Last month, I wrote about the challenges of social commerce - in particular, why it's so hard to get people to share purchase-related information. And I promised I'd follow up with a more optimistic post about an approach that's working. We call this "contextual sharing".
Try this: Ask a random sample of people how they feel about telling their friends about recent purchases. Most of the people you ask will probably give you an answer like this: once in a while they'll tell some friends about some purchases, but the idea of mass-sharing their purchases is repulsive. Now ask them how they feel about answering questions about their purchases.
You'll probably get a very consistent response: sure, I'm happy to help; in fact, I enjoy sharing my experience. Now try a 3rd question. Ask these people if they'd be willing to let people who are shopping for items like ones they've already bought know that they are available for advice, if needed. The answer will probably sound like this: as long as I'm not broadcasting about my purchase in a spammy or self-promotional way, sure.
This is the big idea behind contextual sharing: people will share purchase-related information when they have confidence that it will be relevant to the audience.
If you sell online, this has huge implications for your sharing strategy. Don't over-reach by trying to get your customers to mass-share. Instead, start by asking for contextual sharing. You'll get a much higher sharing rate, and you can always put the request for a mass-share at then end, to catch that small % of customers who will participate.
Here's some data from our experience running the TurnTo Purchase Sharing application, which uses a contextual model, on several dozen websites spanning a broad range of verticals for over a year. The system opens an overlay box on the order confirmation page (ie immediately after purchase) that looks like this:
15% of customers click "Sure" (!!). Then the system asks for an answer to the question "Why did you choose this?"
About 1/3 of the people who clicked "Sure" also add a comment. That means that about 5% of all items purchased are getting one of these check-out comments attached, along with permission to show that comment to other shoppers. Finally, the system offers shoppers the opportunity to post that comment to Facebook and Twitter. The rate there is much lower. But by having asked first for the contextual sharing permission, the store at least got that.