Amazon’s new Spark social feed wants to be ‘Instagram for products’

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Amazon has introduced Amazon Spark, a very Instagram-like social shopping feed. Not all of the images and posts are tied to products but most are — and can be purchased on Amazon.

It resides within the Amazon app and there are many ways ways to describe it: a social network for shopping, a “shoppable feed,” a shopping Q&A community, and so on. We can debate whether it’s more like Pinterest or Instagram (it draws “inspiration” from both). The objective is pretty clearly to create social engagement on the Amazon app that will lead directly to product purchases.

Upon “signing up,” users are asked to identify topics of interest from an extensive menu. The list extends beyond product categories to various lifestyle areas and interests (e.g., travel, art & design, humor, fitness). Amazon recognizes that if this were only about pushing products it wouldn’t be as appealing as a broader, interest-based network that also includes products in some larger context.

I haven’t spoken directly to Amazon about this but my guess is that target user is female 20+ to 50 or so. Below is a collection of screens that illustrates the flow and user experience. From a distance it looks very much like Instagram. Not all images are tied to products; there are moms and kids at the beach, people hiking and pictures of pets in addition to Amazon Echoes and waffle makers.

But where there is a product for sale in an image (see above), you’ll typically find a yellow circle or bubble. Tapping that takes you to a product image and description and then to the Amazon product details page. As contributors, users are prompted to “share something interesting” and invited to upload a Photo, Product, Link or Poll.

While it’s open to everyone — anyone can sign up and follow users, scroll through the feed and buy products — to post you have to belong to Prime. Beyond this you must have spent $50 on Amazon to fully participate in the community. The threshold for full participation in Spark is thus spending at least $149 on Amazon:

To contribute to Customer Reviews or Customer Answers, Spark, post on Customer Discussion Forums, or to follow other contributors, you must have spent at least $50 on using a valid credit or debit card. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the $50 minimum. In addition, to contribute to Spark you must also have a paid Prime subscription (free trials do no qualify). You do not need to meet this requirement to read content posted by other contributors or post Customer Questions, create or modify Profile pages, Lists, or Registries.

While some may argue this is Amazon solving a “product discovery” problem for users, it’s really just creating a new channel to help promote product sales — users don’t really have a major product discovery problem. One immediate question is whether product sellers can participate or promote their products.

The short answer is no: “In order to preserve the integrity of Community content, content and activities consisting of advertising, promotion, or solicitation (whether direct or indirect) is not allowed . . .” However, Amazon does allow those with “a financial interest” in a product or company to participate in Spark under limited circumstances with disclosure:

You may post an answer to a question asked through the Questions and Answers feature (but not a question itself) regarding products or services for which you have a financial or close personal connection to the brand, seller, author, or artist, but only if you clearly and conspicuously disclose the connection (e.g., “I represent the brand for this product.”). We automatically label some answers from sellers or manufacturers, in which case additional disclosure is not necessary.

You may post content other than Customer Reviews and Questions and Answers regarding products or services for which you have a financial or close personal connection to the brand, seller, author, or artist, but only if you clearly and conspicuously disclose the connection (e.g., “I was paid for this post.”). However, no brand or business may participate in the Community in a way (including by advertising, special offers, or any other “call to action”) that diverts Amazon customers to another non-Amazon website, service, application, or channel for the purpose of conducting marketing or sales transactions…

This policy immediately opens the door for “paid influencers” to participate in Spark, which they undoubtedly will (I’m already seeing “#sponsored” on posts). If Spark can develop enough usage I imagine it will become an effective channel.

Overall, Amazon has been pretty thoughtful about the Spark experience. But will people be willing to invest time in yet another network, in addition to Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter? The thought fills me with fatigue.

Right now Spark is US and iPhone only.

About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.


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