Developing Social Strategies That Resonate With Connected Consumers

As today’s consumers become more hyper-connected, they are turning to social networks more frequently to make buying decisions.

Using Facebook, Twitter and image-focused sites like Pinterest and Instagram, consumers are equipped to tap into thousands of peers and influencers in real time in order to learn more about the latest trends and hottest brands.

In fact, the most common behaviors on social networks are related to shopping, according to the 2012 Social Media Report from Nielsen:


  • Learning more about brands/products/services (65%);
  • Praising brands (53%);
  • Expressing concerns/complaints about brands/services (50%); and
  • Sharing financial incentives (47%).

The growing influence of social media on buying decisions and overall brand awareness significantly has transformed the once-traditional purchase funnel, according to Ekaterina Walter, author and CMO at Branderati, an advocate and influencer marketing company. Therefore, brands and retailers should focus on “building dialogue” with current and potential customers. Not only will this help build relationships, it also will help ensure long-term sales and loyalty.

“Marketers are used to a very one-way form of communication,” Walter said. “Now, the advent of social media, where consumers engage with each other and find out more information from their peers, has thrown brands for a loop. Marketers are relearning how to build relationships with customers, as well as exactly where to touch and engage in a conversation with them.”

Creating A Social Strategy

Retailers are keeping pace with consumers’ participation on social networks by integrating social media into cross-channel marketing campaigns, customer service strategies and overall feedback/sentiment tracking processes.

Recent research from Retail TouchPoints, confirmed that more retail organizations are focusing on developing long-term, comprehensive social strategies this year: 60% of respondents said they have a social media strategy in place, versus only 48.5% in 2012, according to the survey report, titled: Social Commerce Imperatives.

When developing social initiatives, retailers should see social media as a communication vehicle, not just a marketing channel, Walter explained. “There’s a lot of noise in the social world, and lots of interruptions taking place. Retailers should think most about how they can provide value-added content that is being created across all touch points, and how it will improve customer experiences.”

Next, retailers should consider the size and scope of the overall “social universe,” and develop their strategies based on which networks their target customers frequent.

Retailers “should focus on where they think their customers are online and which social networks they gravitate to,” Walter noted. “They have the opportunity to play with different networks to see where the highest amount of engagement takes place.”

For example, Johnny Cupcakes, a fashion merchant, spreads communication across a number of different social networks because target customers gravitate to these sites on a daily basis, according to Lucas Dunn, Business Director. 

“Our target customers are very youthful in their attitude, style and interests,” Dunn said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Part of their youthfulness means that they are ‘social’ in the digital sense. They seek to be outspoken and engage with us, the brand, just as they are eager to connect with fellow customers. Social media has given our customers a platform to speak on behalf of the brand. Brand awareness is only half of the equation, as our customers’ social activity shapes the brand’s message.”

Fleur du Mal, a luxury ready-to-wear and lingerie brand, also has embraced social media to engage target customers: females 25 to 35 years old. The company took to social channels long before the brand officially launched to help educate consumers about what the brand stands for.

“We launched social media before we launched the brand just so we could spread the word and start sharing behind the scenes information on what we were doing from a product and marketing standpoint,” explained Jennifer Zuccarini, Founder of Fleur du Mal. “Now, as we’re building the brand, it’s becoming a two way conversation between us and consumers. We’re very active on Instagram and are experimenting with Vine, along with our activities across Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.”

Using these sites, Fleur du Mal is able to effectively “share content with our followers and hopefully they’re sharing their own thoughts and insights back with us.” The brand also is testing ways to sell exclusive products and styles via Facebook.

Tracking And Responding To Social Dialogue

Retailers are acknowledging the growing importance of being present across social networks. However, it also is becoming more imperative that retailers track dialogue and behaviors across social networks, helping them better understand customers and their perceptions.

Interestingly, of all types of metrics and unstructured data being generated across social channels, retailers still are focusing on the basics, according to the RTP social survey.

On a scale of one to four, one being most valuable, respondents ranked the following as most important, giving them a score of one or two:

  • Facebook “likes” (75%);
  • Number of Twitter followers (40%);
  • Number of re-Tweets (23%); and
  • Amount of content shared via Facebook (16%).

But overall many retailers still do not have a comprehensive social strategy in place that consists of tracking and responding to dialogue across channels, according to Joel Alden, a partner in the retail practice at A. T. Kearney, a global consulting firm.

“We’re seeing retailers pay attention to their own branded pages and accounts,” Alden said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “But they’re not acknowledging and responding to third-party pages and overall social feedback. Thus, they are missing out on all these other conversations that are going on.”

A key reason retailers may not be acknowledging and responding to third-party pages and overall social feedback’ is because of the unstructured data social networks generate. Employees across retail organizations are challenged to harness this unstructured data effectively.

“It’s harder for retailers to parlay trends from unstructured feedback,” Alden said. “It’s not as direct or easy to understand as POS data. They simply don’t know to tackle it.”

Retailers can extract valuable insights from social media, according to Alden, especially from consumers who have not yet been converted: These consumers “can provide valuable insight into what areas should be improved upon or addressed,” he said. “These insights are infinitely more beneficial than just analyzing POS or loyalty program data.”

More retailers, however, are striving to better understand and respond to social media insights by implementing social media listening and analytics solutions, according to an Aberdeen Group report, titled: Ear to the Crowd: Leaders Add Social Listening and Intelligence for Brand Management. The report indicated that 69% of business leaders are using solutions such as Google, Salesforce/Radian6, SAP and SAS to track dialogue across social networks.

Increased adoption of these social listening tools could very likely stem from “the accessibility of the data,” according to the report. “As Twitter, Facebook and other networks become the world’s water cooler and complaint department in one, they increasingly represent the broader population of customers in terms of sentiment.”

DICK’s Sporting Goods recently implemented a social listening solution from newBrandAnalytics (nBA) to add depth and meaning to data generated on social sites.

“Our CRM analytics team has a plethora of data, but there was a huge gap when it came to humanizing that data,” said Ryan Eckel, VP of Brand Marketing for DICK’s Sporting Goods in a recent Retail TouchPoints article. “Numbers can tell you what’s going on to a certain extent, but there is extreme value in social media because it tells you why you are getting specific results.”

Since implementing nBA in early May 2013, DICK’s has been able to keep a constant pulse on social feedback and sentiment. Not only does this detailed intelligence help Eckel capture a complete picture of trends across communication and commerce touch points, it also helps him manage the brand more efficiently.

“At the end of the day, we’re dealing with humans, not collections of numbers,” Eckel said. “With nBA, I’m able to really keep pace with how people perceive the brand, then pull levers at the store level to improve customer experiences.”

Becoming A Social Enterprise

Many company cultures and internal strategies have not been revised to address the increased adoption of social networks. That is why most social efforts do not reap the benefits initially anticipated, according to Walters.

“It all starts with company culture,” Walters said. “Everyone across the organization — even at the C-level — has to have the social mindset. When retailers take a top-down approach that starts in the C-suite and goes all the way down to the store level, their social strategies and communities will really thrive.”

For example, C. Wonder is a retailer that has social media “deeply embedded into its company culture,” according to Michael Chao, Director of Social and Mobile Engagement.

“At C. Wonder, social media is not just a channel that operates in a silo, nor is it considered an afterthought,” Chao said in a recent Retail TouchPoints interview. “Social has a seat at the planning table and is embedded across all of the things we do, including our e-Commerce site.”

Once the corporate “social mentality” is established, retailers must empower team members by implementing education and training to help employees speak on a brand’s behalf effectively.

“To empower employees, you need to train them,” Walters said. “Retailers need to put programs in place that enable team members to speak with customers. In addition, they must have seamless access to the data they need to provide advice on potential purchases and how to get the most out of a shopping experience.”

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