Expert interview with Gideon Lask of buyapowa on Social Commerce

Gideon Lask thumb

About Gideon Lask

CEO, buyapowa.

Gideon Lask is CEO and founder of buyapowa, a startup in the social commerce space that harnesses the collective buying power of shoppers, rewarding people for brand loyalty.

Gideon has a long track record in online businesses, having founded (the original social-commerce business), and as CEO led an MBO and subsequent sale of the business. He joined the board of HMV as MD of and multi-channel director, developing the online business to represent 20% of group sales, before leaving to lead the transition of Universal Music from a record label into a multi-channel business, selling fashion, music, memorabilia and tickets to over 10m fans globally.

On Twitter: @gideonlask      On LinkedIn:

For people who haven’t heard anything about buyapowa, what’s it all about?

Buyapowa is a social commerce business. We think social should be making you money, not costing you money. Our unique e-commerce model helps brands including Sony, PepsiCo, Pfizer & even Robbie Williams get their social audiences shopping, by giving customers a level of control alongside real entertainment and social currency among their friends. We call the model Co-buying.

How do you define social commerce? Isn’t the old adage that people don’t go to Facebook to shop?

Social commerce is selling where people socialise in a social way. That doesn’t mean old school F-commerce, which was a proven disaster. A few years ago, several brands bolted bland catalogue stores onto their Facebook Pages and a lot of fingers were burned. That’s no surprise; you can’t just replicate ecommerce in social and hope anyone’s going to engage.

In fact, we think that social media in 2013 is exactly like the wider internet in 1996. Back then, a brand’s website was usually farmed out to a junior in the marketing department and, at best, it was a digital version of the print brochures they were already producing. Then some bright sparks in the US realised that this wasn’t just a marketing channel, it could be a sales channel. Amazon was born, eBay was born, ecommerce was born and everything changed forever.

And that’s exactly where we are now with social. Currently it’s a facet of marketing but brands are really struggling to see a return. That needs to change, and we believe that brands could make that change if they started selling socially IN social, rather than hoping for long-tail sales off the back of feel-good branding.

So, the term is often misused, but real social commerce means so much more than just offering links from social. It means listening to your audience, welcoming their input, letting THEM choose the offers, responding to their requests, giving them the tools to involve their friends, rewarding their advocacy and incentivising their ongoing engagement. It’s about sharing control with your customers.

Doesn’t bringing commerce into social communities and spaces change the relationship between the business and customers?

Not at all, and in many ways it’s the natural evolution of social communities.

It boils down to some eternal human truths. When people feel valued they generate value. When they feel empowered they make you more powerful. When they enjoy something they come back for more and bring their friends. It’s how society works, so it’s how social media works.

Social commerce means treating customers with the same respect that you’ve always offered retailers. Your key distribution partners are used to buying at one price, retail customers at another. They are also used to having influence over your range where the general public are not.

Social media has changed all that – now your customers have the potential to become key distribution partners themselves. What’s new is how perfectly it dovetails into this generation’s defining behaviour patterns. Ideas spread faster than ever before, everything is shared. Why not create buzz about your products and services?

None of this would be possible if social weren’t already so mature - be that consumer social spaces like Facebook and Twitter or even B2B networks like LinkedIn. In fact, the scope for social commerce in the B2B space is especially interesting. Let’s go back to our mid-‘90s analogy: ecommerce established itself with consumer propositions and platforms like Amazon, only later to be adapted by B2B. But social commerce will make that shift much more quickly because those B2B communities already exist, whether that’s on LinkedIn or Facebook or private professional forums. And in B2B communities, where content is generally focused more on delivering value than in B2C communities, I think social commerce has the potential to make a real difference in how businesses engage with their customers and build loyalty with their customer communities.

There’s lots of sites which encourage sharing – aren’t they all doing social commerce?

In the same way that vanilla F-commerce was never really social commerce, Pinterest isn’t social commerce either - it’s a place where people post links to your products. And Kelkoo isn’t social commerce - it’s a place where some people talk about products while others research possible purchases. Nor is TripAdvisor - that’s a place where people discuss vacations and locations. Those discussion may fuel sales – and there’s a lot of affiliate links to book hotels and cars and flights – but that’s still not Social Commerce. It is, at best, a route to commerce.

Likewise, daily deals have also been called social commerce, but they should come with a health warning for brands. They narrow customer choice, hamstring the shopping experience and destroy the price perception for the discounted product.

The vital difference with social commerce is that, instead of the deals being prescribed and top-down, they can be demanded and bottom-up. If your customers have asked for a deal and you grant their wish, two things happen: first, they love you for it - and, quite right. That’s an amazing thing you’ve done. And, secondly, that customer has got skin in the game, as Warren Buffet put it - they’ve already invested in the deal by asking for it, so you can be certain they won’t just buy themselves, they’ll also get their friends to join in.

You’ve talked in the past about brands using the wrong metrics to measure social media – can you explain what you mean?

It’s pretty clear that we’ve reached a tipping point with social. A recent study showed that 69% of CEOs admitted that they’ve stopped imposing specific business-focused KPOs and KPIs for marketers to achieve. And nowhere is that more true than in social. And yet, times are tough - social activity is costing you money and the money pit isn’t bottomless. So, in every business, within every brand, there’s a least one person who’s asking: “How do we make a real return on this stuff?”

The answer is to start looking beyond ‘likes’. The social media metrics that we’ve been using to date have predominantly been about building audiences and then trying to pluck some engagement metrics out of that audiences behaviour, whether that’s shares, comments or, perhaps most redundantly, likes.

But hyping these metrics is incredibly easy - just post something a) contentious, b) topical or c) kitten-based. People love sharing and commenting on that stuff – and there’s no doubt it serves a purpose. Businesses have built audiences in social have created some incredible campaigns to support engagement. But it’s not the type of engagement which will generate sales and support your bottom line.

We’re beginning to see brands realising that this kind of engagement is essentially pointless, and that the days of like-farming are over. Increasingly, what they’re after is “quality over volume”.

And let’s be frank - every business exists to sell, so the ultimate KPI is sales. If you can achieve that while STILL engaging your community, growing it, empowering and bringing it closer and closer, then that’s absolutely where you need to be.

What’s next for social commerce?

We’ve seen a real revolution starting to happen in B2C social commerce. We’ve been helping brands do this across a huge range of sectors - from pharma to high street retailers, from FMCG products to high-end consumer tech. We’ve worked with tiny SMEs and cottage industry manufacturers all the way up to global giants like PepsiCo. And we’ve powered social commerce channels for a huge range of media partners, too - all the way from The Mirror and IPC to online-only communities like Mumsnet.

But, fascinatingly - and I alluded to this earlier we’re also seeing it start to take hold in B2B - especially using brands’ LinkedIn audiences and groups to promote and host co-buys. That’s an extremely exciting new market and, with 200 million people who all want the best for themselves and their companies, it’s an amazing audience on an amazing platform.

The eventual plan is that everyone embraces social commerce, just as everyone embraced ecommerce back in the ‘90s. Okay, not everyone - but we all saw the disaster which befell stragglers in that sphere.

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