After weeks of waiting, Minneapolis startup 8thBridge has officially launched Graphite. Described as many different things over the course of today’s livestream event led by CEO Wade Gerten, in the simplest sense, Graphite is a suite of plugins built for the next generation of social commerce.
Of course, there are nuanced complexities to which Gerten calls it, “The most innovative thing happening in social commerce since we started the category in 2009.”
“The future of e-commerce is around people, not products…and we’ve learned a lot about what’s working and what’s not on this mission to reshape commerce around people,” he admits in the first minutes, pointing to his controversial (since removed) ‘F-commerce gets an F’ quote in the Bloomberg article that he would later rebut on Forbes.
“So why hasn’t social commerce put up the numbers from a revenue point of view?” Gerten candidly asks, laying on some background context:
- 2009 was portability (1-800 flowers)
- 2010 was participatory (Delta)
- 2011 was personalized (Ticketmaster / Open Graph)
“Over the years, the number one thing we’ve learned is, that people — not brands — drive social commerce. Number two, social commerce has been very limited from a distribution point of view…99% of customer interactions and engagement are occurring on existing channels and 1% is actually on social media channels…real scale requires more wholistic integration,” Gerten says.
The first lesson is understandable considering the volume of exploitative marketing hubris that social commerce ushered into the otherwise human platforms; the second, is what’s more interesting. In addition to Gerten’s 99%/1% conclusion, Forrester Research data shows that 64% of brand engagement is still happening on the retailers main website, despite the emphasis on F & otherwise social commerce.
Graphite can be dissected into three core parts:
1) Multi-channel social expressions
“The last thing we need are more third party sharing buttons, rather it’s about enabling websites with easily customizable, expressive, and brand consistent [iconography],” Gerten says, in describing a highly controlled environment backed by a simple UI dashboard. “It’s lightweight, IT friendly, and can be integrated in under 90 minutes.” The parallels between what Facebook has been historically trying to seamlessly accomplish across the web and this aspect of Graphite are uncanny, especially considering the role that open graph is playing moving forward. Facebook’s ‘like’ button an early example “that just wasn’t expressive or specific enough,” he adds.
2) Shop-able stories
With the Facebook platform approaching 1 billion users, it doesn’t make sense to totally abandon the original mini catalog/storefront online shopping experiences that put 8thBridge (then Alvenda) on the map. “It’s a very rich shopping experience that marketers love…and it stays within Facebook, which we know has 18x lift in engagement vs. linking off site.”
3) Interest Graph API
The ‘Interest Graph API’ enables cross-communication with existing 3rd party products for smarter communications through better data and personalized recommendations. Seemingly the least (specifically) discussed aspect of Graphite, it’s plausible that this feature alone could power the next generation of social commerce capabilities, provided that Graphite can move 8thBridge into more of a platform long term.
In closing, we’re introduced to a dozen or so brands already “unleashing advocacy” with Graphite, including Hallmark, American Apparel, Elle, Guitar Center and Avon. Cutting through it all, the biggest opportunity here is for the formation of a data layer that could provide 8thBridge with unparalleled market insights into the real time world (and future) of online retailing. It’s too early to tell if Graphite will be the game changer which it’s touted to be…can it go wide enough fast enough while demonstrating a meaningful ROI for the early adopters?
In the meantime, one thing is for sure: there’s a remarkable amount of ingenuity at play here.