Community commerce: The e-commerce trend that has big implications for PR

The rapid acceleration towards e-commerce seen over the last 18 months has upended paid and owned media strategies across the business spectrum. Consumers’ growing willingness to shop whilst using social media platforms promises to have a similarly major impact on approaches to earned media.

The rise of ‘community commerce’

In partnership with TikTok, the World Advertising Research Centre (WARC) recently published a whitepaper examining the rise of ‘community commerce’, a type of social commerce sitting at the intersection of community, shopping and entertainment. With the right approach, brands can fit seamlessly into the social media experience, ushering a customer from discovery to purchase in only a few taps or swipes.

Those who have ever purchased a product or service after seeing it advertised or reviewed on social media

Community commerce offers a new form of digital word-of-mouth. The opinion of a follower can boost or block sales, often in unpredictable or “illogical” ways, to quote Ray Cao, TikTok’s managing director, global head of product strategy and operations. A sense of belonging, information-sharing and demand for a product are all stimulated by the powerful influence that community can wield.

The importance of content creation

This has important implications for PR professionals, not least in deciding which content creators provide the best fit with their brands.

The most authentic and organic commerce on platforms like TikTok is driven by creators. Content creators - as opposed to celebrity influencers - sit at the heart of this form of commerce. A WARC survey found that they boost product discovery (78%), educate and inform (76%), and inspire their audiences to try new products (73%). Content quality and community credentials, rather than follower count, are key considerations.

The PR industry has always played a vital role in brand storytelling, and this will remain true in the community commerce era. However, it is vital that companies understand the reasons why consumers engage with creators, and ensure that brand content is sympathetic to those preferences.

For example, TikTok is seen as more joyful than other social platforms - its five top-rated attributes are creative, joyful, happy, inspiring and original - and its audiences expect to see content that fits with these values. The hard sell is unlikely to cut it when users are enjoying lip-sync challenges or checking out the latest viral dance routine craze.

Words that fit with TikTok

Community commerce is a natural fit with PR. At its heart, it involves telling stories around the subjects that people are passionate about to begin with. Done well, it can supercharge a business’s e-commerce sales. For this reason, it well worth PR professionals taking a closer look.

Written by Alex Brownsell, senior editor, media, at WARC