If you’re anywhere near as much of a tech-press junkie as I am, you’ve no doubt seen at least a few articles over the last few weeks about Facebook’s latest experiment in monetization: the buy button. If you haven’t seen it in action yet, you can probably find an example in one of those “sponsored posts” that occasionally show up in your newsfeed:
Once that little button in the corner is tapped (or clicked), users who already have their address and credit card info on file can purchase the product without ever leaving Facebook. While it’s a pretty neat idea from a discovery standpoint, it’s not exactly revolutionary—Amazon mastered the one-click purchase a long time ago. Facebook is just adding another opportunity to act as the middleman for advertisers, which at the end of the day, is basically their entire business model.
If the pilot program is successful, we can all expect to see a lot more of this. In fact, at least one other social network is secretly testing out an almost identical concept. Mashable caught this quickly deleted tweet a few weeks ago:
More so than Facebook or Twitter, Instagram seems ideally suited to this sort of call to action (CTA) advertising. With 200 million users and 20 billion pictures, Instagram is the world’s most popular photo sharing service by a clear mile, and anyone who knows her clichés will tell you that a single picture is worth a thousand words:
20,000,000,000 x 1,000 = 20,000,000,000,000
A lot of companies are already using Instagram for marketing purposes. Some of them, like Limelight Extensions, credit much of their success to the platform’s unique ability to turn visual inspiration into action. Of course, Instagram doesn’t get any money out of that particular kind of marketing.
While parent company Facebook isn’t deploying their buy button technology on Instagram yet, at least a few companies are trying their hand at similar ideas. One of the oddest is an Israeli startup dubbed Inst-ore.
This awkwardly named company aims to revolutionize shopping on Instagram by turning your photo likes into engaging, item-specific URLs. Sound a little convoluted? It is. Here’s a quick a video of Inst-ore in action:
When the concept works (which it often doesn’t), it’s technically more engaging than a bit.ly URL in the comments section, but adding extra steps to a purchase is pretty much always a terrible idea. This handy chart illustrates the differing philosophies at play here:
Spring, a slightly more ambitious e-commerce startup, has cut out the middleman entirely. While the just-released app (iPhone only at the moment) looks an awful lot like Instagram, it’s really just a shopping-focused clone. It’s so similar that it’s really difficult to know what their future will hold—it’s a tossup between acquisition and a cease and desist letter. Here’s how it works:
Users register with their credit card information and then browse a never-ending vertical stream of pictures of items for sale from dozens of Spring’s partners, always just one click away from an impulse buy. Unlike Inst-Ore, Spring has already brought major brands like Hugo Boss and Levi onboard.
Whether it’s Facebook and their buy button, Inst-ore and their magic URLs, or some other company with an idea we haven’t thought of yet, impulse buying is going to spread like wildfire on Instagram, on Twitter—pretty much everywhere we live online. That represents a unique, almost unprecedented opportunity for online merchants.
Everyone already knows how powerful visual-focused social media can be, but if you’re anything like me, you know that this is really just the tip of the iceberg. My proposal for a panel at next year’s SXSW will cover all of this and a whole lot more. It’s called “Text is Dead! Long Live Visual!” and you can help make the panel a reality by clicking here. Voting is open from now until September 6.
Head here for the complete list of Adobe SXSW Panel Picker submissions.