On the heels of Facebook's July announcement that it is testing a "buy" button with a select group of businesses in the U.S., Twitter announced yesterday that it too is seeking to generate more cash from users by including a buy button in their feeds.

Twitter's latest strategy isn't surprising; the company already has tiptoed around the fringes of e-commerce with promotions in partnership with corporations like Amazon and Starbucks. By adding the hashtag #AmazonCart, users can easily add products to their Amazon carts. Want to buy a friend across the country a cup of coffee? That's easy; just send them a $5 Starbucks eGift using the tweet a coffee beta program.

With 19 partners already signed up to for beta testing, including rapper/record producer Pharrell, pop singer Rihanna, and British luxury fashion house Burberry jumping on board, small business owners may also be fascinated by this new opportunity.

According to Scott MacLeod, head of Experience Planning and Analytics at The VIA Agency, adding the buy feature might be good for business, but doesn't come without a downside.

"The hard sell in social media has rarely worked. At its heart, people still use social media for staying informed, inspired, and connected, not shopping," MacLeod says. "Twitter and other platforms trying to integrate e-commerce services will have to walk a thin line between capitalizing on the reach of social media and disenfranchising their users."

MacLeod believes that Twitter is launching the new buy button in a smart way, but he has an important reminder: "It's always been about people: who they are, what they're interested in, what their relationship is to a brand, how we can be useful or valuable to them." For most brands, MacLeod believes there are probably easier ways to generate e-commerce revenue.

MacLeod cites these pros and cons of Twitter's newest e-commerce vision.


A new way to monetize

The buy button gives brands with a strong built-in following a new way to monetize their base through product purchases. Twitter is already starting to go beyond merely using its platform for shopping and has actually looked ahead at working with bands and even causes like Nature Conservancy and GLAAD. It is a seamless and easy way for the more than 270 million active Twitter users to buy those shoes they saw in Lucky Magazine or donate to the Red Cross, for example, during a disaster without swiping off of their Twitter app.

The change helps make the second screen a potential moneymaker

This new offering should be a strong fit with Twitter's second-screen ad platform, Twitter Amplify, where brands and media companies can capture the excitement of TV and distribute those moments to fans. For example, when someone sees content on television they could be prompted to buy on their tablet through Amplify.

More precise targeting

E-commerce on Twitter gives brands better data on Twitter followers. It would be known who they follow, where they live, what they're interested in and, now, what people buy, improving ad targetability. This also allows brands to cultivate communities of loyal fans and interact with them to get their opinions of products and what they are interested in buying from their company. And most importantly, the ease of the "buy" feature allows for one-step shopping straight from the source, potentially cutting out costly middlemen.


It's a traditional e-commerce tactic on a nontraditional ecommerce channel

Push to buy is admittedly more convenient than other hashtag-based commerce products Twitter has tried (see #amazonshop). That sounds great, right? However, the challenge is that the buy feature could completely backfire with Twitter's traditional platform, which was created so people could get news, information, and gossip in their feed. These people who use Twitter as a feed will be a hard sell and may actually drop off because users might feel their favorite brand is more interested in pushing products than what they have to say.

Security could be a concern

Twitter's buy button might be an incredibly convenient platform for users, but it could make Twitter a bigger target for hackers looking to crack into peoples' credit card information. We've all seen Twitter get hacked before (or even overloaded), so the question remains if the platform can combat cyberthreats and an influx of traffic when that exclusive item goes on sale or charities are looking for disaster relief.

It's a potential distraction

This news has the potential to divert brands' attention from other social media platforms that could be stronger social commerce opportunities for them. It is important for brands and businesses to stay focused and not to do anything that drastic first, or risk alienating customers. For example, Pinterest is designed to function as a virtual catalog and already drives significant traffic to e-commerce sites--yet we still see many brands underutilizing the platform relative to others like Facebook and Twitter.

Social media is constantly evolving, and with these leaps and bounds the platform has made come rewards and risks for brands. The new Twitter buy feature potentially opens an entirely new universe of possibilities for brands on Twitter, but also can bring about some negative attention. Consumers just want simple, one-click, all-encompassing social media and shopping is a natural progression of these platforms' simplicity. The most important thing right now is to listen to the customer--look at the community--on social media channels. That's where companies can find most of the answers.

Published on: Sep 9, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.