Social commerce

The curious case of social commerce is upon us. And it raises interesting questions for the social interaction designer. I will here allow some of these to beg and grovel.

If you have been a reader of mine in the past, you will know that I believe that in social media, interactions take place among and between users. That the software serving as a mediating architecture is just that. It may constrain and enable interactions, but does so by means only of structuring interactions and content onscreen(s) and over time.

In order to get at the gist of social commerce, we need to look past the screen, the brand names, the offers, coupons, and discounts, to the social.

What’s social about commerce? When is the social commercial? Where and when, in the acts of shopping, purchasing, owning, and using a thing, do social factors come into play. To some degree, in each.

But for social commerce to result in social engagement and participation, individual commercial relations (from wanting to choosing to preferring to owning to showing to feeling) must communicate and signify.

Some aspect of social shopping must communicate, by means of an act, gesture, representation, selection, or something else. And some aspect must accrue social significance — that is, must have a social value and interest distinct from the commercial item and value. Social worth and relevance have to be created, and the social shopping experience must accrue value produced by user actions and related to things of commerce.

We can see then that there may be two ways of approaching the socialization of commerce. One, by identifying and extending the actions taken during acts of social shopping. Another, but adding meta social activities and meanings (as Foursquare is game-like without being a game) to standard shopping practices.

The latter may seem more interesting, but at the risk of distorting original values and relations. Because things involved in these meta games become tokens used in the game. Their “intrinsic” value is replaced by their value within the game.

If use of artificial game mechanics is one way to supply social relevance (through players, play, rules, and elements), then another is to use social relations. Here we might choose among real and invented relations. Or among serious and non-serious. We might organize social commerce activity capture and representation to distort views of individual acts and to fashion desired social outcomes.

We might mix in persons, elements, brands, events, and other types of content from mediated social worlds: tv, movies, books, music. It doesn’t really matter, since the aspects being used are those that signify — it’s not reality, but meaning, that works here as incentive and motivation.

The type of relation we leverage in social commerce will inform not only the value captured by the system (whether as ratings, checkins, purchases or what have you). Relations will also inform the social practices we build around acts of social commerce. And by extension, the durability, identity, and habituality of social commercial activities. These can be one-off experiences, or lead to lasting loyalties and mutually-reinforcing relationships.

I’m really only scratching the surface here, but I have a pile of material to touch on in the weeks and months ahead as I return to a baseline routine of blogging.

If you are in the business of social commerce, have a site or service, or would like to extend an application or campaign in social shopping space, I can be of help. I have concrete ideas and practical applications that will remain off the blog, for the purpose of private commercial consumption ;-) .

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