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With the Arrival of Twitter's 'Buy' Button, Is It Time to Move Into Social Commerce?

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Following pressure on social platforms to demonstrate their validity as powerful sales channels, Twitter recently started testing its "Buy" button. The button, which is embedded in tweets, lets users make purchases directly on Twitter and through its mobile app. Rather than users being redirected to a retail site, Twitter’s “Buy” button provides the ultimate one-stop social-media shop.

Twitter now joins other companies like Facebook that are trying to prove that a return on investment can be achieved through social commerce. 

Related: Facebook's 'Buy' Button Will Change How Brands Sell Online

Social media has widely been known as a tool for building brand awareness and as a display-marketing vehicle rather than a social commerce platform, but companies like Facebook and Twitter are trying to change that perception. Previously, social-media tactics and results were measured by soft metrics such as increasing impressions and click-throughs, but the return on investment has been low or confusing. A Forrester report in 2011 found that 62 percent of retailers described the ROI from social commerce as “unclear.” 

With the “Buy” buttons, Facebook and Twitter are elevating the focus on ROI by targeting the most important metric: the number of people who purchase the products. 

Social commerce is evolving to meet companies’ needs but, as with any emerging technology, caution must be part of any social-commerce program. Here are some tips on how to best leverage the rise of social commerce, without inundating -- and therefore losing -- loyal customers through aggressive marketing tactics: 

Related: Facebook Pilots 'Buy' Button as Twitter Snaps Up Payments Startup CardSpring

1. Align email marketing and social media. 

Typically, email is associated with the sales and marketing functions, and social media resides in the marketing-communications camp. These two areas should align to ensure consistent communications and coordinated campaigns. Take Mondays for example: The marketing and sales teams know that Mondays are the best day to make sales, so the social-media team shouldn’t contradict this sentiment by posting a cat GIF that says, “I hate Mondays” no matter how cute it it may seem.

2. Incorporate what already works.

So far Instagram is not directly monetizing customers’ posts but it is pursuing social commerce. LIKEtoKNOW.IT for Instagram is an example of a social-commerce platform that offers a “workaround” when a monetization option isn’t immediately available.

Since users can’t click and buy directly from the Instagram platform, LIKEtoKNOW.IT is integrates Instagram with traditional email marketing. Companies sign up for LIKEtoKNOW and when their users “like” a photo, they receive an email with direct links for buying the products pictured on Instagram. This is not one-stop shopping but it's still quick and easy and relies on what marketers and consumers are already comfortable with. Email marketing has been tried, and LIKEtoKNOW.IT combines what’s new with what works.   

3. Don’t forget about email marketing. 

For every $1 spent, $44.25 is the average return on an email marketing investment, according to Experian research cited last year. Email marketing is not only a powerful revenue vehicle but it's also a strong tool that should be incorporated into social commerce and vice versa. Social platforms are a prime way to build an email marketing list.

If your company receives customers via Instagram, Twitter or another social media channel, they sign up with their email addresses, helping you round out your lists and segment customers better. 

Related: 5 New Social-Media Platforms Worth a Look

4. Slow and steady wins the social race. 

Social commerce is a cool and exciting emerging area, but it's not quite there yet, so take things slow. Coca-Cola and Starbucks can test the social commerce waters in the early stages because they can afford the millions of dollars to make mistakes (and waste money through a low return on investment).

Coca-Cola hasn’t given up on social media and has taken a unique approach: The company recently launched its "Tweet-a-Coke" campaign, allowing friends to buy and send Cokes to one another at Regal movie theaters. Just remember, unless your company is a Fortune 500 company with money to burn, test what works and take things slow.  

5. Be consistent in messaging. Don't overwhelm customers.

Establish a centralized strategy: Approach customers across Twitter, Facebook, email and more -- just not at the same time. Test the waters gently to not alienate loyal and revenue-driving customers. Take a page from successful email-marketing campaigns by segmenting the market and testing. See what works and act accordingly. 

You don’t have to be Coca Cola to attack the projected $30 billion social-commerce market. Follow the rules above so that a social-commerce campaign is not confused with spam: Capitalize on posts and tweets, and have the social commerce world at your feet.

Related: What America's Retailers Are Spending on Social Media This Holiday Season (Infographic)