Social commerce is the new buzzword in e-commerce, and many new companies are offering tools that facilitate incentivised referrals to online customers at checkout. Although in principle I would applaud efforts to help retailers increase sales, this type of paid advocacy could in reality end up doing more harm than good to premium brands that really value their reputation and their relationship with their customers.

To achieve strong advocacy, the entire ecommerce activity should be focussed on the customer, delivering an engaging and positive experience that is easy-to-use, rewarding and enjoyable.

As socially-connected human beings, it is an inevitable part of the process that we share our great experiences with friends and family and encourage them to participate too. By all means make it easier for your customers to do this, but is paying them for it really the answer?

Where does the real value of ecommerce lie for a brand online? Multiple sales at a discounted rate, which may ultimately cheapen your offering? Or genuine, lasting advocacy that arises from a high quality, personal shopping experience? And what are consumers most likely to respond to?

With the ubiquity of social networking, consumers are increasingly web savvy and desensitised to the strength of a ‘like’ referral. They are also fiercely protective over their personal social network – it’s a network of trust and brands tread a perilous path if they assume they can just intrude in this space.

Having said all this, there is no doubt there is still a place for group loyalty schemes and some retailers will benefit from the discounting model. But taking the concept of ‘social commerce’ too far and violating this personal aspect will ultimately upturn the values that social networking is built upon and online retailers will have to think again.