Monetizing Social Media with Social Annex's Head of Client Success Al Lalani

Written by Bonnie Boglioli...October 24, 2011
Social Annex

Social Annex is in the business of socializing traditional eCommerce sites by integrating social elements into existing retail websites. Social Annex’s Head of Client Success, Al Lalani, says his suite of social tools goes beyond extending clients’ visibility and actually helps them monetize social media. Social Annex’s analytics measure quantitative- not just qualitative- success and put the platform at the forefront of a new era in eCommerce.

With figures like 9 out of 10 people trusting recommendations from friends and family, it’s no surprise that the past two years have seen eCommerce sites flock to find a way in to the social world. With tools and plug-ins galore, clients have spent millions on experimentation that ultimately have not affected the bottom line. Things are changing, however, and Lalani’s Social Annex is one player that is seeking to optimize websites and drive revenue.

We spoke with Lalani via phone from his Los Angeles office. He explained what is missing in traditional eCommerce websites and how the comprehensive Social Annex suite can produce real benefits. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity).

STR:  Al, you previously served as Director of eCommerce for a major floral wire service. What lessons did you learn from that experience in eCommerce that you applied to Social Annex?

AL:  I spent a few years managing eCommerce with Telaflora. What I realized is that regular marketing channels like Google AdWords or email marketing were getting tapped out. You could only spend so much money on these (channels) before you were no longer profitable.

A key thing for us at Telaflora was developing social media as a new channel. With Facebook growing, we were thinking of how to utilize social media to drive traffic and monetize it. Brand engagement is good, but ultimately retailers want to see how many orders they get from it. A lot of players came out with fancy apps and features, but there wasn’t a cohesive suite of applications on a single platform for eCommerce retailers to use. So that was the first thing I wanted to address with Social Annex.

Secondarily, there was a big gap between what retailers want versus what is being offered. Retailers want to drive orders, as I mentioned. There was little out there to drive revenue… most social media tools helped to get ‘Likes’ on Facebook but little else. With Social Annex, we created a fully customizable platform with a focus on ROI for retailers.

STR:  So ROI is a key component to the analytics that Social Annex offers its clients?

AL:  We have 2 major portions of analytics. The first is the monetary value of what it generates. This is where we look at things like conversion rates, traffic, the number of orders and other important metrics that retail websites want to see. Beyond that, we give rich social data to our client about their users. Many retailers pay a lot of money to consultants to tell them about their users. With Social Annex, we provide this to every client within our analytics.

STR:  Social Annex has several packages available in its suite. Do you cater to any particular size client?

AL:  Because of the way we’re structured, we use existing website traffic to become social ambassadors and drive more traffic, engage with the rich social data and more. We don’t partner with many small websites because they have to have some customers with a decent amount of traffic already to start leveraging our tool suite.

STR: There are so many social commerce features and tools, from sharing and in-page discussions to reviews, video demo’s and more. How can retail sites decide which features are worth their weight in gold and which may not be necessary for their needs?

AL:  This depends on the client and the types of products they sell along with their goals. Sharing is good for some websites, but the goals of other clients may be to engage people more so tools that enable them to do that should take precedence.

For example, if your site is selling a Kodak camera you’re competing with maybe 35 other retailers selling the exact same camera. A buyer simply types in the camera model and goes to the site that is offering it for the lowest dollar amount. In this case, your goal as a retailer might be to have that user remember your site even if they do not make a purchase at that time, so that they come back in the future.

We provide tools for that to happen such as social sign-on. When a customer returns to your site and sees they are already connected with their Facebook account, they remember the site and it feels familiar. We do contests on sites, too, that engage people for user recognition so that they keep going back to your site.

STR:  One unique element of Social Annex is the ability to create incentives for customers to share reviews, purchases and more. How important is incentivizing for online retailers today?

AL:  I think incentivized sharing is going to be a very useful tool and that’s why we have it in our suite. Statistics show that very few people use the sharing features on websites because maybe they don’t feel there is a good reason to. So, we’ve developed a few things that allow our clients to help their customers spread the word.

First, our clients can customize the look and appearance of the sharing tools so they are more visible to their users because many people don’t notice the ability to share at all. The client can also brand it with the rest of their site so it fits the look and design of the page. Lastly, we provide a reason for customers to make that share- it could be a discount coupon, a portion of proceeds to benefit a charity… whatever the client wants it to be. We make it easy to incentivize customers.

STR: This year was expected to usher in the age of F-Commerce- that is, Facebook commerce on pages. Is this something that Social Annex deliberately chose to stay out of?

AL:  We believe there are 2 angles to social commerce. The first is commerce happening on Facebook itself which is Facebook Stores. The second is social happening on commerce websites. We’ve tactically stayed on the second end by targeting social on commerce rather than commerce on a network such as Facebook.

Our belief is that the mindset of a user on a Facebook store may not be to actually make a purchase. They may just be looking around rather than knowing they want to buy something specific. Secondly, the amount of exposure that a Facebook store gets is much more limited compared to the exposure retail websites receive. Many more people visit the eCommerce website directly than go to Facebook. Facebook stores can work for really, really large retailers but for small and mid-sized, it is probably not enough.

STR:  Let’s talk about implementing Social Annex on a website. You opted for an easy widget rather than complicated coding. Was this a key feature you wanted from the beginning?

AL:  Yes, that’s a big piece that I learned back in the day. eCommerce retailers may be great at marketing but they need a lot of help in terms of technology. Our suite integrates with a single line of code on the page because we use a powerful front-end customization tool. Without even knowing technology, our clients can play around with the widgets easily and get it all up and running quickly.

STR:  Thanks for participating in the Q&A, Al. We look forward to watching Social Annex grow.

AL:  Thanks Bonnie!

Check out more interviews at Social Technology Review Interview Series.

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