TripAdvisor’s new Facebook integration shows the future of social commerce

If you sell online and haven’t seen TripAdvisor’s new Facebook integration, check it out.  It’s a great example of what the future of social commerce is going to look like.  Go to any destination page on www.tripadvisor.com and look for the blue box to the right of the image.  Here’s what it looks like for me for Zurich:

There are three aspects of this application that point the way to the future.

Context.  You could get the information displayed here – which of your friends has been to a place you’re researching – by going to the TripAdvisor Cities-I’ve-Visited app.  But would you?  Here, TripAdvisor is delivering the social information in the context of your normal research path, rather than forcing you to detour to get it.  That makes you much more likely to consume this influential content.  For online merchants, context is just as important.  Shoppers do product research on product sites, not on social sites.  So it’s more powerful to bring the social references into the normal shopping path than it is to bring product information into the social environment.

Data source integration.  This tool combines two data sources – one from TripAdvisor and one from Facebook.  TripAdvisor has a database of places that many of their members have been.  It comes from a popular app they built a few years ago called “Places I’ve Visited”.  These data are combined with Facebook’s who-knows-who data, enabling TripAdvisor to tell you which of your friends have been to a particular place.  (Note: this has nothing to do with Facebook’s “Like” functions!)  As a merchant, you have a database just like TripAdvisor’s that you can leverage in a similar way: your purchase history data.  A mash-up between this data set and friend lists from Facebook (and other sources) is the key to delivering socially-enhanced shopping experiences.

Message-based communication.  The backbone of social commerce, to date, has been customer reviews.  Though highly effective, they’re not really all that social.  The shopper who posts a review never knows who will read it.  The shopper who reads a review can’t reach the person who wrote it.  There’s no direct communication between shoppers.  But in this TripAdvisor app, a visitor is offered a channel to connect directly to people with knowledge of the topic.  This is not passive Q&A where questions just hang around waiting for someone who can answer to happen by.  This is a message-based model where shoppers can actively reach out to one another.  My question about Zurich is not just posted on the Zurich page, it’s sent to the inbox of people who have been to Zurich.  That deepens and extends the engagement of the current visitor, who is called back each time their question is answered.  And it re-engages the past visitor who receives and answers the question.  This direct, message-based communication is also in the (near) future of social commerce.