From Casual Chatter to Decider-In-Chief

Social Media Can Lead Your Way

Best Practices from Kurt Salmon Associates

How can a retailer strategically leverage social media intelligence into internal decision-making?

Here’s an example. Evaluate a retailer’s current market research activities. Replace many of the costly and time-consuming focus groups, customer surveys and ethnographic research with social media campaigns to get the same information even faster.

Banana Republic has taken a cue from software companies that pioneered the concept of taking advantage of their fans and followers to test beta versions before public release. Through a special portal for its invitation-only Insiders BR panel, the retailer solicits feedback on products, advertising and brand experience from thousands of its most loyal customers.

In Kurt Salmon’s work with clients, we see increased focus on becoming smarter about customer trends throughout the marketing, merchandise planning and product development processes.

Prior to product design, during the planning stage, merchandisers and planners have a chance to consider social media intelligence to inform their financial objectives and assortment strategies for the coming seasons. Hindsights from the past season, such as business recap, assortment analytics and store feedback, are traditionally used to drive future plans. This is gathered from store POS data and costly focus groups and surveys. Considering social media reports on what is happening at this very moment, rather than what happened in the past, it is a much more powerful source of trends, customer preferences and competitive intelligence, not to mention that it reaches a wider audience and is less expensive.

Another operational area in which social media can inform decision-making is the product development process. Does a retailer have a dedicated “fast track” mechanism to bring product to market in a shorter timeframe? With nearly unlimited reach and statistically significant data volumes, social media provides a venue for gathering customer insights on late-breaking trends and ideas that product development teams can quickly analyze and incorporate into next-generation products.

EXTERNAL DECISION-MAKING

Many retailers overlook the important link between social media and customer service. Social media outlets are often used to air both positive and negative customer feedback, although most companies have not formally linked their traditional call centers to their social media hubs. Evolve a company’s call center so it can strategically leverage this organization to manage customer dialogue via social media. Updating this department to give a brand a stronger market positioning requires:

  • An overarching communications strategy to determine protocol for initiating outbound communication and responding to inbound communication
  • One or more social media specialists or training for existing staff to ensure messaging is targeting the appropriate social media outlets and content is consistent with the brand
  • Social business software tools for information analysis and tracking metrics such as customer satisfaction, resolution time and product issues

Connect relevant metrics to a product development process (trend research, planning, and assortment and product reviews) in a more robust approach to leveraging market intelligence.

WHY TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA’S POWER?

Social media is not an end in itself. Like other media, it provides a forum for communication, both into and out of a company. The unique power of social media lies in its ability to quickly and cost-effectively amplify messages (good and bad) to hundreds of thousands of people who care about a brand and the visibility of the data it leaves in its wake. The result is a rich resource to drive more effective decision-making. Use this checklist to evaluate a company’s social media savvy:

  1. Does the company have a systematic process to gather customer intelligence through various social media platforms? Is it successfully using this information to ensure a more compelling customer experience? Is this intelligence connected to its product teams?
  2. Does the company have a firm understanding of how its social media efforts impact its business? Are they systematically and easily gathered and analyzed? Do they drive the types of results the company wants?
  3. Do the company’s marketing, customer service and product teams follow competitors on Twitter, keep up with competitive promotions on Facebook, and are they incorporating those findings into their business?
  4. Does the company have a dedicated social media specialist to serve as air traffic controller to ensure communications are internally synchronized across a company’s different functions?

When used correctly, social media can be a powerful tool to increase brand visibility, drive internal and external decisions, gather customer and competitor intelligence and improve ROI across all marketing efforts.

Brooks Kitchel, senior partner, and Monica Tang, senior manager, co-authored this article.