Social media has helped give rise to the voice of the people. It’s the consumer’s weapon. So it’s no surprise that businesses and brands are eager to try and break through an invisible barrier to find a way to have their messages be a part of the global conversation. Right now, the social media promise that brands need to make to consumers is that they’re listening. They have a presence and can feed information and answer customer service questions without being too pushy. But being a community manager probably only appeases the marketing and sales people for so long. Now they’re eager to try and find a way to get into actually selling products to new customers. So how exactly can marketers be creative and innovative enough to actually get customers to convert from thinking about your product to actually buying it? Well that’s going to be a bit problematic because in a recent poll by Harris Interactive for Digitas, 55% of social media users are not comfortable with giving out their credit card over the social network.
The phenomenon known as social commerce is estimated to reach $30 billion globally in the next five years, according to Booz & Company. But in the Harris Interactive poll, more than half of those social media users polled said that they wouldn’t want to give their credit card information to a known brand through a secure payment process on networks like Twitter or Facebook. But this statistic shouldn’t scare brands away from at least trying to sell their products using social means. The same Harris poll indicates that 34% of social media users would be more likely to share information about a purchase they made on a social media site with friends than one made on a traditional e-commerce site–so if someone bought a cell phone from T-Mobile on Facebook, they would be more inclined to spread that news versus if they bought it off of eBay or T-Mobile’s website directly. I’m sure that the social features already built into Facebook and Twitter factors into that. And if you don’t think that friends can’t influence social commerce, the Harris poll says that 75% of users indicate that they’d be more inclined to purchase a product or service that a friend openly endorses–defined as a blog post about their purchase or endorsement compared to a simple “like” or “follow”. Getting the customer’s friends involved and voicing their opinions can sway the buying behavior.
So how can businesses get their customers’ friends to write about their product without being unduly influenced? Well this is something Microsoft is going to try and tackle head on with their new People Powered Stories (PPS) service. First reported by ReadWriteWeb’s Dave Copeland, the software giant announced during Social Media Week, that they would be releasing a new advertising (?) platform that will “incorporate user reviews and comments into social media sites.” In their plug for this new service, Microsoft testified that their People Powered Stories service really works–they tested it with a targeted Windows 7 advertising campaign to back-to-school shoppers and claimed it increased “purchase intent” by 6.3% and boosted “believability” and brand awareness.
By using PPS, you, as the advertiser, can import user ratings and reviews about your product right into a rich brand ad. The hope is that PPS will give marketers the ability to create ads that will share powerful stories and create brand relevancy beyond a “like” or “follow” — and with it, the authenticity and believability of real people’s stories. Through a partnership with customer-brand conversation platform Bazaarvoice, PPS will give advertisers the ability to use Microsoft’s social and engaged audiences across multiple screens and serve contextual and relevant ads that will be both targeted and measurable, more than what is available by any other service provider.
Is Microsoft’s People Powered Stories going to succeed? It might, but it will depend on how many publishers and social networks will use their display ads (note it’s not the text ads that you’ll see on search results). Microsoft has surely been making a push for the past few years about helping to declutter search by saying Bing will provide much more relevant results than with Google, so this contextual advertising platform has some promise to it. But, as ReadWriteWeb comments, this Microsoft announcement does not specify how exactly PPS will be different from other services. What will companies like Argyle Social and Wildfire Interactive have to say in response to this initiative? And Facebook already has a sponsored stories section out there that advertisers could take advantage of and Twitter currently offers promoted tweets that will allow people to specify who should see the tweet by interest and geographic region. It will be interesting to see this adoption by brands, but it is noted that Microsoft would probably be the first large company to offer a social media advertising program, beating out Google and even Yahoo (although their search is taken from Microsoft).
Jennifer Creegan, Microsoft’s General Manager for Display Advertising Experiences at Microsoft Advertising (phew! That’s a long title…), believes that PPS will help inch the advertising industry closer to unlocking the potential of social commerce and advertising. I agree with her that the impact of social advertising is beyond a simple “like” or a “follow” and needs to be in an area that the social ad can offer some measurable impact. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft studies the impact of these new ads and whether people will find them helpful and valuable, or annoying, a nuisance, and creepy.
But Microsoft is listening…let them know what you think either in the comments below or on their post.
Image Credit: Imille