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6 Social Media Sites Driving Retail Sales (And How They’re Growing)

Direct sales from social media has yet to prove itself as a competitive medium (eCommerce sites, marketplaces, and direct-to-consumer still vastly outperform social). But that doesn’t mean the channel should be swept under the rug as a potential revenue source. According to a new study from Avionos, 55 percent of respondents said they made a purchase directly from social media within the past year.

Innovations in ad targeting, improved customer experience, and more retail-friendly capabilities could make selling on social more tangible. Here’s a breakdown of how some of the biggest players in social are innovating their platforms for retailers, and where consumers are shopping today.

Related: 6 Social Media Trends That Will Dominate Summer 2018


Facebook has consistently dominated the retail sphere when it comes to direct online sales. According to Avionos, 40 percent of respondents said they had made a purchase from Facebook over the past year.

Facebook’s advanced targeting tools also benefits brand awareness initiatives for retailers driving TOFU and retargeting campaigns to drive traffic back to their own sites. Shopify has reported that nearly 85 percent of their social media orders come from Facebook, and two-thirds of their traffic is directed from Facebook referrals.

This year, Facebook cracked down on advertisers and publishers by updating their News Feed algorithm to prioritize posts shared from a user’s connections, making it more difficult (and ultimately, more expensive) for brands to get in front of potential customers. This raises the stakes for marketers to think smarter about their campaigns, and make sure they’re investing wisely to ensure returns.


Instagram holds a much smaller piece of the pie (only 13 percent of respondents said they purchased directly from the app). But the platform’s immersive visual user experience and influencer-rich culture presents strong affiliate and earned media opportunities.

In November 2016, Instagram began testing new shopping capabilities that make it easier for shoppers to discover and learn more about products they see in their feed. Shoppers can now tap to “see more” for items they discover through sponsored posts. Interested customers can also access a retailer’s site directly in the Instagram app, where they can view items, and start building a shopping cart.

Coupled with parent-company Facebook’s ad platform, Instagram’s retail experience looks promising for brands who can benefit from a more visual medium.


When it comes to visual mediums, Pinterest is the pioneer. The platform has built their brand on being the go-to social site for product discovery. In early 2018, Pinterest announced they were expanding their Shopping Ads program “from a couple dozen retailers, to hundreds of businesses.” The platform’s Shopping Ads program allows brands to integrate ads into their product boards, making customer conversion a more seamless experience on site.


Twitter doesn’t have a lot of skin in the game when it comes to retail sales. According to Avionos, less than 10 percent of respondents said they made a purchase directly from Twitter over the past year. Twitter’s UX gives brands less time to engage with customers (even after their departure from the chronological algorithm, Twitter is a much more crowded, rapid-fire experience when compared to Facebook and Instagram).

However, it seems the platform may be revving up their advertising game. Earlier this year, CNBC reported the company was working on a “camera-first feature” that could potentially rival Snapchat. The company had also doubled down on their live streaming and event-based capabilities, providing more opportunities for brands to interact with consumers in real-time.


They don’t call it the “front page of the Internet” for nothing. The platform is a goldmine for user-generated content, and the birthplace of the “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) which serve as open forums for influencers, brands (and even politicians) to engage audiences in large-scale, “Town Hall” settings.

The company has recently began expanding their advertising program over the last year, rolling out promoted and sponsored native advertising capabilities on Android and iOS.


YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, has had its fair share of controversy surrounding ad placement next to explicit content on their platform. In 2017, Google updated their content creation guidelines to help improve the content that is eligible for ad placement — an effort intended to regain the support of wary brands. Video is a rising medium for marketers — recent studies project up to 80 percent of Internet traffic will come from video by 2021 — so if you’re not already, it may be a good vertical to start paying attention to.

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