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Paradise lost? Monetizing Instagram, Twitter

The stakes are getting higher, social network sites are morphing and the inhabitants might find the change a bit of an intrusion to the thus-far transaction-free nature of these networks.

Depending on which spectrum of the fence a social networker sits on, the ability to “buy now” or “click to buy” will unleash a whole new world of shopping delight for Instagram or Twitter citizens, or a backlash from social networks who like the safe haven nature of these sites.

Twitter announced to its users in the week of Sep 9 that it is testing new features in the US to enable users to buy merchandise from popular brands on Twitter without leaving the “Twitter experience”.

The network also gave potential shoppers the heads-up about the need for additional information to safeguard payment information.

Customers can complete a purchase using their smartphones with a few taps. The company has teamed up with social media such as Fancy and Musictoday for trials. Twitter will also run tests with artists and brands such as Burberry and Home Depot Inc, according to Reuters.

In the US, retailer Nordstorm will become the first retailer to roll out Like2Buy, a service that would allow Instagram-mers to shop once they “like” an item, Forbes reported recently.

Curalate, developer of Like2Buy says, retailers would be able to provide shopping through mobile devices, desktops and tablets. Shopaholics can also like photos or products, add and save them on a wishlist for later action.

Will Kiwi retailers flock to Instagram and Twitter to build potential shopping meccas?

James Kemp, marketing strategist, who has worked at Grabone, says companies in New Zealand who have been gathering followers on their social networks would be keen to test the technological platforms available.

With companies spending time and resources building social networks to garner followers, the ability to monetize would certainly provide transparency to demonstrate ROI, Kemp says.

What is as yet untested is how to achieve the balance between curating followers and shoppers, and dumping hard-sell on these followers to drive the bottomline.

“Consumers don’t like to be told to buy. They want to buy – if you show them,” Kemp adds. He agrees that customers who follow products or brands on networks are happy to curate, and enjoy the curative experience but might feel differently with hard sell efforts.

Facebook, he says, provides a mixed curative experience, where friends and product advertising co-exist. Reuters reported, however, that Facebook is also trialing a “buy” button to enable users to buy products advertised on its site.

For some, the intrusion of shopping into social networking sites might not be the best track to go down, unless consumers cry out for it.

Barkers Men Clothing’s eCommerce manager Staci Scott says Barkers uses Instagram as a branding tool, and does not think it is the appropriate platform to monetize the “likes”.

“We consider it (Instagram) as a support for our other marketing functions, I don’t think we would try to monetise it unless the type/behaviour of Instagram users change, it currently isn’t the platform for it.”

Instagram, she says, is an aspirational place, a platform to demonstrate the design and creativity behind a brand, not a tool for hard sell.

“Instagram is a creative, visually driven platform. Visitors respond to the creative, the photography. People who use Instagram are typically creative themselves and identify with strong imagery and design,” she says.

Consultants Booz & Company estimates that by 2015, the dollar volume of goods sold through social media would reach US$30 billion from $5 billion in 2010.

The same survey, done in 2010, found that 27% of people surveyed say they would be willing to purchase goods from social media sites.

Loves peanut sauce, tennis, taichi, stockmarkets, and cool entrepreneurs – not necessarily in that order. In her previous reincarnations, she was an intranet worker bee at Mercer HR Consulting, a Reuters worker ant, and a NZ Herald mule.

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