Social commerce — using social media sites to drive sales — is growing fast, with a 60% increase in revenue originating from this area since last year (Business Insider). In fact, nearly half (42%) of retailers are now active on social commerce in some way (Gartner). But are they really making the most of the opportunities it has to offer?

Kenshoo and DataPop’s latest social commerce index report found a gap between opportunity and reality. Discoverability and engaging customers are critical factors in social commerce success, so the study analysed how retailers’ score according to these two metrics. By discoverability we mean how easily retailers’ social posts are found by consumers, either through searches or through feeds which the social sites personalise for each user. Engagement refers to the extent to which consumers interact with a social post, through Likes, Re-Pins, Comments, Shares, Follows and Saves.

The study analysed tens of thousands of Pins and social posts, spanning 13 retail verticals and covered thousands of products most relevant to consumer intent (based on the keywords used to search for information). Social sites studied included Pinterest, Polyvore, Houzz, and Wanelo.

There are three key learnings from the data:

1. Retailers that align content with consumer intent are more discoverable

As in every online activity, it is vital that content on social commerce sites is easily discoverable or can be identified by the social site as relevant to the consumer’s need. This means retailers need to understand how consumers are searching for their products on these channels. This should be familiar to anyone with experience of search marketing, as the same techniques are used to emphasise relevance on sites such as Pinterest.

The Kenshoo/DataPop study found that using descriptive language in post titles contributed to consistently high rankings. So instead of just describing a product as ‘dress’, the top ranking posts for women’s fashion added other attributes such as the colour, material and style. Retailers also need to make sure they are using the same words that consumers use to describe products if they want to increase visibility via the social sites’ search algorithms and feed curation technology, as well as appeal directly to consumers.

2. Product focused social posts drive most engagement

Through Pinterest’s new business analytics it is now easy for marketers to see which of their Pins are most engaging, and driving the greatest number of re-Pins and Likes. Analysis found that those Pins that focus on a specific product, rather than brand-building or lifestyle content, score much higher when it comes to engagement. In short, over 70% of the most engaging Pins are product-focused, showing what the primary consumer intent on social commerce sites is. That’s not to say that retailers shouldn’t invest in brand-building on these channels, just that the balance needs to tip towards product.

So make product information readily available and ensure that your images attract consumer attention. For example, the research found that products photographed in an authentic setting gained an average of 159% more Likes and Re-Pins than those shot on a simple white background.

3. Richer information and new tools increases engagement

As they evolve, social sites are rolling out tools to make content more detailed and therefore more customised to a consumer search. For example, in 2013 Pinterest introduced “Rich Pins,” which allow retailers to add price, availability, and custom titles to product Pins.

These tools deliver real results. In DataPop and Kenshoo’s analysis of retailers’ most successful product Pins, Rich Pins drove 20% more engagement per Pin than those without the rich product information.

Yet 60% of product Pins have not yet been converted into Rich Pins. Addressing this gap would be a simple way of increasing engagement (and sales). As with social media sites, retailers should also add Pinterest, Polyvore, and Wanelo buttons to their product pages in order to encourage sharing of content.

Social commerce is still in its infancy but growing fast. But many retailers are still not making the most of the opportunities it has to offer. For example, earlier research from Kenshoo and DataPop found that just 7.2% of retailers’ top selling products are posted to social commerce sites. Identifying these sales stars – such as those that score well on search product listing ads (PLAs) – gives a start point for selecting the right products to promote on social commerce sites.

Retailers therefore need to take the time to understand social commerce and then use the latest techniques to make their information discoverable if they want to drive greater engagement (and ultimately) sales.