It seems we can't move for social commerce these days. User-generated content is apparently the new black, and Facebook is the new Friday, so love it or hate it, it seems safe to assume that social commerce is here to stay. But while some have embraced the new opportunities provided by social media tools, there are many others that are quietly wishing it would all just blow over — and if your boss falls into the second category it can be very hard to get their sign off on social media activities.
So why is it sometimes so hard to sell the concept of social internally? Often it is simply a lack of understanding that is in your way. Maybe your boss simply doesn't think that social media is a serious business tool, or perhaps they don't know what exactly lies inside the social media toolbox aside from a profile on Facebook.
In other cases, while they know what it is, they might not see how it's actually going to work as a business tool, and therefore how it's going to make any money.
Another common problem is control: User-generated content sounds almost like giving your customers a licence to dilute the brand and ruin your carefully crafted reputation. But if you know what the objections are going to be, it is possible to drag even the most adamant dinosaurs into the 21st century with some carefully thought-out arguments.
First of all, you need a clear business case. Social isn't something you should use just because it's there — if it's not going to add value to your bottom line then your boss is right to ask "what's the point?". Work out exactly what it will include, how it will benefit your business in terms of sales, brand or loyalty and importantly, how you will measure this impact.
You should also put together a transparent and realistic outline of the costs involved — both in terms of the initial outlay for technology or design work, and the ongoing running costs. Think hard about how you are going to manage it and what will actually be required to make it a success.
Next you need to speak the boss's language. Social is an addition to your existing ecommerce armoury, but if you make it sound like a revolution that involves ripping out your tried-and-tested (and no doubt expensive) current platform and replacing it with a series of applications developed by teenagers in Silicon Valley, you shouldn't be surprised when they say no.
Just as having a website has become second nature for retailers, social media will become a 'must have' over the coming months and years, and organisations need to understand that the intelligent and judicious application of social in conjunction with existing e-commerce will define success in the space before long.
Your next best friend in making the case for social is building its credibility. Many people still feel confused about how social can be put to business use, particularly if their only exposure to it thus far has been their daughter using Facebook or their son spending countless hours in gaming chat rooms.
Providing some real-life examples of how other companies are using it successfully can be crucial, as well as getting them to try it for themselves. Many retailers have already integrated social elements such as 'click to call' and customer forums into their sites to great effect, so encourage the sceptics to give it a go before they dismiss the idea.
And, last but not least, it is essential that you can be seen to have control over your social offering. Organisations are wise to be risk-averse, and no one wants to sign off something that has the potential to backfire in their face.
Marketers know that word of mouth is the most valuable tool they have and if you can show that social commerce enhances that you will be likely to have a convert. Loyal customers are the ultimate ambassadors for your brand, particularly in a social media environment where positive opinions can be spread widely and quickly. In addition the interactive elements will make your sites stickier and engender levels of brand allegiance that a simple shop window website could only dream of.
Marketers that capture all of these social elements and use them as part of an overall strategic ecommerce strategy to their customers' and prospects' benefit are sure to come out on top.
Social commerce is here to stay and your job is to persuade the rest of your organisation that it's not just a flash in the pan but a real business opportunity. Social elements can add an extra dimension to your ecommerce strategy to give customers a truly seamless, personalised multi-channel experience.
• Frank Lord is the managing director for ATG's Europe, Middle East and Africa operations. ATG is a global ecommerce platform provider that has provided solutions to more than 900 major brands including B&Q, The Body Shop, New Look and Tesco.