Retailers, Analysts And Solution Providers Share Social Media Analytics Best Practices

This is Part V and the final installment of Retail TouchPoints’ multi-part feature exploring trends and developments in social media analytics, the business intelligence it provides, and the real-life applications underway at leading retailers nationwide. This section highlights recommendations
from several of the retailers, analysts and providers mentioned in RTP’s five-part story, all of whom are dedicated to the advancement of social media analytics and the retailing power it provides.

“Me-Tailing” signifies the retail industry’s move from transaction-based commerce to real-time marketing of brand experiences that satisfy consumers’ emotional needs and aspirations. More savvy consumers not only expect but demand these personalized communications, offers and experiences, and are entrenched in social media to research and share information about them.

A treasure trove of customer-centric information exists in these conversations. Click-and-mortar retailers are combing social sites, blogs, forums, video posts, visual curation channels and other online communities to harness and analyze this data. The resulting analytics generate powerful business intelligence that can fuel the most effective retail strategies coming from the industry’s best Me-Tailers.


Following is advice from several industry leaders immersed in the power of social media analytics.

Use these links to access comments from specific contributors, or scroll to read the entire article:

  1. Walmart
  2. Pacific Sunwear
  3. Chicos
  4. Bonobos
  5. Aberdeen
  6. Gartner
  7. Buddy Media
  8. Curalate
  9. Oracle
  10. Salesforce Radian6
  11. SAS


Walmart, Tracy Chu, @WalmartLabs’ Director of Product Management (and head of Walmart’s social media analytics efforts): “Retailers increasingly are finding that social media analytics can help them ‘get to know what they don’t know.’ While they find social media analytics useful for tracking brands and products to anticipate consumer interest, but this requires, of course, that the retailer already be aware of these brands and products in the first place, and to understand the key influencers of their target customer base.

“Anyone investing in social media analytics should be receptive to experimenting and exploring new applications. At Walmart, we have found that the combination of these new technologies with the real-world institutional know-how of retailers fosters innovative ways of looking at problems and creates exciting possibilities for improving decision making. The industry still is in the early days in the evolution of social media analytics. Beyond brand listening and evaluating marketing effectiveness, there are countless use cases and decisions where social media analytics can be impactful. 

“For example, we are helping merchants better plan product assortment, mix, and local distribution in categories ranging from electronics, home appliances and toys to diet supplements and beverages. We also have explored using social media analytics to evaluate new real estate projects, plan store layout, identify business risks and compliance issues, and enhance employee communications.

“When looking for a social media analytics provider, find one that provides analytics data spanning back a year or more, since this will help gauge social activity of a current event with a more well understood historical event.”

Pacific Sunwear (PacSun), Michael Frank, Social Media Strategist: “There will be a lot of information to absorb, so take your time, evaluate the business needs and objectives and build a custom strategy to fit your brand and fans. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Analytics will continue to grow, as will social media, so it is important to stay ahead of the game as much as possible. In this fast-moving environment, looking very closely at the data will give you very valuable insight into the consumer base and help your stores/brand in every way, shape and form.

“I advise retailers to dedicate a social strategist or entire team that can apply the analytics and report back in a quick-response fashion. Social media moves so swiftly and requires so much scrutiny to the details that data and insights can get lost or left behind without dedicated attention to them.

“In addition, analytics is all about looking at the entire social space to extract information about retail experiences as well as demographics, psychographics, trends, etc.; deciding what that data means for your product or brand; then moving your marketing and/or customer service to the next level.

“And since the results of social media analytics touch so many departments, it needs to be embraced and supported by the entire company.”

Chico’s, White House Black Market, Soma Intimates, Jessica Wells, VP, Social Marketing: “As marketers, we love data, but that data does you no good unless you do something with it. If you are going to employ a social media analytics tool, make sure you invest the proper time and resources in training, monitoring, analyzing and taking action on the data. Like most things in social, this is not an exact science.”

Bonobos, Craig Elbert, VP of Analytics: “Know what you want to measure and what the data will mean before engaging with a whole suite of metrics that you can’t optimize because you don’t fully understand the tool or even the end goal of your social media efforts. For example, we’ve seen retailers get preoccupied with obtaining record-high numbers of site visitors, ‘Likes,’ ‘Followers,’ etc., while ignoring the primary goal of social media, which is to engage and interact with customers. Clearly social media has the ability to drive traffic to web sites, but the vehicle wasn’t started to grow a brand ― it was developed for people to connect online about subjects and other people important to them. It’s a very personalized communications channel that we use here at Bonobos to humanize our brand.”

Bonobos, David Fudge, Director of Consumer Engagement and Innovation: “Don’t get hung up on audience metrics, but rather on getting your engagement metrics as high as possible. Some gauges include Facebook’s ‘people are talking’ metric, and Twitter’s replies, mentions and retweets. High engagement will broaden your reach, increase your audience, and even increase your referral traffic and revenue.”


Aberdeen, Trip Kucera, Senior Research Analyst, Marketing Effectiveness and Strategy: “When it comes to analytics, Aberdeen’s research shows that Best-in-Class companies — the top 20% performing companies — are 30% more likely than all other companies to connect social media with measureable business results, such as web traffic, marketing responses, or sales. However, companies should not think about social media as a unique, stand-alone channel, particularly when starting out, but as a broader trend around multi-channel marketing. As a practical matter, email and social media make a great power couple. For example, companies should make their emails social ― give customers compelling content and the ability to share it with their community ― and use social to drive actions, for instance, by promoting a sweepstakes or offering exclusive deals. This integration also supports better social media analytics by providing a way to measure the impact of social on these other channels.”

Gartner, Inc., Brian Blau, Research Director, Consumer Technology and Markets: “At some point the socialization of consumers all will be mobile. For example, there hundreds of millions of accounts on Facebook alone, but a growing percentage of those users are active via mobile. This is an opportunity for retailers to engage with customers in different ways than they ever did before, and use social media analytics tools to understand what those opportunities and how to engage with consumers in a particular locations.”

Solution Providers

Buddy Media, Jeff Ragovin, Chief Strategy Officer and Co-founder: “No other form of communication can deliver customer insight or brand messaging as do the social channels. As retailers increasingly turn to social media and commerce platforms to attract, connect, and share, as well as generate and increase revenues among target audiences, it is imperative that they publish content that engages and creates experiences for these consumers. For an accurate read on this success, brands are applying powerful analytics to discover in real time if the content they are providing is relevant and resonating.

“Analytics should measure engagement, spending habits, probability of intent to purchase, and the effectiveness of personal recommendations which drive commerce in a way that traditional advertising cannot. Data-driven customer insights from initial point of contact through point of purchase would not be possible without social analytics tools. For today’s brands, the impact of these tools is unrivaled; social media analytics truly are the epicenter for understanding, creating and maintaining customer loyalty.”

Curalate, Apu Gupta, CEO and Co-founder: “Looking to the future, we believe that while social media has had a heavy emphasis on people and places (such as ‘Likes,’ ‘Followers,’ and ‘Check Ins’), it increasingly will become about things. Sites such as Pinterest enable the industry to learn a great deal about what products matter to people at given retailers. Rather than viewing their social media channels as distinct, smart retailers are taking an integrated approach that uses their knowledge of what matters to people on Pinterest to drive up engagement rates on other social media channels. As people interact more directly and granularly with brands, the nature of analytics will need to evolve to become more product and thing centric. Newer social media analytics are attempting to help brands understand engagement at a product level, so that brands can form more meaningful relationships with consumers.”

Oracle, David Dorf, Senior Director of Technology Strategy: “I advise retailers to use social media analytics to focus on how customers are engaging. We’ve come a long way from counting ‘Likes’ and ‘Followers.’  Analytics answer questions about customers’ behaviors and preferences.  Do your customers respond better to questions, pictures or videos?  Do they like to show off, give opinions or tell stories?  Figure out the types of interactions that increase engagement with your brand and eventually lead to sales. Identify the influencers that are vocal and passionate about your brand then provide them the tools to disseminate your message on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Finally, for context, apply the same social media analytics to your competitors.  Scoring your brand in a vacuum means nothing, but comparing your score to your competitors’ helps measure your real progress.”

Salesforce Radian6, Rob Begg, VP of Marketing: “It’s very important to use social media analytics to listen to customers. Don’t just hope insights get generated, but streamline the power of analytics to solve specific real-life issues. Have a particular business problem or achievement goal in mind that can be tackled with answers to specific questions. For example: How do people feel about my store? What are the hot spots I need to address? I think I’m doing well compared to my competitors, but how do I prove it? When people visit my store, what aspects do they love versus a competitor’s store? These are basic yet very real business issues that can be solved by listening closely to consumers’ comments. Social media listening also is an easy and manageable way for retailers to embark on an analytics strategy.”

SAS, Wilson Raj, Global Customer Intelligence Director: “For retailers, social media marketing and associated analytics can certainly pay dividends. But the biggest payoff comes when retailers integrate social media into their multichannel activities to win the hearts and minds of customers. A study by Deloitte showed that ‘multichannel customers often spend three to four times more on retail purchases than their single-channel counterparts.’ A key survival strategy for retailers then is to identify, target, and nurture these high-value consumers.

“Multichannel retail customers dig deeper into their wallets but also digitally adept and demanding. They are extremely valuable customers that expect consistent, quality experiences from their retail brands across all channels. The imperative for retailers is to unceasingly extract actionable customer insights from social media and multichannel analytics to deliver superior customer experiences to these highly profitable retail customer segments.

“Retailers who fail to provide superior customer experiences suffer punitive consequences. A survey of online consumer behavior revealed that 41% of shoppers who encounter negative experiences either abandon the transaction entirely, or, worse, switch to an online or offline competitor. A staggering $55 billion was lost in lousy online customer experience alone. Even worse, when negative word-of-mouth (WOM) accelerates through social media, the loss is even more astronomical, with impacts to retailers’ brand perception, brand equity, and brand preference.

“The implications for all retailers are clear and profound. First, retail brands must use social media analytics to surface social content and experiences to drive changes in brand perception. This means incorporating pertinent social metrics into brand and perception measurement programs, as well as addressing and identifying negative WOM and press proactively. Second, brands must take a more holistic approach when evaluating the sales impact of social media marketing efforts; they must tie in social media analytics with metrics from loyalty programs, store sales, inventory turnover, product returns, etc. The key is to get a more complete picture of multi-channel customers. Third, integrate social media efforts for maximum impact. Consider how you can utilize online, in-store, TV, ads, search and so on to strengthen the themes that are resonating in social media and vice versa.

“It boils down to this: the most valuable customers are experiencing brands through multiple channels; engage them likewise and ask how social media can be a force multiplier in those brands’ integrated, multi-channel marketing. The answers will certainly determine the trajectory of retail sales and brand perception.”

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