Businesses have long realised the potential of social networks as a marketing channel, but some are now exploring the possibility of actually conducting sales over Facebook.
In January 2011, for example, online clothes retailer ASOS launched a dedicated Facebook ‘shop front’ that allows customers to peruse the catalogue and buy products without leaving the social networking site.
One attraction of Facebook as a sales channel is its huge popularity. Not only does it boast more than 500 million members worldwide, explains Altimeter Group social media consultant Susan Etlinger, “but people spend an inordinate amount of time on there”.
Another is the potential to turn customers into advocates, by allowing them to share their purchases with their friends. “This may be a way to reach not only your customers but also your customers’ friends, and their friends’ friends,” says Etlinger.
She adds, however, that businesses are still experimenting with using Facebook as a sales channel. “I don’t think anyone has made a long-term commitment.”
There are, as with all commercial uses of social media, privacy issues to be worked out. And while the data collected through a Facebook shop front could be a potential gold mine, so far there are few analytics tools that are up to the job, says Etlinger.
She advises businesses to think strategically about their presence on social networks such as Facebook. “You have to think about whether you want to send your traffic away from your own site,” she says.