By Matthew Klein

January 16th, 2015

Reports are that Twitter will be making buy buttons available to all advertisers at the beginning of 2015, after testing them with a few brands over the last several months. Facebook has also been testing its own buy button in the News Feed. They recently updated their privacy policy to include language relating to e-commerce, signalling that the button will see a wider roll out sometime in the near future. 

Here’s an example of a Twitter ad with a buy button:

social media buy buttons on Twitter 

There are plenty of reasons why brands that advertise on Facebook and Twitter would want to see in-feed buy buttons on the network, starting with the overall user numbers and the engagement on the networks—1.35 billion monthly active users for Facebook, 284 million on Twitter, with 54% of Facebook users and 34% of Twitter users logging in more than once a day. There’s also the networks’ trove of user data and the targeting options available based on it, all of which add up to make in-feed selling a very attractive proposition.

But none of this is new—so why hasn’t selling directly on Facebook and Twitter been widely implemented yet? It’s not for lack of trying. Facebook first attempted to add an option to buy on the network with the launch of stores in 2011; the project was scuttled not long after. They also tested a “buy tickets” button at one point, but it brought users to an outside site. Twitter has experimented with hashtag purchasing before, but this is the first time it’s introducing a buy button.

Buy buttons are finally poised to take off—basically, to generate significant sales for brands and in the process become a staple of our social feeds.

Why it will work this time

I think that the biggest factor helping buy buttons stick this time will be an improved user experience .

When Twitter announced it was testing the feature, they included a look at how it would work. It’s a buy button that when clicked opens a page in your feed. You click buy once more, enter payment details (or confirm them if they’re saved), then confirm. It looks nicer than checkout does on a lot of retailers’ mobile apps.

 

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The rise of mobile has changed the way people use social, concentrating everything in their feeds. This fact, along with usability lessons learned from building mobile apps, have it seems led the social networks to make social purchases simple enough to work.

The improvements in payment technology will also help with user experience, and, hopefully, security. Both Facebook and Twitter are working with the San Francisco startup Stripe for payments for their in-feed buy buttons.

And the spread of mobile payment apps has made people more comfortable with the idea of storing their credit or debit card info with an app, enabling people to shop with fewer clicks.

Facebook has even built the capability to make peer-to-peer payments into its Messenger app. The function was discovered in the app’s code and hasn’t been enabled yet, but the technology for it could potentially also be used in an e-commerce context.

How will it look for brands?

There is a worry that the buy button won’t take off because consumers will still want to comparison shop, especially for new or unfamiliar items. The part about comparison shopping will almost certainly be true, but it won’t mean the buy buttons won’t work.

The feature will generate the most sales for products that customers are already familiar with. Certain types of purchases like concert or movie tickets, new music, books or other media, when well targeted, are perfectly suited for in-feed buying.

The News Feed ad I saw for Netflix (without a buy button, for now) is a great example. I had cancelled my subscription (and held out for a while) but was finally ready to come back. I visited Netflix’s website but left without buying. But when I saw the ad a few days later, I signed back up immediately. If it had had a buy button, it would have been even better.

 

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Brands will have the potential to succeed in selling other items customers are already familiar with to some extent, provided they are well-targeted. The ability to retarget visitors to your website, and specific product pages on it, was not available for any previous attempts to implement selling on Twitter or Facebook, as far as I know, and it should go a long way towards making this one work.

Even if selling within a feed of social media updates will likely work best for retargeted items and other stuff consumers are already familiar with, that doesn’t mean nothing else will sell. It’s just that people will approach items they know less about with a mindset closer to the one they look at app install ads with—a certain willingness to try, depending on the risk for them. A lot of the time, the perceived risk and people’s willingness to buy will depend on price, but other factors will come into play. If people trust and are loyal to your brand, that reduces the risk they perceive in buying a new product.

A broad shopping shift?

When you shop online, especially on the web, either you know what you want and where to get it, or you don’t, and you turn to Google or Amazon.

On mobile, if you know you are looking for one item, or one brand, you can go to a dedicated app to find it. If not though, there is still no exact equivalent to Amazon or Google for mobile. The logical candidates, Amazon or Google for mobile, just don’t quite satisfy the same needs in terms of browsing and buying.

Pinterest is pretty close, and that’s part of why it generates so much excitement among brands.

But if Facebook and Twitter are able to implement functional, in-feed selling via buy buttons, they have a chance to shift the way that people approach shopping in a mobile-first world, replacing the role of Amazon or Google to an extent.

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