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

July 14, 2010 by George Eberstadt

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 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.

What should online merchants do with Facebook Connect?

December 2, 2008 by George Eberstadt

The New York Times ran a piece today heralding the imminent arrival of Facebook Connect – significant as an indication of the huge expected impact of the feature.  My guess is that for brands and online merchants planning their social commerce strategy, the anticipation of Facebook Connect will be matched by an equal measure of head-scratching about how to make the best use of it.

Its predecessor, Beacon, had significant flaws.  But for merchants, it also had a particular beauty – clarity of purpose.  It did just one thing (sending “stories” to their customers’ Facebook pages so friends could see what those customers bought).  And it provided all the infrastructure needed to do that.  Just pop a bit of code here and there, and you were up and running.

Facebook Connect, on the other hand, is a tool kit which can be used in many possible ways.  In addition to posting stories back to Facebook, it offers the ability for shoppers to bring their Facebook friends with them to the merchant’s site.  Sounds exciting, but what does that really mean?  What features and applications should sites build around that capability?  And where does the technology to take advantage of this potential come from?

My belief is that the killer app for Facebook Connect for online commerce is going to be “trusted reference systems”.  If you sell online, and all-of-a-sudden you can know the friend-network of your shoppers, what is the most powerful use to which you can put that information on your site?  It is: to tell your shoppers what their friends have bought from you, while they are shopping.  Shoppers who see that friends buy from you are going to be more likely to do so, too.  They’ll get ideas from seeing what their friends have purchased, so they’ll buy more.  And they’ll be able to see who among their friends they can turn to for advice if they have questions, so their whole shopping experience will be improved.

We’re on the brink of a new phase in online commerce where brands and merchants of all sizes will be able to put applications driven by social graphs on their sites.  For those who take advantage of this opportunity, the potential to create value for their business is tremendous.  (Not to be coy, at TurnTo, we are excited to be the leading provider of turn-key trusted reference systems that make it a snap for sellers to add these social commerce features to their sites.  If you are wondering what Facebook Connect can mean to your business, we’d like to talk to you; please drop us a line.)