We all agree that social media can be a phenomenal tool for lots of brands, right? Of course we do. Anyone that’s ever had an issue with Orbitz, complained about it on Twitter, received a prompt and effective service recovery and then raved about the experience knows what I’m talking about (Personal aside? Maybe). Brands on Twitter and Facebook have a duty in today’s business environment to pay close attention to what people are saying about their products and services, and at the very least acknowledge when someone has experienced an issue.

For the sake of this argument, let’s call the situation and environment described above as “Social 1.0”. You speak, brands listen. Brands help (or try to help) you with your issues and you speak about your experience (good or bad). In theory, all social media should be valuable for ecommerce brands because in retail image is everything. This relationship has worked well for many companies thus far, but several large companies and startups are trying to shift into “Social 2.0”, and the results have been less than stellar.

Consider the example of Facebook. When I first learned about so called “f-commerce” stores, I loved the idea. In theory, brands could connect directly with their fans at moments of (supposed) high purchase intent and deliver hyper-relevant product offerings based on user information pulled from profile data. Awesome right? I never have to leave Facebook to shop anymore…. I can see a brand offering a Facebook-only discount code, hop on their brand page and before I even know what happened I’ve bought three new shirts from Threadless. If this situation seems so great, why the hell hasn’t it worked?

Brands like Gap, Nordstrom, and Gamestop have all given f-commerce a shot, and each of them have had another word that begins with “f” in their minds shortly thereafter. Why have customers been so resistant to extending their shopping experience to Facebook? One of the answers lies in the very thing that drew us to social in the first place, more often than not, people are using social as an escape….a time waster. People on Facebook are more than willing to interact with brands they admire when they receive incentives or can participate in a contest, but when the conversation shifts to a hard sell, the blinders go up and the ear plugs go in. All of a sudden, social isn’t fun anymore.

Erik Sherman brings up several great points in his analysis of the failure of f-commerce as well. Consumer trust in Facebook also influences the behavior of potential f-commerce shoppers, turning many folks away at the door that just don’t feel comfortable completing a sale on Facebook.  Another major point in Sherman’s argument is that Facebook sales simply aren’t incremental. Shoppers that choose to buy through a Facebook portal could (and probably would have) purchased just as easily on the company’s traditional site, often with greater flexibility in promotions and product offerings (think about a full page store versus half a page with Facebook). If Facebook isn’t driving any incremental sales, it is even worth the effort to commit the resources to develop and entirely new storefront?

Time will tell if more brands are willing to take a risk with f-commerce, but unless we see a drastic change in the mood and profile of social-networkers and shoppers, we as digital marketers are probably best suited to focus on ways we can interact with our customers in a non-threatening and low-pressure environment. Learning to interact with potential  customers effectively in the social space is one of the great challenges in digital marketing, and one I’m sure each of us love to tackle with our morning coffee.


BIO: Stephen is the Director of Paid Search at One Click Ventures, where he seeks the answers to life’s great questions and eats lots of almonds. Twitter > SteveOneClick