How Latin America’s e-commerce behemoth finally embraced social

Not aggressively creating a social strategy years ago with a site like Facebook was one of the biggest mistakes of my career, says Daniel Rabinovich, CTO of Latin American e-commerce pioneer MercadoLibre, in a talk with the Geeks on a Plane group, in Buenos Aires, Argentina last week. MercadoLibre (“free market”) is Latin America’s largest e-commerce destination, and the over-a-decade-old site has more than 66 million registered users across Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.
The e-commerce behemoth is one of the winners of the web 1.0 world, and managed to survive the dotcom bust and thrive into a massive player and public company. Now it’s dominating the Latin American market that is starting to rapidly move online, use credit cards and buy stuff. But it only really started a targeted social strategy in recent months.
A couple years ago when Facebook and MercadoLibre (s MELI) first starting talking about integrating more closely, Rabinovich says he and his team were worried about Facebook directly competing with them in Latin America. They were also concerned about sharing all their data with Facebook, unsure of how effective the upside would be. “We were just plain stupid,” says Rabinovich. While MercadoLibre has gotten about 30 percent of its traffic from Google, it was getting almost no traffic from Facebook.
Fast forward up to a couple months ago, and the MercadoLibre team went back to Facebook and told them they were ready to work more closely together. About a month and a half ago, Rabinvich says, MercadoLibre Argentina launched the company’s first deep integration with Facebook, and the results were nothing less than “amazing.” Days ago, the company launched it in Brazil, too.
In about 25 days, MercadoLibre had gathered 1.2 million Facebook Connects, which was an e-commerce viral explosion that surprised even Facebook, says Rabinovich. While the Facebook Connect pop up only has a 15 percent conversion rate, MercadoLibre went from having no social sales to having “a couple points in our gross merchandized volume coming from social.”
We previously missed how viral it can be if one of your friends suggests or notes that they bought something, says Rabinovich. The recipient of your message has the same nature as you, and the social viral network has to be between buyers — not between sellers and buyers.
Part of the reason for this recent social success is that Argentinians and Brazilians are avid Facebook users. Brazil is Facebook’s second largest market in terms of users after the U.S., and Brazil is also MercadoLibre’s largest market by revenues.