Amazon launched Amazon Spark just two weeks ago as their first foray into the world of social networks.
“What?” I hear you cry. “You mean there’s another social media network I have to track, build a following on, and market on?”
Yes, I know, but bear with me. Amazon Spark could actually be very helpful for sellers, depending on how it evolves over the coming months. Let’s take a deeper dive so that you see what I mean.
How Does Spark Work?
Spark should be thought of less as a traditional social media platform and more of a product discovery feed. It’s got all the trappings of social media: image-heavy posts, ‘Smiles’ (Amazon’s version of Facebook Likes), comments… However, Spark is primarily focused around following interests. When you sign up for the service, you’ll be presented with a list of Interests to follow, and you must select at least five to continue. Based on your interests, Amazon will present you a feed of things you might find interesting, useful, or tempting to buy.
Buying is the other key feature of Spark. Its main innovation is ‘Shoppable Pictures,’ which are marked with a small shopping bag icon in the corner. If you see a shoppable picture, you can top on the shopping bag icon, and you’re presented with a series of yellow dots over certain items in the picture. Tap the yellow dot, and you’ll instantly be taken to that item’s product page on Amazon. See a scenic picture with a person wearing a nice hat? In just three taps, you can land directly at that hat’s product page and buy one for yourself.
Here’s an example of what a shoppable picture looks like in action.
Some of these Shoppable Pictures will be very similar to Instagram influencers’ posts: a beautiful photo with the product as an auxiliary focus. Others will be more similar to product reviews: someone will describe their personal experience with a product, with the product image taking center stage. This approach to “socializing” product reviews is interesting, and Amazon is even letting users upload their past product reviews to Spark as of July 29th. Anything that encourages customers to write more (and more detailed) product reviews is a plus in my book.
In order to pre-populate the social network with content, it appears that Amazon has paid publishers and social media influencers to post on Spark. Whether Amazon will continue to do this in the future, or if this was just for the purposes of getting Spark off the ground, we don’t yet know.
One final note: Amazon is also using Spark as an opportunity to shift away from their model of rewarding Top Reviewers to now start rewarding “Enthusiasts.” Enthusiasts are like Top Reviews in that they’re rewarded for writing reviews, but they’ll additionally be rewarded for being active and posting on Spark. You’ll see the Enthusiast badge on their Spark posts in addition to the reviews they write.
What This Means for Sellers
There’s no question about it: Spark creates a big opportunity for sellers to up their marketing game. Just how big that opportunity is, however, is yet to be seen.
It appears that brands are allowed to post directly onto Spark; content uploading is not just limited to users. However, it’s unclear what can be defined as a “brand.” Not every seller on Amazon will be able to post on behalf of the brands they sell, otherwise we’d see an onslaught of conflicting messages from resellers. However, Brand Registered sellers may get permission to post directly under their brand.
It also seems unlikely that Amazon would offer anything à la Facebook Sponsored Post, since they’re already making money from a) the Prime subscriptions of active users and b) the increased sales. Thus, it looks like any direct brand marketing will have to be reliant on shoppers following your brand… unless you can make use of influencers.
However, we do know the main way that Spark will serve sellers: as a platform to take advantage of influencers, much like how Instagram currently works. Posts by influencers are easy to spot, as they are required to include the hashtag “#sponsored” in their posts.
You might think that Amazon started a bit late, since Instagram has already been running the influencer game for some time now. Indeed, instagram’s top influencers charge upwards of $25,000 per sponsored post.
However, Amazon Spark has a number of user benefits that advantage it over Instagram. The main one: it’s linked directly to Amazon. Shoppers interested in products touted by influencers had to hunt them down indirectly, and they would sometimes arrive at a product’s page only to learn that it was out of stock or no longer offered. This won’t be an issue on Amazon Spark, since shoppers can access the Amazon page of a product with a couple of clicks, and they’ll be notified (or won’t see the prompt at all) if the item is out of stock.
Will It Succeed?
The age-old question whenever a new social network comes into existence: will anyone care about it? Fortunately, we think that Amazon Spark also has a fairly good shot at gaining a foothold as a relevant social network. New social networks are always an uncertain thing: many companies have tried to build their own social networks from the ground up and flopped. However, unlike many failed social networks, Amazon Spark isn’t building its user base from scratch — they have their entire clientele to source from.
Of course, not all 200-million-plus users will become active Spark users. However, Spark will likely perform best with Amazon users who are already avid shoppers. Therefore, the users that are the most engaged with the platform are also the most likely to buy, making your marketing work easier.
There’s also something to be said for Spark’s unapologetic embrace of shopping first. Marketing on other social networks always feels like fighting back against the connotations of the “Sponsored” label. Many people go on social networks to see posts from their friends or have a laugh, so when they see ads interspersed between those, it can feel like a rude interruption.
In practical terms, what this means for the marketer is less engagement. People tend not to like ads (or anything, for that matter) being forced upon them. However, Spark makes no false pretenses about its goals: product discovery and users buying more things. Active Spark users will buy more because of what they came to do, not in spite of it. In many ways, Spark is another form of inbound marketing: although you’re still marketing outwards to consumers, they’ve come to Spark looking to buy in the first place. In this sense, running a successful marketing campaign on Spark may be more beneficial than usual, as conversion rates will be much higher than traditional social media marketing.
Potential Issues With Spark
As mentioned before, the extent to which sellers and brand owners will be able to control their brands is unclear. Using influencers is great, but being able to further build a brand identity through Spark posts would be even better.
If sellers are limited to making use of influencers and sponsored posts, then we run into another problem: not every product is amenable to Instagram-style influencer marketing. Clothes, accessories, bags, cosmetics, sure, but a candid photo with a set of replacement drain plugs might not make the same numbers.
There’s also the minor issue of incentivization. Since Spark is partially composed of product reviews, and Amazon forbids sellers from incentivizing product reviews, not every type of post on Spark will be able to be sponsored. Of course, you should still be able to purchase sponsored posts from influencers: influencer sponsored posts are a fundamentally different system from the old incentivized reviews and review clubs (since influencers must have a following to be valued), and Amazon should recognize that.
Finally, let’s consider a bit of a doom-and-gloomy alternative: we also run the risk of Spark’s abandonment by end users. Early users of Spark have noted that a large percentage (close to 40%) of Spark post use the #sponsored hashtag, a required inclusion for influencers who have been compensated. Although this is nothing more than anecdotal evidence, and the ratio likely depends on which interests you're following, it's still somewhat worrying. Now, Spark was built with shopping in mind, so this type of direct marketing may not look as intrusive to users. However, the big selling point of Amazon since its creation was the ability to hear what your peers think about products, not just what brands want you to think. So, even though Spark is all about buying, hearing about it from sponsored influencers still feels less authentic than regular Amazon users posting about their experiences. If #sponsored posts begin to drown out posts by actual users, Spark runs the risk of becoming a one-sided wasteland: all influencers, no customers. We’ll see if Amazon can sell the “product discovery” angle hard enough to avoid this fate.
If you want to start playing the influencer game on Amazon, Spark is the place for you. If you’re still unconvinced, I don’t blame you: Spark is still very new, and it seems prudent to wait a month or two until opinions and usage start to settle down. Then, you can get a better picture of how much investing in this form of marketing will be worth to you.
What are your thoughts on Spark? Have you tried any marketing on the platform yet? Let us know in the comments below!