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Battle of the social network climbers

Social networks are adding new features including transactional elements to attract users.

It started way back in 2000 with a little site called Friends Reunited. In 2003 MySpace was launched, closely followed by Facebook in 2004 and in 2006 along came Twitter. And for a while, these were the only social platforms the average individual took any notice of (unless you were pre-teen, and therefore Bebo was just for you). Fast-forward to 2013 and not only are a number of social start-ups vying for attention, but between the original giants competition is booming as each launch new features.

Instagram is still a relatively new social platform, having launched in 2010. It started as a social sharing site that allowed users to apply a filter to photos and then share them with friends. However, in June this year, Instagram (now owned by Facebook) decided to incorporate video sharing into the application, which many see as an attempt to compete with Twitter’s Vine app, launched in 2012 to allow users to create and share videos.

In 2010, image-sharing social platform Pinterest became the site others wanted to replicate. This resulted in the launch of Facebook Collections, Amazon Collections and US platform Wanelo, but these all took things one step further by adding a transactional element.

San Francisco-based social platform Wanelo was founded in 2010 and as of August 2013 had more than 10 million registered users compared with Pinterest’s 70 million, reported in July. While the sign-up process is slightly clunky, once a user has joined they can follow people and brands on the site as well as save products to a wish list. So far, very Pinterest. However, what Wanelo also allows users to do is click through from a product to buy directly from the retailer’s own website.

Pinterest responded this month by adding a ‘pin price’ feature to its site, which lets users see the current price of a product. However, a link to the retailer’s transactional site has not yet been included.

Amazon Collections works in the same way as Wanelo and directs users to buy product from the Amazon site. Facebook Collections (which is currently in testing stage with 11 retailers, including Fab and Etsy) sees the original social giant taking a step in Pinterest’s direction, although like Pinterest the current tool does not allow users to buy but just share and save product images.

Rachel Waller, digital marketing manager at fashion portal Farfetch, says of the new platforms: “Facebook Collections is an extremely interesting development for us. I think if Facebook really wants brands to develop their presence within the platform they need to offer stronger commercial tools, and Collections is absolutely a step in the right direction for this.

“My only reservation lies in how it develops this, as ultimately I don’t think replicating Pinterest in a different environment guarantees success (the fact Vine has continued to grow despite Instagram video is proof of this). I think to make this work Facebook needs to either really shake up the model or layer in some of its own network strengths like user data. I think there’s huge potential in Wanelo and Amazon Collections, purely from the fact they are very directly promoting the commercial/shopping angle through new social user behaviours.

The growth of Wanelo has been astonishing.”

What this does is show a change in social media that many retailers have been waiting to see which takes the platforms from viewing to buying tools. Many retailers have struggled with how to quantify the return on investment when it comes to their business’s spend on social media, and this will allow them to see exactly what social platforms can bring to them.

However, what does remain to be seen is the uptake of the transactional element in a social space. The features certainly seem to fit better than the creation of Facebook Stores in 2011, which saw many retailers shut their
stores on the site shortly after opening them due to poor sales, but it will be the retailers that find the balance between appealing content and great product that will prove to be the real social climbers.

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