Shoppable Video: Using YouTube Annotations for Social Commerce


Written by on Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Juicy Couture using external annotations to link to product pages in their latest video

With social media growing up, today’s core challenge seems to be how engagement, things like re-tweets, likes and video views, can be turned into sales. Google’s announcement of YouTube merch annotations went largely unnoticed in the media last week, even though it’s a major step in introducing shoppable video to the mainstream.

To those new to YouTube: video annotations are elements, mainly links and text boxes, placed on top of a video and shown while the video is playing. With standard internal annotations, anyone with a YouTube account can link from one video to another to connect two related videos, or promote their channel to turn viewers into subscribers.

YouTube’s new merch annotations, on the other hand, allow bloggers and other online micro-entrepreneurs to use videos for driving traffic to licensed merchandise they sell on e-commerce platforms like Spreadshirt, Shopify and iTunes. In practice, this means that an indie band can take fans shopping for music or band t-shirts directly from a video, free of charge – a prime example of social commerce in action.

Although merch annotations are somewhat groundbreaking, linking to external sites is not a new feature. It has been available for a few years to brands such as Juicy Couture, Nokia and ASOS in the YouTube External Annotations Beta Program and to nonprofit organizations in the YouTube Nonprofit Program. Although not as flexible, video call-to-action overlays have also been on offer to the broader advertiser base in YouTube markets.

Google knows that the easier it is for video publishers to attribute sales to videos, the more YouTube investment it will see. It needs to build a profitable business around shoppable video, but without the shopping distracting users from consuming more and more adorable user-generated cat videos and YouTube’s original programming.

With this in mind, Google recently optimized YouTube search for watch time, meaning it gives preference to videos that make viewers stay on the platform longer. It looks like going forward, commerce-minded publishers will have to balance between their desire to link out and getting people to spend more time watching branded content. Sounds healthy, doesn’t it?

ASOS is currently trialing with shoppable video on their brand channel. Only problem: the shopping elements do not work outside the YouTube custom channel page.

About the author

Vilja Sormunen looks after publishing and distribution at online video agency KLOK. She has previously worked in social marketing at Nokia as the global YouTube channel lead, online marketing at e-commerce company Spreadshirt and public relations at TBWA/Helsinki. Vilja studied international business at the Helsinki School of Economics and wrote her Master's thesis on viral marketing.