BrainTrust Query: The 3 Worst Excuses for Retailers NOT Using Social Media

Discussion
Oct 15, 2009
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Commentary
by Doug
Stephens
,
President, Retail Prophet

Despite the
continued momentum of social media, some retailers are still ambivalent
about embarking on their own program. We’ve
noticed some recurring excuses for holding off. Here, in no particular
order, are our top three
worst excuses for NOT engaging in social media now.

Excuse #1. “We
don’t want everyone in the store slacking off and Tweeting all day.”

If this excuse
was valid, companies would also avoid advertising in magazines for fear
that their employees would do nothing but read Vogue and Sports Illustrated
all day. Your
foray into social media is not an invitation to your staff to sit back
and relax, and it likely won’t spawn a torrent of latent tweeting either.
Also, keep in mind that, with the number of smart phones being carried today,
your employees are Tweeting, Flickring and Facebooking at work already,
whether you like it or not.

The reality
is that launching a program may enable you to harness some of your employees’
social energy to get the word out about your great store or chain. Best
Buy for example, has done a great job of engaging their employees and
tapping their social horsepower to actually drive the brand.

Excuse #2. “We don’t want people to say bad
things about us online.”

The fact is
that people will talk about your business whether you’re there to hear
it or not. The
benefit to being involved in social media is that you now have an opportunity
to curate or respond to feedback on your business. Negative
comments are truly opportunities, not only to solve the problem but
to publicly demonstrate your high customer service standards. It
takes courage to step up and be a part of the dialogue and customers
respect that.

Home Depot
for example, does a good job of directing traffic, positive and negative
on its Twitter profile. It
serves as much as a customer service tool as a PR engine.

Excuse #3. “We’re
planning to get into it at a later date.”

Today is a
later date. If
you look at the time-lines for Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, all three
surged in popularity at about the same time in 2008. Here
we are almost two years later and their growth hasn’t slowed down at
all. According
to research from Gartner, social media will be adopted
by more than 60 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies with a website by
2010. Expect that figure to be closer to 80 percent or higher in 2011.
As for small businesses, a recent study by Sage Software and AMI-Partners
found that a rapidly growing percentage are also
adopting social media as a means to build consumer awareness and connections.

The time to
begin a program is NOW.

Discussion Questions:
What do you think is holding back retailers from aggressively pursuing
strategies around social media? Are any of the concerns legitimate?
What first steps should be taken?

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24 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: The 3 Worst Excuses for Retailers NOT Using Social Media"


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Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 6 months ago

These are all really great ‘excuses’. Now remember, even the greatest excuse is bad. Social networking is huge and it is basically a whole new world for retailers. As long as you are tweeting something relevant that extends value to your customer, you can’t go wrong. And setting up shop is really not a big deal and every chain has its resident computer guy/girl who will gladly take over tweeting duties.

One of my dollar shop clients has taken it upon themselves to tweet out when deliveries come in so that their most loyal customers can get first crack at the new stock. Great idea if you want to sell product faster and cheaper.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

The real excuse is “We’re not sure we can make money with it yet, and so it’s just a costly distraction.” Now, truth be told, they may well be right about the first part–while there are some use cases (like Petco) of retailers bringing new customers on board through social media, most retailers don’t really make incremental money from it.

BUT…understanding your customers’ sentiment is probably the single most important thing one can learn from social media…and a retailer who ignores that information does so at his own peril.

AND…there was a survey somewhere recently that showed retailers who have reviews on their site sell more merchandise, even if the reviews are bad!

People crave community…and the retailer that doesn’t create a community around them is making a serious mistake.

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Many retailers and manufacturers are hesitant to take a first step in embracing social media. Often this is predicated on a fear of not doing it “correctly” or of not having enough time and resources to put against it. To those businesses, I say, “Jump in.”

Start with a website or Facebook page or Twitter account or blog. Ask your employees how to do it. Many are fluent in social media. You don’t have to post every day. You don’t have to let employees post from work. Just start.

If you choose to interact with customers through social media, be sure to respond to them. Customers dislike nothing more than reaching out to a retailer and not getting a prompt response.

There is no excuse for a retailer to sit on the sidelines and not engage in social media. Your customers are already there waiting for you to join in the conversation.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Great excuses to remain in the dark about successful retail. While I agree that social media has the potential to be a game changer, I understand owners’ reluctance; they don’t want to be the pioneers–they were the ones that got the arrows. They want to be the settlers, after everyone has learned everything about it, they’ll take a proven strategy.

That said, how many have no idea what a keyword is, or still fax orders?

Technology is great but only if we can put the right spin to affect change, will it be valuable to clients.

Anne Howe
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

One of the biggest opportunities for retailers in social media is to solve shopper problems by listening and responding to shoppers. If retailers aren’t sure what this opportunity looks like in real life, they should do a twitter search for their brand and watch all the posts for one week. Print out all the posts and gather the management team to review them and begin to formulate a strategy. I doubt the strategy will be to do nothing and ignore the shopper.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 6 months ago

People want community and retailers need to be included in today’s game that creates new communities. But fear of what could happen, that something that they can’t control or modify, that something could sting them from spiteful forces, is a modifying factor. But the die is cast and retailers will trail along cautiously.

Dick Seesel
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Retailers are still fixated on “old media” (broadcast, circulars, print and so on) along with measurable ways to gauge their efficiency. It’s much harder to judge the results from “new media” such as Facebook, Twitter, and so on. But there is no question that two generations of shoppers are migrating fast from traditional means of communicating with them. The evidence is plain, in terms of plunging newspaper circulation and network TV ratings. The excuses are retailers’ way of saying, “We need to figure this out but don’t know how.”

Joan Treistman
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
I’m in agreement with the other panelists. Customers are using social media and you might as well be where the action is. Here we are in the 21st century and we all have a chance to be part of the Wild West. Hooray! It’s an adventure. And by the way, the adventure is transparent. There is no excuse for not paying attention. Each retailer has an obligation to know what’s going on in the world and part of that world is the retailer (almost like a Pogo adage). Enlist the aid of young mentors to educate management about social media. Let them be part of the effort to keep track of what is being said. Develop a strategy for the dialog and try it out. Hire professionals for more sophisticated monitoring. Remember, these are the “early days” for all. Companies that are waiting to control this medium are waiting in vain. You can’t control it. But you can be an active participant to build awareness, positive imagery and loyal relationships. And aren’t these all steps… Read more »
Susan Parker
Guest
Susan Parker
11 years 6 months ago

I would venture to say that most companies afraid of social media are being run by executives in the dark. The ones who are afraid have never tried it. They have no clue what a Tweet is and cannot see the value beyond next quarter. If the CEO has a Twitter account, then s/he is not the one quashing the foray into social media.

It can be scary to enter the unknown of social media, but the truth is, people are already talking about you, blogging about you, recommending your brand or trashing your brand. Participation allows you to see what your brand reputation is in the context of social media and provides the ability to improve and promote your brand from a corporate perspective, create a dialogue, and engage the customer. A win-win for any business interested in what their customers are saying.

Matthew Spahn
Guest
Matthew Spahn
11 years 6 months ago

The primary thing holding retailers back from using Social Media is fear of the unknown. Although we all claim now to be Social Media experts, the fact remains that all retailers are still figuring out how to make it work to their benefit and it requires a lot of dedicated commitment to stay involved in the discussion threads.

Steps they need to take include the following:

1. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that order. Listen first to postings from customers then engage.

2. Facebook is not traditional advertising where you just post your stuff on sale and promote, which some retailers are still doing on their pages. Build and engage a community discussion.

3. Promote your Social Media presence both online and offline to drive traffic and build fans.

4. Keep content fresh.

5. Dedicate individuals to maximizing your Social Media presence. It is a full time job.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
11 years 6 months ago
There are two things that are delaying the adaptation of Social Media in the retail world. First is the fact that SM is a child of Gen X and Gen Y. The senior management of most retailers, particularly large retailers, comes from the boomer generation. The second–and most important–deterrent is the basic top-down, command and control structure of most retailers, demonstrated by the excuse that “I don’t want my employees wasting time twittering.” Simply put, “I’m the boss, I don’t understand it, I don’t use it, ergo it’s not worth doing.” Social Media is changing–permanently, I think–the way people communicate and ultimately shop. Some retail leaders, Brian Dunn at Best Buy for instance, “get it” and will be rewarded for it in terms of increased brand engagement and loyalty from both customers and associates. Those who don’t do so at their peril. The first step in getting involved is to understand the reach and impact of Social Media. There is a terrific short video put together by Eric Qualman that neatly summarizes the coming impact.… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
There are too many sites out there right now that at the very least guide you on how to get started in social media as a business. I am, however, very wary of anyone who claims to be a “social media expert,” because this is still very much a primordial soup of activity. Who knows if Twitter will even be around in six months? The point is that you need to just jump into it. There are some great examples of retailers and CPG companies doing some great things out there. Your people need not spend more than 30 minutes–at most–per day on social media. You can create a substantial presence with that amount of effort, and begin to see real benefits, not just from the number of fans, friends, or followers, but also from the quality of those people and the ideas you get from those interactions. This is not a controlled environment. It is truly free speech. Yes, you do run the risk of negative posts, but there are ways to mitigate that… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Matthew Spahn just nailed it: “Dedicate individuals to maximizing your Social Media presence. It is a full time job.” There’s a tendency to tack this responsibility onto the job of an existing staffer, who already has a full-time job. I would be surprised if, after a year, a full-timer focusing on social media didn’t earn his-or-her pay and then some, plus have given the retailer some differentiation and a leg-up on the competition. Too many people of my generation sit in corner offices and scoff, not understanding it. I concede that I don’t understand it myself, but I’ve seen it work, and I wish I was big enough to have hired someone to do it for my own little fledgling company.

Chuck Palmer
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Smart retailers are going to leverage social media to enrich their relationships with consumers. That means aligning operations to make the social media experience on-brand.

We have this conversation almost every day now and I always use Best Buy’s Twelpforce as a great example.

This makes perfect sense for BBY. They acted quickly, are OK with tweaking the operational program along the way and are monitoring the chatter.

Does Twelpforce move more merchandise? Maybe, maybe not. Does it enhance the relationship Best Buy has with its customers? You betcha.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

That is truly an embarrassing list of excuses. But, it tells the story of grocery retailing in particular. It is their orientation, or lack of it. Most retailers still look at making profit by buying cheap and charging for advertising participation. It is very hard to seriously talk to a buyer about how to actually sell product to customers.

It may be a damning prediction but on the grocery side, they will start using social media as soon as they can figure out how to charge the manufacturer for it.

Brian Kelly
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
As decomps continue, the marcom budget challenge is very real. Social media is an incremental medium for consideration, therefore the debate is heated for redistribution of assets. Education is key. Start with the customer situation. Folks in the “c” suite need to understand the shift taking place among their customers in the consumption of content and processing of that information. Don’t expect these new behaviors to go away any time soon. All indications are that the rampant, unguided consumerism will not return any time soon. For retailers with an underdeveloped Public Relations or Corporate Social Responsibility message strategy, SM will be a tactic in search of a strategy. Create one quickly. My recco is “business done for fun is better left undone.” There is no reason to rush into SM without a considerate plan properly funded. Look for existing programs that may be repurposed or redirected. Take the time to think it through, but don’t linger on this. With the upheaval in the marketplace, consumers are reconsidering their options and new relationships are being formed.… Read more »
Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Most retailers don’t understand how it’s going to help them make money, pure and simple. Social Media can be a nice marketing tool, but so are the web sites, emails and even direct mail. Sooner or later, you have to draw the line as to how you’re going to go to market and what’s going to produce results for you.

The other thing is, a lot of retailers are smart; the idea of a ‘fast second’ is a solid strategy, especially in this case. “Let’s see if anyone’s sales actually bounce because of this….” I think that’s what’s happening.

James Tenser
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
Is anyone else around here old enough to remember the times when we had this exact conversation about company Web sites, email and online selling? About kiosks and checkout coupons? Of course modern retailers must engage in social media–even if the best practices have yet to be defined. While I wouldn’t advocate a “bleeding edge” approach, it’s worth remembering that a store is a social media environment in the first place. That is, retail stores are places where many different people come together with similar objectives and obtain or share information as well as products. The retail social media environment contains controlled messages (like package labels, signs, in-store promotions, and digital media) and social messages (like shopper-staff interactions, shopper-shopper interactions, and bulletin boards). It’s not a huge leap to the analogous activities taking place in various Web environments. I’m a big proponent of the concept that every business must actively manage and influence its online voice. “Official” elements may include the corporate web site, blog, twitter feed, email and frequent shopper lists, Facebook company page,… Read more »
Michael Boze
Guest
Michael Boze
11 years 6 months ago

Social media is another tool in the marketer’s tool kit. The reason to use it is that here you have an application that you can measure.

The reason not to use it is you have not found the right application for the tool.

Your marketing budget is like a gallon of paint and now you have a new idea to cover with social media and it’s related costs. New media ideas have a strong evangelist quality on the sell-in side and a bandwagon mindset of getting on board.

Marketing budgets today seem like a zero sum game. Tell me what I don’t need and prove it to me so I can try the next idea.

Mark Burr
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
Most who are in positions in retail that would make this type of decision either don’t understand it, don’t use it, don’t know what it is, or see its value. This mentality is what kept retailing hogtied with the web for long after it should have and left many if not most still behind. A truly objective look at most retail websites would find them woefully short by comparison to the net as a whole. Let’s face it, even getting a grocery ad online is a challenge in many cases–at least an ad that is easily navigated and not simply some graphic transport of a paper ad. Retailing for the most part is low risk. Technology by its nature is high risk from the retail leadership point of view. Smart retailers would be out scouring the local high schools for the best talent and then cut them loose [on their social media strategy]. Leave the senior management and other development staff out of it. They’d likely be successful in a matter of days. Left to… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

I think this question needed a little more definition as to what was being proposed, as Mr. Stephens’ commentary reads like a followup piece to some study which we haven’t actually seen.

That having been said, I find the customer part of me coming out, and not thinking much of the whole concept (as I understand it): “social” sites are supposed to be just that, separate from business, not some disguised extension of it (if a company wants to “share” experiences, it can do so on its website). Didn’t we learn anything from the Whole Foods blogging fiasco?

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 6 months ago

Social Media is not the be all, end all that everyone is claiming it to be. We have conducted research and it seems there are more questions than there are answers, more intrigue than there is commitment.

Kim Barrington
Guest
Kim Barrington
11 years 6 months ago

Getting into the space properly does require time and an authentic voice. So the hesitation may be warranted but for the wrong reasons as listed.

However, they can hire strategists who can help them plot their plans and then get the authentic voices on there. It gets complicated and is time consuming for the people managing it for it to work. So while being in the space per se–social media sites–isn’t costly, the cost of personnel to make it happen is a figure to be accounted for.

But, I wouldn’t let it stop me. Put someone in marketing on it, tout suite to work with a consulting agency already dominant in the space, create your events, and take it away. It’s Holiday Time, no time like the present to get on and announce what you have going on….

Leslie Hand
Guest
Leslie Hand
11 years 6 months ago

Consumers are choosing which retailers to be loyal to and while they often stray, they come back time after time to the retailers who understand their needs and meet their expectations consistently. Some consumers factor price into this decision more heavily than others, but many more care about convenience, quality, and increasingly having a trusted relationship with the retailer, who is part of their “community.” Perhaps, this is actually a return to old values. New technologies including social media will connect consumers, retailers, and manufacturers–and ultimately, these connections will enable retailers to keep their customers and attract new loyalists. So even if there isn’t an immediate payback, customers will drift away from retailers that are not a part of their community. This should be reason enough to get a social media program moving.

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