brands and retailers that take advantage of the best practices above will be set to reap the benefits in the short and long term.