How Instagram’s “Shop Now” Button is Shaking Up Publishers’ Social Commerce Strategies
There seems to be a misconception these days that brands can slap a “Shop Now” button onto an Instagram post and instantaneously produce significant revenue. Yes, the behemoth platform has begun to scratch the surface when it comes to monetizing posts. They launched the “Shop Now” feature via twenty participating retailers to much fanfare last fall, giving insatiable Instagrammers the ability to shop up to five tagged products straight from their feeds. This past March, Instagram opened the “Shop Now” tool to thousands of retailers, expanding further still. Undoubtedly, the highly buzzed-about button will play a pivotal role in the way social media impacts shoppers’ path to purchase. But looking deeper, it’s merely a means, not a solution.
We’ve seen brands mistakenly come to view the button as a cure-all that eliminates the need to work with publishers or influencers to promote products. While publishers wouldn’t use Instagram’s “Shop Now” feature directly, more and more have been experimenting with other techniques for monetizing Instagram. For instance, we’ve seen a deluge of product placements in Instagram posts, driving clicks via affiliate links or other commerce tools. Publishers have the capacity to add more context to the items that retailers want to sell and drive better conversions, proving that there are alternative and more effective ways to produce revenue on Instagram.
Why the Move to Social Commerce?
But let’s rewind for a minute and look at what prompted the emergence of the “Shop Now” button. In the current landscape, fewer and fewer people are going directly to a site’s homepage, which makes social platforms essential to the ecommerce space. The integration of commerce and social, in theory, enables advertisers and publishers to monetize an increasingly mobile audience that they may miss otherwise. This shift has publishers fervently exploring how to turn theory into revenue.
To really move the needle in this space it’s going to take smaller, nimble players getting creative, leveraging content that works in a deeper way, instead of a broader way. It goes beyond slapping ads onto social platforms and crossing your fingers that sales will roll in. Publishers must actively work to provide deeper context to products, while staying true to their voices and brands. If the commerce efforts feel disconnected from the publisher’s style, the readers will indeed notice and are likely to not respond positively, if at all.
Who’s Doing Social Commerce Right?
Monetizing social channels is certainly not simple, nor is telling compelling visual stories about great products in a way that feels natural to a publisher’s audience. As with each individual social platform, there are subtle nuances to staying relevant and on-brand in the inherently visual medium of Instagram.
So, what are a few best-in-class brands that have successfully merged social and commerce? Refinery29 leverages their Instagram account to drive traffic to branded videos and articles. On one such occasion, they employed 20 influential Instagrammers to take part in an “Insta Meets” photo-op, where a playroom of props from glittering disco balls to edible Pantone chips provoked snap-happy Insta royalty to post filter-worthy photos – an activation that generated 128 tagged posts, 78,000 likes, and 590 new followers (up 50% from the standard daily rate), the New York Times reported.
Similarly, National Geographic has garnered a massive following using visual content to engage users. Looking through the lens of National Geographic photographers, viewers are privy to ginormous 70-ton whales swimming in New Zealand and fuzzy albatross chicks hatching on the Falkland Islands. Although founded in 1888, National Geographic employs social media tactics that are unquestionably evolved. The publication had eight times as many social interactions as Buzzfeed back in 2015, according to Contently. Their overwhelming success is due in part to the colossal amount of content available to share out to over 70 million followers. Every year, National Geographic draws thousands of entries to its Instagram-based photo challenge, #NatGeoInspires. The highly anticipated contest culminates with a printed version of the submitted photos awarded to winners. The book is also available for purchase, serving as a great example of social commerce seamlessly blending with an audience’s interests.
Once a balance between social and commerce has been achieved, the hurdle becomes measuring success. I'd advise publishers to keep a laser sharp focus on conversion as a solid representation of how audiences are engaging with their posts. It’s important to remember that while the aim is to add value to the overall brand experience, at the end of the day, the chief purpose of commerce content is to drive purchases and revenue.
The Future of Social Commerce
So, what trends can we expect to see in the coming months as companies begin to leverage the shopability of social? Certainly, partnerships between influencers, brands, and publishers will emerge, moving away from pure product placement deals into transactional commerce. We’ll also see an upsurge of branded video, as video continues to represent a larger share of overall social traffic. Publishers with a knack for creating compelling video assets will parlay this proficiency into social commerce. Finally, we’ll begin to see integration with mobile payment methods, reducing the friction associated with embedded commerce and making purchases inherently more streamlined.
For publishers to remain nimble in the ever-changing landscape, it’s crucial that they experiment with an array of diverse content on a multitude of social platforms simultaneously. There’s no silver bullet for success, so it behooves publishers to continuously work to discover the unique, winning formula that best engages their audience.
Josh Payne is the Founder & CEO of StackCommerce, the web’s leading native commerce platform. With a network reach of over 500 million monthly visitors across more than 750+ publisher partners, the company provides turnkey solutions to monetize and engage online audiences through the seamless integration of content + commerce. These solutions include: full-service commerce shops, editorial, email, social, and in-feed product recommendations.