How to get started with Social Commerce

Here’s What Social Commerce Can Do For You and Your Brand.

Loading Logo
Hands browsing Pinterest on a handheld tablet.

With the rise of social media, social commerce has inevitably become a hot topic. Brands are getting better and better at reaching their customers via social networks — so not selling to them in the same step almost feels like a waste of potential.

Converting customers is hard enough, so why not use all the tools at your disposal? You have plenty of options for social commerce, from tapping into social media networks’ built-in eCommerce options to adding call-to-action buttons to your social walls.

Let’s have a look at what social commerce can do for you and how you can get started with your brand. Read on and learn:

Social commerce explained

Social commerce often describes all e-commerce that involves social media to promote an online transaction. It sounds fancy but, really, it’s simply an umbrella term for all kinds of social content that is helping sell things. This can include:

  • product reviews left by other users on social networks,
  • user-generated content reviewing products on e-commerce sites,
  • ads on social networks involving calls to action that redirect to an e-commerce site to buy a product,
  • peer-to-peer buying and selling,
  • buy buttons on social media posts,
  • buy buttons on social walls,
  • the option to transfer money for a product without even having to leave the social media network

But for the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on a more narrow definition, predominantly sales driven by social network and social media walls.

The role of social media for shopping behaviour

Even without social commerce, social media already plays a role in shopping — both online and offline. For one, we know that online reviews and social media recommendations influence shopping behaviour.

According to a Pew Research Center study, 82% of Americans consult online reviews before buying something. Some even do it while they’re looking at products in a physical store. Marketers call this the ROPO effect which is an acronym for “Research Online, Purchase Offline”.

Similarly, we are more likely to buy something a friend has recommended to us, both when they tell us about an awesome product in person or are posting about it on social media.

Social media creates desire

On the other hand, social media posts also create demand. While browsing social media sites, we’re constantly exposed to products, whether we realise it or not. Looking at a fashion blogger’s Instagram photo might create the desire to own the clothes they are showing off, just like a post about interior design can create demand to refurbish your flat to get that Instagram look.

Social media drives shopping behaviour, but it also drives shopping traffic. According to Pew, 15% of Americans have made a purchase after following a link on social media sites.

The buy button — bringing discovery and purchase closer together

Online shopping still relies strongly on knowing what you want, so you can search for it and then buy it. And while social does its job for recommendations and getting buyers’ attention via ads, a lot of the time the actual buying process still happens elsewhere.

But additional steps in the shopping journey unfortunately also mean additional opportunities for hesitation. Letting people buy a product as and when they’ve seen it increases conversion rates. This is why many social networks have begun adding in-app or on-site purchasing.

The combination of social media and buy buttons has the power to make online shopping more like the serendipitous experience of walking into a shop and spontaneously deciding to buy something. Everyone knows that you will never find a pair of jeans when you’re actually looking for one! ?

Many of the most popular social media networks have made efforts to recreate this experience by adding eCommerce to their platforms. Most notably, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

Instagram: shoppable tags on photos and stories

At the end of 2016, Instagram introduced a way for customers to get more information about the products shown in Instagram posts. Creators can simply tag products in their photos. Tagged posts then have a “tap to view” button, which will bring up the tags showcasing the products and their prices. Users can add a maximum of 5 tags per photo.

When a tag is selected, a detailed view of the product opens. By tapping on tagged items, customers are taken to the brand’s online shop, where they can then buy the products. Additionally, you can add product stickers to your Instagram stories, making them shoppable as well.

Even when shoppers are not technically buying products from within Instagram, they’re getting a lot more info with a few simple taps instead of having to search for the information themselves. So while the buying might still happen elsewhere and redirecting does cost conversions, Instagram has discovered that the step between discovery and buying is important and is giving people the opportunity to get more information before making a buying decision.

Keep in mind that to set up shopping on Instagram, you have to fulfil a few requirements, among them the following:

  • You need an Instagram for Business account.
  • The account needs to be connected to a Facebook catalogue (which you can set up from your Facebook page or from the Facebook Business Manager).
  • You have to wait until your account has been reviewed before you can set up Instagram Shopping. This can take a few days, so plan ahead.

Check out Instagram’s guide for setting up Shopping on Instagram as well as an up-to-date list of countries the feature is available in.

Instagram also started rolling out an on-platform checkout option, but this is currently only available to companies and users in the U.S. Businesses using Instagram Checkout also have the option to sell products from their Instagram Live broadcasts. An Instagram shop can be set up using Facebook Commerce Manager, Shopify or BigCommerce.

Pinterest: the perfect platform for social commerce

Pinterest is practically built on visual content as inspiration for fashion, home décor, crafting and much much more. So, of course, it was a logical step to provide users with the shortest route possible to buying the products they’re looking at.

Rich Pins

An important part of Pinterest’s eCommerce experience are Rich Pins, which are Pins that provide additional information. There are four types of Rich Pins: Product Pins, Recipe Pins, Article Pins and App Pins.

Rich Pins get the additional information they provide directly from the website they are pinned from. The feature is available for everyone. However, in order to turn Pins into Rich Pins, users have to add the relevant metadata to their website and then validate their pages using Pinterest’s Rich Pin validator.

Find out more about how to enable Rich Pins for your brand.

In the case of Product Pins, the feature adds dynamic pricing and stock information, making it even easier for users to get up-to-date information on things they want to buy. A click on the pin leads straight to the retailer’s website where the item can be bought.

Shop the Look & automatic recommendations

Shop the Look is a feature similar to Instagram’s, in that items on a picture are tagged and link to an online shop where users can buy them. This feature isn’t just of interest to retailers but social media influencers as well. Influencers already fervently use Instagram’s tagging options to lead followers directly to products they are affiliated with.

The Shop a Brand feature, meanwhile, adds a dedicated “more from [brand]” link under Product Pins, allowing users to shop a brand’s full catalogue. Brands can easily upload and organise their full product catalogue using Pinterest’s catalogue dashboard. They can then easily promote their products using the Shopping Ads feature, available to all businesses on Pinterest.

Pinterest also automatically adds personalised shopping recommendations alongside style, home, beauty and DIY boards, showing users in-stock ideas similar to what they’ve been saving to match their style.

Some of Pinterest’s social commerce features are currently only available in select countries. A list for countries that can use Promoted Pins can be found here.

Facebook: Master of conversational commerce

Facebook is already a strong e-commerce contender thanks to its extremely effective hyper-targeting options in combination with buy buttons (or other calls to action) on ads.

Facebook Marketplace

With the addition of Facebook Marketplace, the social network is making an even bolder move towards commerce. Facebook Marketplace is geared less at brands and companies and more towards the people trying to buy and sell used items. Think Craigslist and Gumtree but on social.

Facebook was simply picking up on an existing desire to buy and sell things on the platform. After all, most cities, towns or areas all over the world already have Facebook groups dedicated to the exchange of used goods.

Marketplace, available on mobile and desktop, has a powerful search filter that lets users limit results by category and price but, best of all, by location and periphery. Messaging sellers from within Facebook is easy, and just like with Gumtree and Craigslist, the actual exchange of goods and money takes place offline.


Marketplace mimics the flea market or browsing experience that we’re so used to from offline shopping. Though there is a search function, Facebook is very much aware that browsing is more popular on Marketplace than intentional search for a specific item.

Update August 2020: Facebook is currently testing a shopping tab its mobile app — U.S. only for now. The new feature set also includes the option to sell directly from a Facebook Live broadcast.

Facebook Messenger Payments

Other important steps towards social commerce or, rather, conversational commerce are happening in Facebook Messenger: A few years ago, Facebook introduced peer-to-peer money exchange via Messenger. In autumn 2016, they opened this function up to businesses as well and called it Facebook Payments.

Brands can add buy buttons to ads that link to their Messenger bots and accept native payments from customers within Messenger. UK burger chain Byron is even letting in-restaurant customers pay for their meal using Messenger. Facebook Payments is currently still in beta.

Turn your social media wall into a social commerce tool

Social media walls are a fantastic place to collect user-generated content. With the right features, you can turn social walls into great sales tools as well.

By adding a call-to-action button to certain posts on your social media wall, you can turn these social media posts into actionable content. An eCommerce feature on a social wall can increase engagement and boost sales. It’s the best way to convert visitors on your social wall into buyers of your product.

Use social media content to sell faster!

Collect posts, images and videos from multiple social platforms.

You don’t have a social wall? CREATE one now!


To do this, simply add a button to a social media post that is displayed on your social wall. Make sure the link on the button leads users directly to the page where they can take whatever action it is that you want them to take.

How to kickstart social commerce for your brand

There is no doubt that social commerce works and is embraced by customers. So what should social networks and brands keep in mind when kickstarting their social commerce efforts this year?

Normalise social commerce by creating trust

Scientific research suggests that one major issue that social commerce sometimes struggles with is trust in the networks. Especially those of older generations often feel unsafe giving a messenger bot or social network access to their banking info. Once people see that social commerce is a safe and secure option, they will accept it more.

Create mobile-friendly content

Given how strong social media use is on mobile, those wishing to sell to customers via social media — or converting from social media — would do well to create websites and online POS that are mobile-friendly. Nothing is more frustrating than tapping the buy button on a product ad on Facebook only to be redirected to a website that isn’t even optimised for a small screen.

Mobile shopping for a jumper with the words “Trust me you can dance. – Vodka” printed on it.

Create a smooth purchasing process

When we walk into a shop on the high street because we see a product we like in the window display, we don’t want to be ushered out the back door, across the street and into the next building. We want to buy the product right there in the store.

Similarly, social media networks and businesses will have to figure out a way of selling that least interrupts the process.

Create a transaction experience

A transaction is more than just the handing over of money. The buying process also includes discovery, research, having questions, comparing prices and even leaving reviews after the acquisition. That also means that brands could lose buyers at pretty much every single step of that process.

To convert interest into (repeated) sales, brands should be there for their customers on social throughout the process, from facilitating the buying decision to customer service after the shopping has been done.