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September 18, 2011, 6:50 pm UTC
Social media and e-commerce have historically been symbiotic. However, their live-in partnership is turning into a marriage.
Today, e-commerce, that most people had not even heard of a decade back, is an everyday occurrence that touches everyone’s life and has given brick-and-mortar commerce not only a run for its money, but has overall revolutionized the way things are bought and sold everywhere. One of the revolutions in the e-commerce spectrum has been social media. The two – e-commerce and social media have had a strange live-in, symbiotic relationship with one having spurred the other.
Interestingly, one of the early uses of social media, years before the term first began to be used, was an e-commerce portal – Amazon. In 1998, the company acquired what was one of the first social media portals ever, Planetall. However, not seeing much use to it the company shut it down in 2000, after the company spokesperson Patty Smith saying that the company had absorbed the technology and did not see the use of maintaining the site. In a statement she had said, “It seemed really superfluous to have it running beside Friends and Favorites.” Looking back with the standpoint of today, we see what a big mistake it was. Not really.
Turns out that Amazon had indeed incorporated the social media features into its portal, and around 2004-2005 when Facebook was just being born, it did something that revolutionized e-commerce forever, and in its own way became a precursor to how social media and e-commerce would interact in the future. Amazon, from that time, began allowing the users of its portals to review the products that are on the site. Though controversy initially arose about the authenticity of the reviews, this service turned out to be a huge hit allowing users to become reviewers and suggest something they liked and in turn helping other buyers looking for similar products. This, many studies have shown, became the single largest factor in the tremendous success of Amazon and the growth of e-commere overall.
Thus, while previously you had to rely on the statements that company themselves made about their products, there was now a more authentic looking source of the same – users who had used the products. Today, this might seem an everyday occurrence, but back then it was revolutionary and paved the way for the social web as well as cloud-computing and social-cloud concepts that we have now.
In turn, it is e-commerce that has tacitly helped social networking sites survive. One of the prime features in Facebook today, is the pages of products which the users can ‘Like’ and thus be a part of. This has become central to any branding and marketing activities of brands on social media. The first step for any brand when it enters the realm of social web is to have a fan page on Facebook. What this has done in the long term for the profits of Facebook, is giving it a place where brands first enter and which they later expand upon by advertising on Facebook. This has been the single largest source of revenue of Facebook.
Today, social media and e-commerce, are becoming more than live-in partners. It’s almost like a marriage with neither being exclusive of the other. Websites of brands have inbuilt e-commerce facilities were customers can comment on the products. Thus the reviews that one once saw just on Amazon.com, are part and parcel of every products and services.
Despite this longstanding relationship between social web and e-commerce, it is still in its infancy. As both grow to newer forms, newer ways of interaction between the two would emerge. The beneficiary of the same, as it has always been, would be the end user.
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