Think about the last major purchase you made. How did you make the decision? Consumer Reports or reading reviews online? Trusting a company’s advertising or asking your network for recommendations?
The way people shop for products has changed. According to Mike Volpe (@mvolpe) of Hubspot, it’s because the way consumers communicate has changed. People spend more time on social media than email. There are 200 million people on the “Do Not Call” list in the U.S., and 86% of people use a DVR to skip over advertisements.
Volpe says the era of paying for advertising to drive sales is out, and the era of using inbound marketing to engage and attract sales is in. While today’s consumers are ushering in a new era of shopping, retailers must take notice of what Scott Welty (@scottweltyjda) of JDA Software calls Generation C: In a recent article, “Making the Sale When the Path to Purchase Leads to Your Door,” Welty explains that retail trends are driven not only by today’s volatile economy, but by the growing influence of tech-savvy consumers known as Gen C, with the “C” standing for “connected, content-centric, communicating, computerized, community-oriented and always clicking.”
Generation C ― born between 1990 and 2000 ― represents a community of digitally connected consumers willing to partner with brands and retailers as well as with other customers to review, produce and consume content and experiences in real time.
The rise of Gen C and social media can represent new opportunities for retailers. Today, people are less interested in what brands advertise and more interested in what their networks are saying about those brands and their products. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook provide businesses with new channels to promote their wares and build brand loyalty as well as gather information about new markets. More importantly, they offer an opportunity to tap into shoppers’ likes and dislikes as well as the ability to track consumer opinions and trends. Forget the expensive focus groups ― now retailers have direct access to a trove of information that can help them monitor consumer tastes as well as plan product lines and inventory.
Today, it’s crucial for retail companies to invest in social media. According to Brian J. Dunn, CEO of Best Buy, the reality is that social media is “where the national conversation is taking place today. I’m a heavy user of Twitter and Facebook, and I learn a lot from the time I spend on those platforms. I interact directly with customers and employees. Ultimately, I believe that Best Buy’s message has to be where the people are. Today, that means being on social networks.”
However, the focus for retailers should be on doing social media well. Here are a few steps to help you get social-business ready.
Define A Winning Social Media Strategy
Building a strong framework for a social media strategy starts with planning. First, define your objectives. Will you simply listen and monitor, or do you intend to innovate and connect? Your objectives will help you determine which channels are relevant to your market — from launching a blog to building a presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube.
Second, find out where your consumers are participating in the conversation. What’s your demographic, and what are the most popular channels your audience members are using? Who or what is influencing their purchasing decisions? According to Volpe, social media is not about the tool; rather, it’s about rethinking your entire business to take advantage of an inbound marketing strategy. So, understanding your audience is key to knowing in which channels to invest.
Strategy Will Determine Your Social Media Direction
"Before you journey, observe the wind carefully, detect its direction, and then follow it. You will get to your destination twice as fast with half the effort," Ching-Ning Chu a Chinese American business consultant, once said. According to SiriusDecisions, a coordinated strategy is in place in fewer than 20% of BtoB companies that use social media.
When building a strategy, various departments and individuals within your organization must work together to build an enforceable policy, develop an education program, and decide which channels you're going to integrate into your marketing plan. Your strategy should take into consideration how you're going to integrate all stakeholders — IT, HR, legal, executives and employees. This level of planning is key for getting executives to buy into your social media plan. Gaining their approval will help you build a relationship with your executives so that you can work together to align corporate objectives with social media strategy and goals. A well-thought-out plan will serve as a compass for your strategy.
Make Your Social Media Actionable
According to Volpe, retailers should rethink their entire business strategy; Think about how social media, search engines, blogging and all the data available can help you reinvent the way you approach marketing. Too many brands today don’t fully harness the power of the social web and data. Their mentality is that if we push enough information out, people will consume it. This is untrue.
Today’s tech-savvy consumers want engagement. They want to know you are listening and willing to take action if necessary. Wal-Mart, for example, is taking cues from customers via social media in developing its services and selecting products. Don’t feel you need to use social media channels as another news dissemination channel; instead, think about ways to leverage the trove of data consumers share and learn to use it to make your social media actionable. This will help build brand loyalty and engagement.
Getting Social-Business Ready Is Not Free
Before you dive in, understand the investments that will be required to do social media well. This means understanding your resources and what's realistic in terms of fully committing to these channels to meet your objectives. Planning requires attention and time because social media is about authenticity, engagement, consistency and commitment.
In conclusion, times are changing and retailers must adapt to remain relevant and competitive. A good place to start is to start observing other leading brands such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy to find out how they’re integrating social media into their overall business strategies. These early adopters did a lot of internal legwork to set a strong foundation to empower their companies and employees to socially engage and take that strategy to market. This is at the heart of how you do social media well.
Supply Chain Nation Blog: Retail’s New Rules: Are You Ready?
Retail Touchpoints: Making the Sale When the Path to Purchase Leads to Your Door