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The Curious Case of Social Buttons in E-commerce

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Shopping search technology company, The Find, shared some research into the implementation of social buttons on e-commerce sites exclusively with SEW. The study found that social recommendation buttons were more popular than simple sharing plugins. Of those, the Facebook 'Like' button was the most popular of all, closely followed by Twitter's 'Tweet' button, and adoption of Pinterest's 'Pin it' button is growing at the fastest rate. Use of the Google+ plugins is growing but adoption lags behind another Facebook plugin, their original 'Share' button.

The Find conducted the study of all the product pages among the Top 1000 internet retailers in order to to get a clearer picture of how far e-commerce companies are embracing social commerce and personalization. The study reveals how many e-commerce sites are facilitating social sharing among their users and which buttons and plugins are the favorites.

Shoppers Like Facebook Likes According to The Find Infographic

What The Find Found

Whilst the results are unsurprising to the web savvy, there are some revealing differences in implementation. The results show that while Facebook leads the pack in terms of well distributed social plugins among all the products under the top 300 internet retailers, it is actually the buttons that more clearly show a signal of preference over simply sharing that is capturing the mindshare of e-commerce companies.

In short, the market for buttons is getting smaller, whilst the space they take up on product pages is getting larger. Rather that opting for more discreet aggregated sharing services like AddThis an ShareThis, in which a user can choose from a variety of sites to publish content to, e-commerce companies are betting on the success of fewer social networks and more prominently displaying the social integration.

For example long-established plugins such as the Facebook Like button and Twitter Tweet button have a fairly similar distribution on product pages but new players such as Google's +1 button and Pinterest's 'Pin-it' Button have already taken over from the older plugins which aggregate social sharing services in one button.

Without a doubt, the increase real estate given to specific social buttons ‘broken out’ from the single aggregated buttons of shows an increasing confidence in social media amongst e-commerce companies, and in certain sites in particular. However, in many cases the specific details of how and which buttons are actually integrated does not show a consistent strategy across the top 1000 internet retailers. In fact, it almost looks like companies cannot keep up.

A Key Discovery from The Find’s Crawler

Siva Kumar, CEO and Co-Founder of The Find told SEW that their crawler has discovered "50 million product pages have the Facebook Like button code, but only 1.8 million products have one or more Likes." Furthermore buttons implementations are inconsistent from business to business and it is not always clear as to what they do. Some sites use the Like button to simply connect users to their Facebook page rather than Like (or Recommend) the actual product page. Similarly Twitter plugins may follow or tweet the general account rather than the category or product.

Whilst this may highlight a state of disarray amongst the largest e-commerce companies it also points to a lack of leadership and support from the big social players.

Google has given webmasters a little more guidance on how to implement Google+ plugins (namely to add them to category or product pages), there are still very few concrete examples of what was promised at launched - namely that the +1 button call back function can be used to deliver more sophisticated site personalization features to users, such as ‘after the click’ recommendations. This is needed simply to counter an overwhelming tendency for e-commerce companies to aim for a big number of +1's on the site in general, rather than a broader distribution of +1's across every page.

In short, there is a huge opportunity on the table for entrepreneurs, product managers and marketers who are ready to take the next step towards embracing personalization and social commerce.

Verbing the Web

Usher Lieberman, Director of Corporate Communications at The Find, concludes from the research that the leading companies (among the top 100) are showing signs of shifting towards buttons that indicate a stronger degree of social preference. The most successful social buttons have an innate call to actions such as Like, Recommend, Pin-it, Tweet, +1 (l33t speak for ‘to vote yes’) which echoes Mark Zuckerburg’s philosophy of verbing the web. Yet, among the top 300 retailers, there is an equal distribution of both 'verbed' buttons and traditional sharing plugins. Furthermore among the top 1000, there is proportionally more usage of traditional sharing plugins.

Playing devil's advocate one could equally argue that the rapid adoption of these 'verbed' buttons is simply because they tend to be much simpler for a user to engage with as they are simply a case of point and click. "Agreed," said Lieberman, "but it's also worth noting that the role of a Facebook Like button is much less ambiguous than the Facebook Share button. The share button is a discursive tool, which not only requires the user to take the additional step of posting a comment in order for the button to work, but also means that users can share stuff "ironically". This may mean that e-commerce companies don't necessarily get as clear a signal as to how the product is being perceived. The same is true of twitter, which also essentially requires a comment from the user before it is posted - which may also explain why adoption of their button is marginally lower."

Social Buttons Do Battle for Real Estate

Lieberman acknowledged many other historical factors as to why Facebook and Twitter are beating out other social networks, but the rapid adoption of Pinterest Pin-it button shows that e-commerce sites are quick to encourage simple word of mouth behaviors between networks. Furthermore the sheer weight of Google's influence behind the +1 button has encouraged retailers to give consumers four distinct ways of 'verbing the web' (like/recommend, Tweet, +1, Pin-it). It all makes 'share,' that traditional social networking call to action sound positively archaic.

And it's at that point in the conversation where Kumar and Lieberman's faces both light up. "If Facebook wants to maintain its lead in online real-estate for their plugins there needs to be an obvious output for the Like button data," says Kumar.

The Curious Case of Highlighting a Button SEOFilms Entry by Hannah GibsonAccording to Kumar social signals are a much better indicator of product popularity than links. Their research has found that there is usually parity between the number of Facebook Likes a product has online and the number of times that same product's barcode has been scanned offline. However, most retailers are not aware of the amazing data they are sitting on because they are not using the Facebook API to it's full capability. And what's worse, Facebook are not making it clear as to how that data can be used to improve their websites. Consequently, most retailers have the impression that the Facebook plugins just post to their friends news feeds which accumulates stray traffic.

By contrast Google+ is gaining traction among retailers because there is a clear incentive to use it - the promise of rankings in personalized search. Whilst, it remains to be seen what that promise that really holds, most companies know the value of rankings and so realize that clicking the +1 button is a high importance event.

To that end Lieberman believes that retailers need to embrace the new paradigm that the web is inevitably heading towards. Right now, the web is still a reflection of “links and people” but Google is gearing up towards personalizing the entire web around people and relationships, "most retailers still think of personalization in the way that Amazon does it with the "people who bought X, also bought Y" but that is just collaborative filtering. The future of personalization will take social contexts into accounts to place a higher psychological value on search. Retailers will be able to cater more to specific tastes and styles."

Put People First

According to The Find, most retailers already have most of the data they need to start personalizing their e-commerce experiences for consumers through their current Facebook integration. They are just not using it because Facebook have not made it obvious as to how retailers can output like data to transform the shopping experience.

So it seems like a mexican stand off between Google and Facebook button data and it could be the e-commerce industry that tips the balance. Google+ has the output mechanism for a new decentralized search experience, but lacks the people and the relationships. Meanwhile, at the risk of allowing the Like button to become pointless and newer 'verbed' buttons replacing it, Facebook sits pretty on data which many businesses could use to improve their products and services.

Ironically, the common factor between all of these players is that consumers are clicking these buttons to express preferences purely for the sake of it. Facebook, Google and the e-commerce sites provide almost zero material benefit for clicking and yet real people are clicking buttons as a means of expressing preference simply to express preference.

So, arguably, the size of any social network’s userbase may not be the only key to the success of it’s social button as long as the action essentially satisfies itself and is executed in front of the right audience. Therefore it seems to me that opportunity beckons for another player to join the fray with a better new verb because all they would have to do is create a social button which denotes a stronger preference setting intention and provide a richer output of data for others to harness.

Your move, Pinterest. Now would be a great time to launch an API.


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