Ben Staveley @Econsultancy:

With Groupon now officially the fastest growing company ever and retailers announcing new Facebook stores on a weekly basis, social commerce is being tipped as one of this year’s major online growth areas.

And it is hardly surprising that social commerce is so popular. Recent research from Forbes demonstrates exactly how valuable Facebook Fans are to a brand.

– They are 41% more likely to recommend a company.
– 28% more likely to continue using them in the future.
– Fans are worth on average $136.38 to a business and spend $71.84 more per year.

But for many companies, social commerce is confusing. They have lots of questions about how to effectively implement a strategy and are unsure about the best route to take.

The truth is that social commerce doesn’t need to be difficult. In fact, there are many very cost effective ways to get a social commerce strategy off the ground. It’s also important not to rush into anything and do proper research.

Here are my tips for getting started:

Check your analytics

Before getting stuck in, check your analytics package to see what sort of traffic you are getting from the social web at the moment and how well this traffic converts.

Putting goals in place for social traffic will help you identify whether your social commerce strategy is working effectively and will allow you to benchmark future results. If traffic from social networks isn’t converting effectively, look at why this might be. For example, do you need to look at developing better landing pages?

Understand how social your customers are

If you aren’t already doing much on a social network, now is the time to put your toes in the water and see how your customers react. Social media isn’t necessarily going to be a winner for every company and every audience.

So test it out first. Start a Facebook page or Twitter account. Listen to your audience. And see how receptive they are. Only investigate other options when you are sure this is right place for you to be.

Start using your Facebook page to promote products

The obvious next step when you are sure there is an appetite for social commerce is to begin marketing products on your Facebook account.

Using the analysis goals I identified in point one, you can see how effective this is and whether it is driving sales.

‘Socialise’ your website

Another easy first step is to add social media sharing links to your website. Adding ‘like’ or ‘tweet this’ buttons is a great way to encourage visitors to share content with their like-minded friends on social networks.

With technologies like Facebook’s Open Graph, it isn’t hard to link this with activities you are engaged in on the site itself.

Use a Facebook shopping app

ASOS recently became the first UK company to launch an F-commerce (that’s Facebook Commerce) site, but they certainly won’t be the last. If your customers are using Facebook regularly, then it makes sense to let them shop there too rather than leaving to go to your website.

It doesn’t have to be hard or expensive to get going. Why not try a quick and easy solution to get your products on Facebook, such as the Shop Tab App, which just requires a CSV feed from your Google base account. The functionality is fairly limited, but it is easy to configure.

Investigate bespoke solutions

If you want to go for something more bespoke, then there are lots of options out there that will turn your Facebook account into a fully functional e-commerce platform.

One of the most detailed Facebook shopping pages comes from the very first company to try F-commerce, the American firm 1-800-Flowers. They use a system called Alvenda, which is actually a flash-based site, hosted on a different server and pulled in through an iframe.

Don’t just sell

The final point to make is that social commerce shouldn’t be all about selling. The companies that are achieving the best results here are using the social web (whether on their own site or on social networks) to add value to their customers’ shopping experience.

Engage with your community and give them a reason for communicating with you and their peers. Get this right, and the sales will come.