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Social commerce: How marketplace technology can help you turn your online community into a cash cow

Selling digital advertising space is no longer the only way for community owners to monetise their audiences, writes Bradley Austin, VP of Sales APAC, Marketplacer.

Dirt bikes, quilting, breeding Alaskan Malamutes, whatever your hobby or passion, it’s a fair bet there’s an online forum or group dedicated to just that topic. Chances are, it’s a place where you can get together with other enthusiasts or aficionados to share information and experiences, seek advice or simply chew the fat with another like-minded folk.

And should you happen to be the founder or curator of the group or site in question? If your audience is sizeable, you’re in virtual possession of a potentially valuable asset: a self-segmented group of individuals who share a deep interest in a common theme.

In the past, monetising such communities typically entailed selling advertising slots on the site itself or engaging in affiliate marketing – referring community members to an external website in exchange for a fee or commission.

Unleashing the power of marketplace technology

No longer. Today, community owners can embrace a transactional business model, selling relevant goods and services directly to their members without the cost and complexity typically associated with acquiring stock and setting up a supply chain.

It’s a shift that’s been made possible by online marketplace technology. The term refers to cloud-based software that enables businesses to build successful, scalable online marketplaces at speed.

By harnessing the power of digital connectivity, they can display and sell the wares of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of third-party suppliers – and share the success of those transactions via commission-based agreement.

It’s a blueprint for rapid growth, which is working a treat for established, traditional retailers such as Woolworths and Barbeques Galore. Both enjoy significant incremental sales without making the capital investment typically associated with expanding into new market segments and categories.

Merging content and commerce

Savvy online community owners are starting to take a leaf out of these big retailers’ books, blurring the content and commerce lines by turning their social media presence into virtual shopfronts.

Take Everything Caravan and Camping, the homegrown outdoor lifestyle online network, for example. Established in 2014 by Matt Sutton and Paula Williams, it’s morphed from a fledgling Facebook group into a thriving community of more than 700,000 members interested in getting amongst it in the Great Outdoors. 

Cruise on over to everythingcaravancamping.com.au, and you’ll find yourself immersed in a one-stop shop that offers everything from communication and navigation equipment to camp furniture and cooking gear.

How much of the gear on offer is the property of community founders Sutton and Williams, or Leisure-Tec Australia, the distributor of the outdoor goods they’ve teamed up with to create the marketplace? Not so much as a single tent peg. Rather, external vendors approved as sellers can upload details of their product offering to the platform and provide real-time views of their stock availability, so when orders come in via the site, those vendors process and ship them, just as they would any other online order.

And everythingcaravancamping.com.au takes a small commission when they do. 

Harnessing the power of data

Adopting an online marketplace model doesn’t only provide an opportunity to earn a well-deserved return on the hard work that creating and curating a community invariably entails. 

Unlike the affiliate sales model, it also allows community owners to keep control of their relationships with members-cum-customers, and to gain a deeper understanding of their needs, wants, and purchasing behaviour.

In today’s digital-centric world, data is frequently referred to as ‘the new oil’, because of the value created when refined and analysed. Becoming a one-stop-shop for goods and services associated with a community’s theme can put its owners in possession of an abundance of the stuff. 

If they’re smart, they’ll find a way – or several – to put it to use: enhancing the appeal of their site, informing their relationships with partners and suppliers and deepening their connection with members.

Commencing the shift from social to commercial

In 2022, the old boundaries between social and commercial connections are disappearing, and individuals are increasingly open to interactions that straddle both categories.

Against that backdrop, online community owners and curators who put an online marketplace at the centre of their monetisation strategy are likely to find it’s a move that serves them extremely well.

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Bradley Austin

Bradley Austin

Bradley Austin is Vice President Sales – Asia Pacific at Marketplacer, a global technology Software as a Service platform equipped with all the tools and functionality needed to build a successful and scalable online marketplaces, at speed. He has more than 13 years’ experience in the IT industry, including ten years’ experience in the Australian ecommerce technology industry having worked for organisations including Salesforce and SAP in several regional director and account executive positions.

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