Earlier today, three of the biggest names in social network land — Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat — all announced major pushes towards mobile payments. But it's not your friends they want to help you funnel money to — it's advertisers.
The biggest problem any social network faces today is turning a profit. If you ask users to pay from the start, you're essentially dooming yourself to failure (Remember App.net?). If you try to add in a fee later, you're facing revolt. That leaves social networks with only one real option: Opening the advertising floodgates.
But hocking wares in an elegant, non-intrusive way ain't easy. People were furious when Instagram brought in advertisers, but that fury (toward Instagram and toward apps with ads in general) has grown into a resigned tolerance. We've come to terms that this is just how it has to be. That doesn't mean the strife is oe'r though. It means social networks are now free to kick it up a notch. Most of them have to. Display ads alone just won't cut it. Welcome to the social media shopping small.
Facebook — unfathomably massive and early to go public — has been the most open to embracing advertisers throughout its lifetime. Of course, not all of its efforts have succeeded. In fact most didn't. Facebook Gifts was fun for about a week before we all forgot it ever existed, and its newest attempt at reviving that with gift cards didn't fare much better. Now, instead of trying to shuffle us all to other pages, Facebook is going wedge a Buy button right in between our friends' baby photos and status updates. And Facebook isn't just going to be acting as the middle man — it's going to be the one actually processing the transaction. All it has to do is convince you to type in your credit card information one time. After that, a new pair of shoes will be but a click away. And as an added bonus — to you and Facebook — you never have to leave your Newsfeed.
Twitter has traditionally been a lot more hesitant to welcome advertisers than Facebook, but now, it's wasting no time in becoming your in-home storefront window. Just a few hours ago, Twitter announced that it had recently acquired CardSpring, a platform that essentially allows retailers to sell straight to the consumer through cards on other sites. And Twitter is being incredibly upfront that this acquisition will lead to "in-the-moment commerce experiences." Soon, you could be buying any number of things straight from tweets. That's great for retailers and Twitter alike because of one, little thing it and it alone can offer: the retweet. Yep, one CardSpring-enabled tweet could be seen by millions of eyes thanks to consumers themselves who keep shoving it back into the stream.
Last but not least, Snapchat is subtly inching its way towards joining its two, more established associate-rivals as a digital storefront. Just earlier this week, the company filed for two payment-related trademarks — a curious move for an app that's all about minimal commitment. The trademarks focus on "[the] electronic transfer of money for others; providing electronic processing of electronic funds transfer, ACH, credit card, debit card, electronic check and electronic, mobile and online payments." This is very likely the app's first step towards turning a profit. Right now, there's no way for advertisers to let you click through their snaps, but with this new payment model, Snapchat could very well start to slow itself down long enough for you to pay up.
Just because these companies are trying to turn social media into a mini-mart doesn't necessarily mean it will work. It's all contingent on whether or not they can convince us to enter our credit card information — which, considering how wary we are of sending our data out into the ether, could be an incredibly hard sell. Bad stuff can happen to it.
But once that's done, a whole world of goods is one disgustingly, tantalizingly convenient button-click away. The worst part for your wallet and the best part for Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat? It's probably going to work.