For The Drum’s Predictions Deep Dive, Jonny Longden of performance agency Journey Further draws on his experience with e-commerce retailers to map the new common boundaries of paid and social channels.

Some of the most interesting tensions right now relate to the relationship between owned media and social channels. In short, we’re about to see the lines between these platforms become increasingly blurred. How? Through social shopping; developments in user-generated content and social proof; and new portals of influence.

Social purchases

Many social platforms now allow brands to sell products directly on their platforms. “Social shopping” has been a buzzword for some time, but it’s still in its infancy in terms of actual usage.

Social channels provide engaging ways for users to discover products based on both content and recommendations from their network. This is a fundamentally different experience from searching and browsing websites, where prior intent is required. Social media allows brands to appear to users in relevant ways where those users might not have been aware of the brand.

Meanwhile, social networks hate the idea of ​​users leaving their platforms and constantly looking for new monetization streams. Providing a seamless shopping journey within the platform gives them even more control over the time users spend online.

It’s a perfect storm, gathering this year.

User Generated Content

User-generated content isn’t a new concept, but it’s still hard to find many brands that make full use of it. Most still prefer to fully control the content themselves.

Social media has allowed customers to access other people’s real experiences with products. If I see an ad on Facebook, I’m one click away from seeing lots of comments and opinions from people (maybe even people I know) who actually use it. I will trust what the brand tells me, anytime.

Similarly, an image or video of someone using and describing the product is more real than the carefully crafted and glossy (but ultimately unrealistic) content of the brand itself.

Brands invest heavily in curating, managing, and amplifying the “right kind” of content on social media, but they wouldn’t dream of allowing it on their websites. But consumers will grow increasingly wary of glossy, fabricated content when they’re one step away from finding something real on external channels.

If brands want consumers to stick with their own channels, they need to start bringing real content into the experience.

Social proof throughout the e-commerce experience

I have conducted experiments on websites for many years. I don’t have hard data to prove it, but I’ve seen a growing trend of what I would call “in and out” behavior: users come and go to your website multiple times before make a purchase decision, rather than carefully following your carefully designed checkout funnel flow.

Just look at the volume of users landing somewhere in your checkout process. How is it possible ? Often this is because someone left your site in the middle of the payment flow and returned more than half an hour later, initiating a new session. In between, they were likely looking for external validation and social proof to validate their purchase.

These things happen anyway, so you can either let them happen offsite (where there’s a good chance the user won’t return) or you can provide this content along the way. Integrating social proof into the website and decision-making process is an obvious step in the evolution of e-commerce.

Portals of Influence

Now, influencer marketing revolves around the content that influencers share on external social networks.

Amazon recently made an interesting development here, allowing influencers to create their own pages where they can share reviews and other exciting product content.

Influencer marketing teams need to think in terms of individual partnerships. If someone is going to create content and generate views, what do they get in return? If they are paid, the relationship is simply akin to buying media. What if we thought more in terms of partnerships?

We need to start thinking about the broader value that each part can give to the other. Influencers want to increase their influence. What can brands offer them to achieve this? Influencer marketing should invest more in these individual partnerships than pay for media exposure.

For more on the coming year of media, check out our Media Predictions hub.

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