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November 2, 2020

Narain Jashanmal of Facebook: Harness the Power of Social Commerce With Experimentation and Creative Testing

Written by: Satta Sarmah Hightower
“We encourage creative testing. For some businesses, we see that very straightforward product imagery is what works well. In other cases, it's really around the lifestyle and the story that the business is telling and that's what enables them to build a community and then ultimately leverage that community to drive transactions.”
— Narain Jashanmal, Director of Ecommerce Partnerships, Facebook

Ecommerce is exploding, and social media is increasingly becoming part of the buyer journey. Global social commerce is expected to grow significantly within the next year, and this growing segment of ecommerce is already influencing consumer behavior — 71% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals.

Facebook and Instagram, in particular, are helping to drive this trend. Both sites introduced a new feature that allows consumers to checkout purchases directly on the platforms, providing more room for brands to experiment with social commerce and discover how best to convert clicks into purchases.

Narain Jashanmal, director of ecommerce partnerships at Facebook, said this is just one of several innovations from Facebook and Instagram that enables brands to engage consumers from discovery to purchase.

On a recent Unpacking the Digital Shelf podcast episode, "Creative Testing in Social Commerce," Jashanmal shared how the pandemic has affected ecommerce on both platforms, how brands are building community through storytelling, and provided a hint at other innovations Facebook and Instagram may unveil soon to help brands better connect with consumers.

The Beauty of ‘Serendipitous Shopping’

While social shopping is a subset of online shopping, it serves an entirely different purpose in terms of how brands engage their audience. Jashanmal said the internet is all about "intent shopping" and shopping for products based on features, price, and brand and then deciding to buy based on need.

But social shopping is all about discovery. "This idea of discovery — and this is really what we've seen our opportunity be — this idea of discovery and not knowing what you are looking for until it finds you, that idea of digital serendipity and what we've called serendipitous shopping, that remains a substantial opportunity," he said.

According to Jashanmal, in this sense, social commerce isn't just about "the utility of shopping, but actually about the joy and the experience of discovery."

The Emergence of Instagram Checkout

Facebook and Instagram are improving discoverability for brands in several ways. Jashanmal said Facebook typically looks at emerging consumer behavior across its family of apps and services, including Instagram, and uses these insights to inform its product roadmap and strategy.

"The non-checkout version of Instagram shopping is about three years old. What led us to build that in the first place was really the interactions we saw between people and brands in the comments section of Instagram posts that businesses had made. A lot of those questions were 'What's the price?' 'What colors and what sizes are available?' 'Is it in stock?'" he said.

Before Instagram launched its new checkout feature last year, the current iteration of Instagram shopping was filled with friction. This was largely because businesses weren't able to put outbound links in their posts.

Instead, they had to rely on a native product detail page (PDP) Instagram created that would link out to their business website. However, Instagram Checkout now makes the shopping experience on Instagram more seamless for consumers.

"We saw anywhere from another eight to 22 clicks or taps that you'd have to do between linking off and checking out, so we said there's an option here for us to remove friction, and that's what led us to do it on the buyer side," Jashanmal said.

There's a huge benefit for brands, as well. By removing this friction, Instagram has enabled businesses to tap into an incremental audience on mobile since Instagram Checkout is only currently available on that channel.

In a time when brick-and-mortar channels have experienced a significant slowdown, this incremental revenue could be a difference-maker for many brands.

2020 Social Commerce: More Brand Experimentation and Consumer Openness

Instagram Checkout has come just in time. As more consumers have flocked to online shopping for convenience and safety reasons, Jashanmal said Facebook and Instagram have experienced an increase in ecommerce activity.

"We see sellers being much more active in terms of the amount of inventory they're listing with us and the amount of shopping posts they're creating. The reason these two things matter is because these are the primary ways that people are going to discover products on Instagram," he said. "On the buyer side, we see buyers being a little bit more open to testing new brands they haven't shopped with before."

Jashanmal also said brands are experimenting more on the platform.

"They're experimenting with the types of shops that they're putting up and the types of products they're putting in those stores. They're attempting to, in a sense, recreate some of what they were doing in physical spaces. Sample sales would be one example of this," he said.

In some cases, brands create temporary handles or profile pages for online shopping events like a sample sale or trunk show, Jashanmal said. He added that there's just "more experimentation, in terms of formats, imagery, and creative; the types of stories [brands are producing]; and connecting storytelling to transactions."

If necessity is the mother of invention, it appears as though the pandemic has given brands a license to be more innovative. This may help them develop a better understanding of their customers that will serve them well in the long run.

Essential Ingredients for Ecommerce Success on Social Media

What compels consumers to buy on social media? Jashanmal said Facebook’s testing reveals that exclusivity, a clear call to action, social proof, an existing affinity with a business, influencers, advocacy around the product, and a sense of urgency all make consumers more likely to spend.

Brands are using exclusivity to offer limited inventory or to offer products during a limited time. (Think: One-day flash sales or time-sensitive discount offers.) If a consumer already follows a brand on Instagram or sees an influencer touting a product, this may also make them more likely to purchase from a brand.

An existing relationship also helps. In the past, consumers may have purchased directly from a business’s website, but if they already follow the brand on Instagram, the checkout feature now allows them to purchase directly in-app, increasing convenience for consumers while accelerating the buying process for brands.

Influencer Roles in the Shopping Journey

Brands are increasingly leveraging influencers to increase brand awareness and conversions. Instagram helps companies drive better results from this channel with new features like "Shopping from Creators," which it launched last year. Brands can access "Shopping from Creators" once they enable the checkout feature on Instagram shopping.

"What 'Shopping from Creators' does is enable a business to extend their catalog and give permission to parts of their catalog to other Instagram handles — primarily celebrities, public figures, and influencers — to be able to create shopping media. So, feed posts or stories that tag products from that business's catalog drive to that business's product details page and checkout flows," Jashanmal said.

Brands have used the feature to collaborate with other businesses, celebrities, influencers, and micro-influencers. Jashanmal said there had been a lot of experimentation with Shopping from Creators in the last year, and brands are uncovering new ways to use it to expand their audience.

One recent example of this is HarperCollins and author Neil Gaiman. Gaiman tagged his new book on Instagram, which HarperCollins had put into its checkout catalog. The publisher was able to tap into the community Gaiman has built to drive sales organically. Other brands can do the same by partnering with Instagram influencers with whom they share an affinity or overlapping audience.

Use Storytelling to Drive Social Commerce

Facebook and Instagram are giving brands all the tools they need to drive social commerce, from Instagram Checkout and Shopping from Creators to Facebook Marketplace. There's also Instagram's product launch feature, which enables brands to build excitement around new offerings.

However, all these tools are virtually ineffective if brands don't build a sense of community on both platforms.

Jashanmal said Instagram and Facebook give brands — including smaller companies who may not have the resources to set up an end-to-end social shopping infrastructure — the ability to "almost pre-build an audience and market for the products that you will eventually sell [offline], or eventually sell online, if you presently don't sell them online or don't sell them through your own channels."

"That's where experimentation [comes in], with the balance between stories and feed posts," he said. "Is it your own voice? Is it many different voices from across the community working with influencers and creators? You can experiment with all of that here at a relatively low cost and relatively low overhead and start to see what resonates with that community."

Succeeding With Social Commerce

Facebook and Instagram provide brands with a sandbox in which they can play and experiment. The platforms offer a testing environment from which brands can get measurable data about what drives results and what isn’t worth their time or financial investment.

They can test run different content and different ways to engage consumers on the path to purchase. They can then take these insights and apply them to other channels.
Jashanmal said Facebook is focused on creating more tools to help brands tell better stories and build more community around their products. But even as the company provides more solutions for brands to increase social commerce, it will be crucial for brands to find a “common denominator metric” to measure attribution and their success or failure on this channel.

Experimentation can help brands uncover new opportunities, but they need to understand where social commerce sits as part of their broader ecommerce strategy.
“On the one hand, you can always park something under an innovation umbrella, but that innovation needs to at some point connect back to the core of your business,” Jashanmal said.

Listen to the full podcast episode to learn more about how brands can make the most of this opportunity to connect directly with their consumers — from discovery to purchase to advocacy.