Social Commerce: How to Drive Online Sales with Social Shopping

Social commerce is an essential part of a unified online shopping experience. See how to engage customers, boost online sales, and improve service with social.

Time to read: 13 minutes

Eric Lessard
Senior Product Marketing Manager, Salesforce

It’s estimated that nearly one in 10 purchases are now made through social media, indicating that legacy retailing is out and new digital purchasing points are emerging.

Social media has allowed even the smallest players to tap into niche audiences, gain massive followings, and drive their online revenue.

Further, social buying has hit an all-time high. In 2020, orders generated from social referrals were up a record 104% year over year. Consumers today have come to expect a personalized, unified shopping experience — one that helps them connect with their favorite brands across multiple channels, discover new products, and access top-quality customer service.

Social commerce is about engaging with potential customers during micro-moments, giving them opportunities to interact with your brand on social media and buy your products in just a few clicks.

Here’s why social commerce matters for online businesses and how to roll social into your omni-channel marketing strategy in order to boost online product sales.

The Evolution of Social Commerce

It used to be that all brands had to do to gain attention on social media was to share a blog post on Facebook or post a photo on Instagram. But with the decline of Facebook’s organic reach and the constant changes in Instagram’s algorithm, the “post and pray” method of social media marketing just isn’t going to cut it.

Recently, we’ve seen an emergence of new social commerce tools that personalize the social shopping experience, highlight the importance of social engagement, and create a new culture of social media Influencers, “#sponsored” posts, and branded content.

How has social commerce changed in recent years? What does this mean for online businesses? Let’s take a walk through social commerce history.

What Is Social Commerce?

Social commerce refers to the activity of selling or buying products from a company through the use of a native social media platform — such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Sellers can use social media to promote their products, and shoppers can search for and engage with brands directly on their favorite social media sites.

Social commerce is just one of many potential traffic sources for online businesses. Organic traffic from search engines, paid traffic through ads, and referral traffic from third-party sites are all avenues for directing traffic to a business’ website.

Today, not only can shoppers find new brands to follow on social media, but they’re able to buy products and services directly through the platforms with just a few clicks.

Social Commerce Is Growing in Popularity

Thirty-four percent of Gen Z consumers report seeking out products and brands via social media. This shift in shopping habits has driven social to be a growing source of traffic and revenue for online brands.

In fact, we’ve seen traffic from social channels hit a new high, finally reaching that double-digit milestone.

Another shift? Quick, entertaining, and short-form content is becoming the norm. Today’s consumers have less patience for slow load times, spammy marketing tactics, or flashy ads. They want content that speaks to them, is tailored to their interests, and stems from brands they trust.

What the Evolution of Social Commerce Means for Businesses

This fast evolution of social commerce presents an opportunity for businesses to understand today’s shoppers and curate content that’s tailored to them. If your brand is dependent on traditional marketing tactics like print ads or an outdated social media strategy, then you’re likely to fall behind.

A smart ecommerce marketing strategy involves an omni-channel approach — giving shoppers multiple opportunities to engage with your brand at any time from any device across multiple channels. These channels can then work cohesively together to boost brand recognition, generate traffic, drive online sales, and create a unified shopping experience.

Social commerce empowers online brands to:

  • Use social media as an effective commerce tool
  • Diversify their marketing channels
  • Take advantage of influencer marketing and brand partnerships
  • Shrink the sales cycle, creating a faster click-to-close experience
  • Personalize online selling with the help of social data
  • Get ahead of trends, seasons, current events, and holidays
  • Grow their email list and maintain customer retention

These are just a few of the many benefits of incorporating social commerce into your ecommerce marketing strategy. Ready to reap the benefits for yourself? Let’s start with the basics.

What Makes Up Social Commerce?

Social commerce presents a way to reach customers across multiple touchpoints during what some marketers call micro-moments — short periods of time when shoppers reach for their mobile phones to fill empty moments in their day.

For example, someone may be scrolling through Facebook as they wait in line for morning coffee. They see a post promoting an attractive sweater, so save the post to come back to later. Within seconds, they’ve switched to Instagram and caught a story from a favorite fashion influencer promoting a new skin care line, so they add the item to their cart.

Social commerce encompasses multiple components of the shopping journey, including:

  • Discovery: Users discovering a new brand on social media
  • Loyalty: Users following their favorite brands on social media
  • Engagement: Users liking, sharing, and commenting on social media posts
  • Decision: Users reading social media reviews of different brands, influencing their purchasing decisions
  • Promotion: Users discovering new products and deals via paid ads
  • Social proof: Happy customers sharing their experiences on social media, directing friends and family to their favorite brands
  • Mobile shopping: Users discovering and buying products from their mobile device
  • Service: Customers accessing customer support via social media, either through messenger, tagging, chatbots, or social media posts

With social commerce, online sellers have multiple opportunities to engage with existing and prospective customers — increasing brand loyalty, boosting online sales, and providing personalized customer service when users need it most.

Platforms Dominating the Social Commerce Space

Most brands know the big names in social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.

But how powerful are these platforms, really? And what other platforms present a massive opportunity for brands to reach more customers online?

Here’s a breakdown of which platforms are dominating in the social commerce space.


Instagram continues to be one of the most popular channels for social commerce. Its highly visual and interactive platform makes it the perfect place for social shopping. Shoppers can follow their favorite brands and influencers, discover new products through Instagram Ads, and share their brand experiences with their own followers.

Plus, with the latest Swipe Up feature on Instagram Stories, shoppers can see brands and influencers promoting the latest products and simply swipe up to be taken directly to the product page. Instead of going to their web browser to search for the product, they can add it to their cart in just a few clicks.

Commerce Cloud conveniently integrates with Instagram Shopping, allowing merchants to upload their product catalog directly from Commerce Cloud into Instagram. That way, you can tag products in your Instagram posts and include helpful product information.

With Instagram, online businesses can:

  • Grow their Instagram following
  • Build strategic partnerships with Instagram influencers
  • Increase engagement through Instagram Live videos
  • Boost sales by adding the coveted Swipe Up feature
  • Build brand awareness through tagging and hashtags
  • Collect customer stories to build trust and social proof


Even with the apparent decline of organic reach, Facebook has ramped up its social commerce capabilities.

Not only are brands reaping the benefits of targeted Facebook Ad campaigns, but they also can create entire Shop Now stores and improve sales and support with automated Messenger bots.

With Facebook social commerce, brands can:

  • Build a loyal audience on their business Facebook page
  • Upload product images and descriptions
  • Launch a Facebook group
  • Enable Dynamic Ads
  • Sell directly from their Facebook page
  • Boost engagement with Facebook Live
  • Respond to customers directly via Facebook Messenger
  • Launch automated marketing sequences with Messenger bots
  • Run Facebook ads to promote products and deals
  • Gain insights with Facebook Analytics

Facebook presents massive potential for brands when it comes to growing their following and increasing online sales.

And with the emergence of Facebook Dynamic Ads, businesses can present relevant content to shoppers based on what they have already browsed on a brand’s website. Commerce Cloud integrates with Facebook Dynamic Ads to help merchants reach shoppers on any device. When a shopper clicks on an ad, they are taken directly to the retailer’s website to complete their transaction.

Brands can tap into the power of Facebook by optimizing their existing business profile, experimenting with paid ads, promoting products, responding to customer comments, and generating more positive customer reviews.

Watch this video on how to turn your Facebook page into a sales-generating machine with Salesforce: Using Salesforce and Facebook for Lead Generation.


Twitter gives brands and influencers a platform for building partnerships and for publishing #sponsored posts and tagging other brands to expand their reach. It’s also a great platform for riding the latest #trends, launching flash sales, and offering fast customer support.

Twitter has teamed up with a variety of ecommerce businesses and partners to make online selling simple and seamless, even for sellers who are new to social commerce. It’s a highly interactive platform and offers that quick, short-form content today’s consumers love.

Plus, Twitter also offers the option to run paid ads if you want to expand your reach at a pay-per-click cost. You can fine-tune your ads to target a niche audience, and encourage users to follow your profile and buy your latest products.


Pinterest is just as much a social platform as it is a search engine. And boasting over 335 million users per month, the power of Pinterest marketing is nothing to scoff at.

Pinterest works similarly to other search engines like Google and Bing to rank content on the platform. A user searches for a topic (a keyword) and the algorithm determines what content best matches their search.

So, when shoppers search for “fall fashion,” “hiking boots,” “cute necklaces,” or “fishing gear,” publishers have the chance to rank for those terms and get their own products discovered by potential shoppers. The most surprising part? The average order value (AOV) on Pinterest is $50 higher than on any other social media site — and nearly double that of Facebook's AOV.

To use Pinterest to your advantage, be sure to optimize your profile with your preferred keywords, publish high-quality product photos, and share content that’s worthy of being “re-pinned” by Pinterest users.

The world of social commerce moves fast. It seems like every day there’s new innovation around how to improve the social shopping experience.

In 2019, we saw the continued rise of social media influencers, the introduction of the Slide Up to buy feature, the popularity of Facebook Messenger bots, and more. So, what will the future of commerce bring?

Instagram Shopping and Checkout

At the moment, Instagram Shopping is only available to businesses in select markets, but this is likely to expand.

With Instagram Shopping, brands can create their own interactive storefront to direct shoppers to their best products. This gives shoppers the opportunity to tap on a product tag on a post and be directed to a product description page with pricing, a description, and a link to the website.

Another feature is Instagram Checkout, which lets shoppers purchase products directly through the Instagram app. When users tap on a product on a brand’s shopping post, they’ll now see a button to “Checkout on Instagram,” where they can see pricing, sizing, and more. Then, shoppers can confirm payment by entering their name, email, billing information, and shipping information.

AI-Enabled Selling and Service

Today’s consumers expect a unified and personalized shopping experience, with top-quality service when and where they need it. As social commerce grows — and brands grow with it — there will be an even greater need for automation and AI-enabled selling.

With tools like Commerce Cloud Einstein, AI is woven into the very fabric of the social shopping experience. Retailers are able to tailor experiences to shoppers’ individual needs through fully automated spot-on product recommendations and tailored site search results. This eliminates the need for time-consuming tasks like manual merchandising, segmenting, and product sorting.

Automation and AI help retailers reach and serve more customers. You’ll save time by automating manual tasks, and you’ll increase sales by presenting customers with products that suit their interests.

Social Commerce in China

In contrast to the United States where social commerce is currently on the rise, in China, consumers have been accustomed to social commerce for quite some time. In fact, almost every social media platform in China (including WeChat and Douyin) offers ecommerce capabilities. Studies show that 99% of China’s internet users are on a mobile device and social commerce accounts for a great portion of online retail. The need for connectivity and personalized shopping experiences are more important now than ever before. With so much opportunity in social commerce in China, efforts like the Salesforce and Alibaba collaboration can help brands grow their business in this region.

Get Started with Social Selling

Even if you already have a social media marketing strategy, it’s possible that you’re not using all of the social commerce tools at your disposal to create a fully unified social shopping experience. That’s because many brands piecemeal their social, email, SEO, and other sales-generating channels rather than laying out a cohesive ecommerce strategy.

Below, we’ll guide you through how to incorporate social commerce into your existing selling strategy using multiple social media channels to drive traffic and maximize online sales.

Plus, you’ll tap into the power of social when it comes to engaging with your audience and providing superior customer service. Let’s get started.

Research Your Audience

You need to be where your customers are, but social is only one part of a broader context, story, and journey.

Even as shoppers browse social media, you need to consider how this is connected to the rest of your shoppers’ experiences — from the apps they use to in-store experiences to how they find you on the web.

What channels are shoppers using to find products like yours? Is your branding, messaging, and service consistent across all channels? How are you engaging with customers at multiple touchpoints?

The key is understanding where and how your audience shops. You can gain these insights by looking into past sales and social data to determine where your customers are, what they buy, and how they engage with your brand.

Then, you’ll have a blueprint for where you need to focus your attention when it comes to your social commerce strategy.

Identify Your Platforms

Through researching your audience, you’ll discover which platforms they use the most. You can then inform your social commerce strategy by further determining which social media platforms generate the most revenue for your business.

In this step, you work from the ground up, focusing on the platforms that are most likely to generate the highest ROI for your business. Once your branding, messaging, and service are rock-solid, you can expand this experience to additional platforms.

For example, if you’re already seeing success on Instagram with your custom graphics, Instagram Live videos, and user-generated content, you might consider expanding this to Facebook or Twitter.

Identify the platforms your audience uses the most and post relevant content that keeps them engaged.

If your visual branding and overall brand voice are consistent across platforms, your audience is more likely to trust you and see the value in buying your products. Ninety-five percent of consumers say that if they trust a company, they’re more likely to buy from it again in the future.

Dig into the Data

With AI on the rise, ecommerce brands are seeing the power of consumer data in informing their social commerce strategy.

Tools like Einstein AI for Commerce Cloud use consumer data to improve conversions, offer tailored product suggestions, provide personalized customer support, and more. Brands of all sizes see increased cart sizes, AOV, and see up to 10% lift in sales with Einstein.

You don’t need to be a data scientist to apply data to your commerce strategy. With Einstein AI, your existing data will automatically inform your social selling strategy and marketing campaigns. You'll save time while boosting merchandiser productivity and eliminate guesswork, automate tasks, and make profitable decisions with deep insights.

Einstein AI is fully integrated and extends to your website in the form of intelligent search recommendations, predictive sort, and product recommendations for smarter merchandising. With this, the unified selling experience goes far beyond social, creating a personalized experience for your shoppers across multiple channels.

Prioritize User-Generated Content

Put the social back in social media by boosting audience engagement and prioritizing user-generated content.

A successful social commerce strategy depends on your brand-customer interactions being a two-way street. No one likes a brand that just spams them with salesy content. Encourage your followers to join the conversation.

Some creative ways to boost social media engagement include:

  • Posting polls or questions on your Instagram Story
  • Tagging followers and brands in posts and comments
  • Running a sweepstakes or giveaway where followers have to like, comment, or share in order to enter
  • Monitoring social media to comment on posts where your followers have tagged your brand
  • Encouraging followers to share their product stories and testimonials and tag your brand
  • Creating a branded hashtag users can use when they post about your products
  • Featuring followers’ photos on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram
  • Hosting Q&A sessions where followers can post their questions on social media
  • Reposting customer videos on YouTube
  • Accepting guest posts on your blog to be shared across social media
  • Adding visuals like photos and videos to your posts to increase likes and shares
  • Adding relevant hashtags to your posts to get discovered by a wider audience

By encouraging follower engagement, you can generate massive momentum for your brand. Your audience will feel important, as you share their own content across your channels. You can also have real-time conversations via live video and the comments section. All of this works to build brand trust and solidify your brand’s image online.

Use Smart Selling Tools

Today, you can get smarter about presenting the perfect offers to the right audience at the right time, on autopilot.

Smart selling tools like social media automation, AI, and CRM software make managing your social commerce platforms easy. You can create content that’s tailored to your audience, automate your marketing posts, move customers along your funnel, and manage your contacts all in one place.

Salesforce offers a single source of truth to ensure brands have a unified profile of their customer to deliver hyperpersonalized engagement across marketing, commerce, service, and beyond.

Monitor social media engagement, track sales, measure ROI on your marketing campaigns, and more. Your teams have all the tools they need to engage your audience, make the sale, and offer top-quality service, with the ability to:

Want to create a unified shopping experience for your customers? Step into the digital age. Use smart selling tools to engage your audience, boost traffic, and skyrocket your sales revenue.

Social Commerce: One Piece of an Omni-Channel Ecommerce Strategy

Social media marketing is just one piece of a larger ecommerce strategy. Customers expect brands to be consistent across multiple channels — social, web, mobile, email, and more.

As shoppers scroll through social media, they have the chance to engage with their favorite brands, discover new products, and share content with their friends and family. By incorporating social into your overall ecommerce strategy, you can take advantage of the interactive nature of social media to boost audience engagement and increase sales.

In what areas can your brand step up and provide a better social shopping experience? Bring these strategies into your organization to see how social can take your business to the top.

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