This post is guest-written by Ashley Moreno, Business Analyst at Bazaarvoice.

Proven ROI sets social commerce apart from social media. Unlike social media, social commerce explicitly ties together a company’s online, community-based activities with the bottom line. From a financial standpoint, it’s easy to see the benefits of social commerce over plain social media. Putting it into practice, however, can prove more challenging. If your company currently struggles to prove ROI on its community-based, online programs, then know: you’re not alone.

In his blog last month, Avinash Kaushik outlined the 11 barriers to online measurement, which he took from Econsultancy’s recent Online Measurement and Strategy Report. Turns out, most companies struggle with measuring the effects of their online efforts due to a lack of strategy, too few resources, isolation within their organizations, an absence of upper-level buy-in, and an overall lack of understanding. That’s probably not news. We hear about these challenges all the time. What was surprising was that just 9% of companies say they struggle with poor technology, and only 12% reported they struggle with staffing. This supports an insight Jeremiah Owyang published in Forrester’s blog back in June:

“Successful social media marketing is 80% strategy and 20% technology.”

At first glance, Owyang’s comment might seem like an oversimplification — after all, Econsultancy’s report does cite 11 issues. But upon a second read, it seems as though most of the cited issues – no budget, “siloed” organization, lack of understanding, absence of senior-level buy-in – really stem from one, over-arching problem: a lack of strategy. Without a clear strategy, how can a company collect and measure data? Without a clear picture of success, what are they measuring anyway?

To gain buy-in, secure resources, and help ensure the success of social commerce within your organization, you need a clear strategy first. And second? Establish metrics to gauge that strategy’s performance. Such metrics should help a company tie social media to business KPIs — albeit, likely through affecting smaller, departmental goals. This is the best way for a company to develop its online community efforts into successful social commerce with a long-term, sustainable model. So what could such a model look like?

Owyang’s blog suggests there are three common ways social media takes shape:

1.    Centralized — one part of an organization runs all the social media-related activities.

2.    Distributed — individual employees adopt social media-related activities with no centralization.

3.    Hub-and-spoke — an internal team spearheads activities that then, like the spokes on a bicycle wheel, expand out to most parts of the organization.

Like Owyang at Forrester, we believe the third option is the best as it ensures companies receive the most ROI from their activities. Content collected and amplified through social commerce has the ability to affect and inform decisions and finances at all levels of an organization. Only a hub-and-spoke model ensures that vital information can reach the parties who need it most. It’s also the best way to ensure such a program secures the buy-in and financial support it needs to be successful.

So what is your strategy for social commerce? How do you hope to affect business KPIs by leveraging online communities? As you move forward with your online activities, how will you ensure your strategy is working? And who are the influencers who are going to help you? Or, as Seth Godin might ask, “Who spreads your word?

This is the first of a series of blog posts from Bazaarvoice’s Social Analytics team that will help you answer those questions. Look for the first posts to discuss how to establish a social commerce strategy and gain company buy-in, then stay tuned for discussions on potential performance indicators and on-going measurement opportunities.

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