In the past, Internet retailers have tried to capture the interest of their clientele by creating social networks – Facebook clones of their own. They felt that if they had a social network, their regulars could post their opinions, have their friends come on and pass advice around in a friendly manner. But of course no one wants to be part of a social network just to share what they think of a store’s products. So now, Internet retailers are in the process of exploring how they can move their social networking idea to a major like Facebook, MySpace or Twitter.

People are a lot more comfortable making a purchase when they can get their friends to tell them what they think of it – even if they are only virtual friends, and not real ones. Facebook recognizes this social tendency and has released tools that will help, like Facebook Connect. When Facebook Connect is integrated into a retailer’s website, Facebook members who visit any product page will be able to see reviews written by their trusted Facebook friends. MySpace and Twitter have similar products out too. The trouble is though that these APIs are not simple to implement, and retailers find they need to invest a lot in integrating a social networking feature into their website. There are satellite businesses, like TurnTo Networks of New York, that help retailers implement Facebook Connect, charging a commission for their services.

The tool Fluid Social does this for a $1000 fee. Retailers report that visitors to their websites who use Facebook Connect while doing their browsing, have a conversion rate – from window shopper to actual paying customer – that is about 25% higher than for regular visitors. Some retailers report a 50% jump in overall traffic at their site, and attribute it to increased confidence in visitors that they can find dependable information and make a well-advised purchase.

There are lots of ways for a retailer to test the social networking waters without spending a bundle. Some try by simply using a Facebook link on their retail website. Others simply make open source coding available that would allow loyal customers to do the coding themselves and add a social networking feature to their website for free. Yet again, Facebook and Twitter may not be really that profitable themselves, but they provide an indispensable service that helps others be profitable.