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The Twitter “Buy” button, once a promising new innovation that Twitter executives thought could help transform the social network into a social commerce giant, is now finally officially dead after being on life support for the past eight months. As of February 1, Twitter no longer supports the “Buy” button for brands.
So what went wrong?
Two competing narratives about social commerce
The easiest explanation, of course, is that Twitter is just a dumpster fire right now. The company can’t seem to do anything right anymore, and nobody wants to buy it. In October, the company laid off nearly 10 percent of its staff. And, since then, the casualties have grown, with the latest victim being Vine, the popular looping video service. According to this narrative, Twitter is a failure but social commerce is not.
But is that really the case? Do people really want to buy on social networks? In answering that question, most people point to the October 2016 survey carried out by AYTM Market Research, in which only 6.5 percent of respondents said that they were “very likely” to buy on social networks. In contrast, 20.8 percent said they were “very unlikely” and 12.3 percent said they were “unlikely.”
That may lead to a grim forecast – most people would really prefer not to combine their tweeting and their buying – but it also ignores a huge category of respondents in the survey. Nearly one in three (32 percent) said they were “neutral” on the proposition.
Content vs. context
Now we’re starting to get somewhere. This may just be a context problem. How many times have you been using Twitter and noticed some completely random “sponsored tweet” show up in your Twitter news stream? That’s what it felt like when brands such as Adidas or Best Buy tried to use the Twitter “Buy” button in their tweets. It felt jarring – like something that didn’t belong. In other words, the context was all wrong.
Now, combine the Twitter approach to social commerce (which you might think of as “interruption advertising”) to the approach being used by other social networks that are gaining traction with their social commerce approaches.
Pinterest and Instagram
Take the case of Pinterest. It just makes sense that if people are, say, collecting a lot of pins for ideas on how to decorate their house, then it would make perfect sense for a home furnishings brand to make buyable pins available to these people.
The same thing is true with Instagram, albeit to a lesser extent. Just because you are following a brand like [X] on Instagram doesn’t mean that you necessarily want to buy their products. Maybe you just like their photos. But, still, it shows considerably more intent to buy. And by making it very easy to buy right from an iPhone, Instagram may have a great way to capture impulse buying behavior. (Doesn’t this model look fantastic in that dress? BUY IT NOW!!!)
So, it’s too early to say that the demise of the Twitter “Buy” button means the demise of social commerce. Ultimately, Twitter is a flawed company that still can’t figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. For now, it appears that Instagram and Pinterest have done a lot better job in making social commerce part of the overall user experience. Context, not content, is what matters here.