PL Buyer: Twitter – Where’s the Bottom?

Discussion
Jun 23, 2009

By Randy Hofbauer

Through a special
arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current
article from Private Label Buyer.

To describe my relationship status with social
media, allow me to borrow a Facebook term: “It’s complicated.”

What once was a nifty novelty introduced to me during my final
year of college became a chore of sifting through too much information
of little or no value to me. Finding the important news from my friends
became a headache, and almost four years after opening my personal account,
I shut it down.

Is Facebook getting too big for its britches, or am I too
easily overwhelmed?

Recently, I was delighted to find some of my favorite chains
– Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s – testing the Twitter waters, where I’ve
also begun dipping my feet. But still, I wonder if retailers that are jumping
on the social media cyberwagon eventually will begin thinking what I’ve
been thinking.

Don’t get me wrong – I find it great that Twitter offers retailers
the chance to listen to what their consumers have to say. Fresh & Easy
Neighborhood Markets has responded with some of its own dynamite products
– a family meal line, for example – that answer consumer demands being
communicated via social media. But allow me to steal a line from the economists
out there: How
long will it be until we hit the bottom? That is, how long will it be until
these retailers’ Twitter pages are flooded with tweets, and it’s almost
impossible to separate widely felt input from minor rants and raves? At
press time, Whole Foods had a huge set of followers – totaling more than
575,000. Trader Joe’s had nearly 8,000 followers, and Fresh & Easy
had nearly 3,000 followers. And I think as those numbers rise, it will
get harder and harder for retailers to know when a complaint is worth a
listen. Some brands out there already have experienced turbulence from
tweets.

A recent article in Advertising Age pointed
to a fiasco last fall, in which an ad from Johnson & Johnson – recommending
Motrin to moms with aches from “wearing” their babies (in fashionable slings)
– came under fire. A small group of baby-wearing moms tweeted complaints
about the ad because it featured the voiceover of a mom saying, “Wearing
your baby seems to be in fashion.” These tweeting moms were appalled that
an ad would call babies a fashion accessory.

Johnson & Johnson quickly – perhaps too quickly – removed
the ad and issued an apology. But how many mothers did they really offend?
A survey from Princeton, N.J-headquartered Lightspeed Research found that
almost 90 percent of women hadn’t seen the ad, Advertising
Age
reported. Once women did see the video, only
15 percent said they didn’t like it! Did Johnson & Johnson take the
time to find out if this negativity was widely felt among its consumer
base?

Retailers looking to bring their banner and
brands to Twitter – or any other social media site, for that matter – need
to go in knowing how to determine which issues really matter to their consumer
base, and which ones might not be as big of a deal. As it is said: It’s
better to do it right the first time or not do it at all.

Discussion Question: Are social networking
tools such as Facebook and Twitter just too unwieldy as a communication tool
to reach consumers? How should retailers and brands be approaching the social
networking opportunity?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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22 Comments on "PL Buyer: Twitter – Where’s the Bottom?"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

It’s awfully early in the game to think FB and Twitter are disasters. Think Direct Mail with 20+ state houses looking to adopt a “do not mail” list is the new frontier? Or Yellow Pages? Or yet another coupon site? How about more newspaper circulars?

We may not know where FB and Twitter in particular are headed and they can take up a lot of time but clearly they are the future and many of my clients are meeting with success on them.

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

The social networking genie is out of the bottle and not going back in and retailers need to have a social media strategy. Consumers like social media because it gives them a way to talk back to retailers and manufacturers. Retailers and manufacturers, long accustomed to telling and selling, now need to learn how to listen.

If used wisely, social media can create satisfied customers, increase store traffic and drive sales. To do this, retailers need to have experienced employees handle inbound social media and scan social media outlets. This is not so different than having a well-versed customer service operation. Then the retailer needs to respond promptly to inquiries and be prepared to handle situations that may arise.

Social media is not going away. If done well, it can become an important vehicle for customer communication.

Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
11 years 10 months ago
Predicting the future is such a challenging task! Will Facebook, Twitter or some new method (Google’s Wave?) survive as the social media for the future (defined as two years)? We, of course, will only know as we look back. Confronted with this very rapidly evolving universe, I believe most companies will (1) try all major social media to learn and have a foot in the door if one looks to be the survivor, or (2) hold back and try to let the social media universe sort itself out before jumping in. Information overload already was here (email, text messages, RSS feeds, etc.) and the social media situation is adding to the burden, but not alone in creating it. The number of friends and followers will not alone determine success. As with email lists and customers, retailers want quality contacts not just lots of contacts. For the moment, retailers will just have to deal, as the rest of us do, with lots of choices. Testing the waters, not falling too far behind, and learning from others… Read more »
Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
11 years 10 months ago
I read an article once, describing a company that decided to put a big push behind soliciting employee comments and ideas. The article discussed how the company subsequently received hundreds and hundreds of suggestions, and how they quickly realized that while they couldn’t implement every single one, they owed it to the people who took the time to submit an idea to at least explain why the idea was not going to be used. This turned out to be far more effort than they had originally planned, but in the end they deemed it a success because they built much closer relationships with their employees, and management gained a great deal of credibility in the process–and oftentimes, the exchange triggered a discussion in a new direction that helped the company overall. The same must be true for brands on Twitter. If you enable a personal communication from someone, and that person takes the time to use it, you owe it to your brand and that person to respond. The problem is, on Twitter and Facebook… Read more »
Anne Howe
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

I started Tweeting in March, and have had an amazing experience. Retailers, brands, marketers, cooks, gardeners, golfers, friends, and more, all engaging at a level that has one major theme in common–genuine desire to communicate in a helpful manner. It’s fast on news of all sorts and I appreciate the spirit of collaboration. I didn’t think I would use it and like it as much as I do as both a marketer and just an ordinary consumer. Whatever its future, I’m along for the ride!

Peter Milic
Guest
Peter Milic
11 years 10 months ago

No marketer can afford to overlook opportunities to communicate with consumers. Media fragmentation has made it essential that social networking tools be considered when designing a communications program, especially when targeting young adults. I would not use the word unwieldy to characterize social networking tools, instead I would use the phrase “uncontrollable”.

Unlike the media that marketers have used in the past, these new tools do not afford control. If what you have to say offends or upsets someone, it is possible for individuals who are bothered by what is being said to turn the table. Marketers have always been very sensitive to criticism. Using tools that encourage commentary and response will oblige marketers to be more cautious and to have thicker skin.

David Zahn
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Social media is here to stay and the ability to communicate in real time will remain. Whether Facebook, Twitter, or any other site remains is immaterial to the seismic shift that is occurring. Brands, retailers, and shopper/consumers are now able to communicate in real time or near real time. How brands build and create new products, how retailers create new formats, and how shoppers get answers to their questions, form communities, share, compliment and criticize – social media has turned the entire industry on its head (or will shortly).

Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

I started, and then stumbled, with my own Tweeter experiment. Seems like an interesting idea, but the time factor is crazy! Having said that, there is just too much good information out there, and retailers who have benefited, to ignore the potential of these social networking sites.

As a good example, we worked with a retail chain to use FB as part of the reinforcement and recognition strategies linked to a major training initiative. Their staff was already ‘networking’ savvy so it was a hit.

All this newfangled media stuff can make me feel like an old dog…but I, just like anyone, can learn new tricks! Getting back to my Tweets this week!

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
11 years 10 months ago
Actually, I was thinking about posing this same question a little differently. Basically, my thought was “Has the Internet become too fragmented to any longer be profitable?” The point is, Cloud Computing has eliminated the barrier to entry previously presented by the capital investment necessary to support the availability and scalability of an Internet presence. This has made every techie with a bachelors degree in computer science able to create a viable presence on the Internet. Social networking, Search, even Retail News sites are becoming more prevalent. In order to attract users, they have to discover some way to make themselves unique. Sometimes this is done with a unique user interface, sometimes it is done with superior content, but often it means targeting smaller and smaller audiences. The result is a large pie cut into ever smaller pieces that are unable to support a large “back office.” Websites have little original content and the ones that produce content do not have the resources to do it in depth. The traditional Internet model that envisions back-office… Read more »
Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
11 years 10 months ago

Let’s try to remember that first and foremost, this is SOCIAL media. And in many ways no different than any other form of social communication such as in person, the phone, or email.

So why do companies and marketers keep trying to exploit this stuff as a means to reach consumers? Why can’t they just use these as informal “focus groups” to help them gauge market responses to campaigns and products?

Give it a year and twittering will be for losers and lonely people who don’t have any friends who would want to see them in person.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Consumers now all live in a world of information overload and they are beginning to turn things off. Unless you can make the information relevant, short, of value, easy to get to, and pertinent, it is going to be tuned out like most other information is in today’s world.

The other piece is going to be for retailers to develop a way of measuring real results, not just the activity of the vocal minority.

Dave Wendland
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Any technology and new marketing approach will take some time to earn its place among the other options, but from where I sit, Twitter and FB are very viable and will continue to produce buzz. How should brands and CPG manufacturers embrace this social media phenomenon? Boldly. One can not dare get a little involved because once the cat is out of the bag it will run loose (quickly and furiously!). As an example, one of our company’s family caregiving initiatives was recently added to Twitter. Literally within hours, hundreds of consumers had not only found it but began tweeting about it.

Honestly, there is much refinement to Twitter, FB and others that will occur, but believe me when I say the train has left the station and it is recommended that you get on board. Then, prepare for the ride of your life that will morph the structure of your marketing and communications team to the extent that time will begin to quickly be absorbed into monitoring, tracking and staying current with these technologies.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 10 months ago

Social media is here, will grow, and cannot be ignored. After experimentation retailers will discover how and when it works FOR them or applies TO them. That said, the demographics and competencies are still not(and may never be) fully evolved in all groups that need to be reached and interacted with. As was illustrated in the Twitter “wear your baby” example, getting marketing feedback fast, but from only one source, may unreasonably skew both the information and numbers–and therefore skew the decisions being made as well.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 10 months ago

These technologies are still evolving, and we’re still in the early-adopters stage. It’s too early to really know where these technologies are headed, which will thrive and which will shake out. While there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of smaller retailers successfully using these technologies to drive business, it’s still very unclear whether they have the potential in their current form to drive business on a broader scale.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
11 years 10 months ago

Social media will continue to be an important area for CPG marketers to develop. Creating new ways to listen to your customers will be a real advantage for those who invest the time and resources. There are reports that the consumers who discuss products on Twitter or FB are among the most loyal–there is value in their message. As we are learning, it is early days, and a steep learning curve ahead for most of us.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

I don’t see Facebook or Twitter as unwieldy in any way; that is, if marketers don’t over-complicate their participation or overreact to what they uncover. Many hotel companies, retailers, etailers and others screen Twitter constantly in order to directly address customer issues. I’ve personally been contacted every single time I’ve hinted at a customer service problem on Twitter and have been more than satisfied with the quick response and resolution. Without Twitter, I probably would have steamed for a while and in some cases, never patronized those businesses again. As it is, they and I had the benefit of airing and solving problems.

As pointed out before, Twitter has a unique, helpful vibe that I don’t feel with other social networking sites and I think it is particularly well-suited for B2C communication as a result.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

This whole gig is an evolution. It’s nothing really new, actually. IBM Research formed their Social Computing Group in 1998…. That’s right, 1998. Ancient history. What that tells me is that Twitter, Facebook and the thousands of other sites are only the latest iterations.

No one can accurately predict what Twitter will be in even the next 12 months. Or will something new take over? Several companies are deeply entrenched in social networking. Encourage your companies and clients to give it a try. As an example, we will be tweeting LIVE on June 24 in Washington, D.C. (but remember, the location doesn’t really matter) during a Food Safety Forum on Capitol Hill. That’s just one more way to get your brand out there. Think of all the events you can connect your clients to with Web 2.0. Take advantage before your competition does.

Ciri Raynor Fenzel
Guest
Ciri Raynor Fenzel
11 years 10 months ago

Keep in mind that Twitter is still new to the masses. I talk to people everyday who have heard of it, but are still not familiar with it. Those that are on Twitter (particularly moms) are pretty passionate about being heard and are likely more brand loyal than the average consumer. These moms are actively involved in twitter site warming parties, wine tastings, tweet chats, etc. Twitter provides a unique social forum that they can actively participate in while going about their daily tasks. I highly recommend that my clients listen to what is being said, and use the feedback as a guide.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

So will Twitter help identify and influence the influencers?

Mark Lilien
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Facebook and Twitter are ad media. All new media start out exciting, then they’re trashed by overuse. The first infomercial had great response. The first skywriting was really exciting. The first banner ad on a web site was eye-catching. The first unsolicited e-mail was impactful. But now, it’s all just noise, spam, and clutter: boring and ignored by most.

But media generally don’t go away, even when they’re boring, overused, and have no credibility. Folks still listen to the radio, even though the program quality is poor and commercials are half the hour. Even newspapers, boring and cluttered, still publish, though their profits are down. Many magazines disappear, yet there are thousands more still publishing.

Social media will continue, but it won’t be fresh or exciting or very worthwhile. And there’s no law that requires a retailer to use every ad medium. If Trader Joe’s doesn’t use radio, no one cares, except radio ad salespeople.

Scott Knaul
Guest
Scott Knaul
11 years 10 months ago

I personally like Twitter but it can quickly become overwhelming. I’m constantly managing my “follow” list and most of the time I’m trimming based on my current interests.

The most successful stories I’ve heard from companies using social media is in the form of feedback. It’s direct and fast–almost too fast, leading to bad, knee-jerk reactions. I think there is power in using it as a marketing tool but it could quickly become the “junk mail” or “annoying calls” of the internet. The early adopters benefited from it but it’s quickly becoming crowded. The benefit over the other forms of marketing is that the participation by users is on an opt-in basis.

Charles Levin
Guest
Charles Levin
11 years 10 months ago

It seems like you are grappling with the problem of too much data or too much consumer response at once. The response should be welcomed; the challenge is sifting through and making sense of the data.

We’ve been developing tools and programs to digest and analyze the responses into meaningful, actionable feedback. It can be done.

So don’t turn off the fire hose when you’re thirsty. Just put the stream to good use.

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