The formidable power of Facebook and the social revolution got a boost from a new online study that shows consumers find social sharing equivalent to Google search in helpfulness when looking for a product to buy. So says the Sociable Labs consumer research study Social Impact Study: How Consumers See It. 

Sociable Labs said it surveyed a group of 1088 online shoppers who also use Facebook, from mid-January to early February, with the majority of shoppers using and taking action, based on social sharing, and creating a kind of "social proofing" on e-Retail sites (via the "friend" option) that boosts shopper confidence and conversions (from shoppers to buyers.)  

Far-Reaching Implications

Beyond product discovery now on par with Google search, the top conclusions of the work have e-commerce implications far beyond the discovery process that make the cash register ring, ...and ring, ...and ring yet again, confronting the Google Search/Ad model of Internet revenue hegemony. 

In the study, Sociable Labs says social sharing has moved into "a mainstream activity" and notes that 62% of all online shoppers are reading product-related comments from friends on Facebook, with 75% of these shoppers clicking through to visit the retailer’s site (no Google search enters the process here). Further, social sharing drives conversions, with 53% of shoppers who click through to the retailer’s site buying the product that was shared.

All told, that translates to a whopping 25% Share-to-Purchase Funnel of All Shoppers, according to the group. Translation: Get this right, and one in four of online retail customers are coming from the social, not search engine, side of the web (see image.) 

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Share-to-Purchase Funnel

One other formidable boost in social sharing over web browsing -- once the purchase is made, a whopping 81% share their purchase with others, creating a "viral effect" throughout the social network. In fact, these Social Buyers share with others twice as often as social visitors (those who didn't buy) and this group posts to Facebook 2.6 times more often, according to the study. 

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Social Proofing 

The study also indicates ways to boost commerce using a social strategy with several recommendations based on its findings. For example, social proofing is when a vendor shows friends' activities on a website. The study indicates this can significantly increases conversions (shoppers to buyers.)

Learning Opportunities

Sociable Labs quantifies that number, stating more than half, 57%, are more likely to purchase on a site that shows friends who've purchased there. Further, 32% of visitors stay and shop on sites that shows activities of shoppers (non-Facebook friends) who purchase there, and jumps 30 more points (to 62%) if those shoppers are Facebook friends. 

To this end, the group believes retailers will increase their benefits from social sharing by displaying socially shared content on their e-commerce sites. Offering an option to share “on-site only” helps remove a top "inhibitor" for many consumers in the share process. This also builds confidence with social proofing content for its new visitors. The group also offers the following recommendations to increase referral visits from social sharing by:

  • Making it simple for consumers to share product discounts/deals with their friends
  • Encouraging consumers to share the reasons they decided to purchase that product
  • Look to combine reasons with deals to significantly boost shopper referral visits

Going Beyond the Sale: Why Sharers Share

Sociable Labs said the primary motivation for sharing product comments with friends is to share product deals they found, along with the reasons they bought that specific product. On the flip side, shoppers found the friends' posts helped them discover what they might want to buy, giving this approach equal weight to the Google Search process in ranking "helpfulness in looking for a product to buy," the group said. 

Additionally, friends sharing the reasons they chose a specific product and a company offering a discount to those Facebook friends both ranked highly among the test group as reasons for the high (75%) click-through rate mentioned above -- a click-through rate any Google target advertiser can only dream of achieving through web search algorithms.  

All told, it may boil down to word-of-mouth over the power of brute force searching. Some like the do-it-yourself, online search and discover process, and to bring to the group the "best deal" they've found. Others rely on friends and word-of-mouth recommendations to help get the best deals from those "in-the-know." So we expect on-line ad dollars to continue to be spent heavily in both camps. 

But one thing is clear: The power of social networks in discovery, click-through and final conversion to the coveted online sale is not in doubt, and is one reason why Google and Facebook continue to encroach on each other's domain.