Industry Voices

Social Media’s Internal and External Sides

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Michael Sansolo is research director of the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council of North America.

A few weeks back Wegmans delivered a modern lesson in customer connections. To tout the company’s new smartphone app and its burgeoning base of Twitter followers, Wegmans rolled them into one. “Tell us how the Wegmans app makes your shopping easier,” the company asked.

And shoppers responded, explaining the app helps them create a shopping list, renew a prescription and look up product information. One shopper said it even helps her husband come home with the right products.

Apps, Twitter, Facebook and more are reshaping how supermarkets interact with shoppers. But understanding how to do so correctly begins with a very low-tech recognition. In so many ways, the social web is nothing new. At its most basic the social web is all about helping social creatures, humans, do what we have always done: Connect, just with technological tools.

Then again, the social web is completely new. Networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the rest turbocharge communication, connection and community. That’s why countless millions have jumped aboard enthusiastically and for business that means a whole range of issues that need quick comprehension and attention.

That’s not easy, but there’s help coming.

Many of us share a huge range of questions on how to best interact, how to create guidelines and structure around an arena without rules and how to even take the first steps. Most of all, business struggles with understanding how to build and measure the success of social web activities so that proper decisions can be made about this explosively growing area.

The entire realm of unknown issues was the reason the retail executives on the eighth Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council selected Untangling the Social Web as their focal point. The seven parts of the study (all of which are available for free download at www.ccrrc.orgor http://bit.ly/UntanglingtheSocialWeb) help businesses get a sense of the size, scope and rationale for the social network.

The two newest parts of the study give that knowledge a practical aspect that makes this an essential tool for businesses looking to plot their path.

Part 6 examines how companies use the social web to communicate with the outside world, especially customers. With easy-to-follow exercises and examples, Part 6 can help companies identify their goals and tactics to use social sites and even select which sites to use. In addition, Part 6 helps identify the emerging measures of influence and activity that companies need to start gaining a sense of return on investment from the social web.

One of the most interesting examples in the report comes from a mass retail giant that now uses different approaches to various social networks. That approach may not work for smaller companies, but it demonstrates how each social network requires a different way of communicating. Like the Wegmans promotion on Twitter, this retail giant shows how the social web can build a new kind of excitement and information exchange by getting shoppers to comment and create interest among other consumers.

Part 7 attacks many of the same challenges, but looks at them through the needs of internal communication. The exercises and tips in Part 7 focus on communication with current and potential associates and how to create internal guidelines that staff can use to understand how to link to the company’s external goals.

At the recent National Retail Federation show in New York, Michael Ross, vice president of customer marketing and loyalty for Meijer, explained how his company now uses social media to quickly communicate new policies throughout the entire chain.

While the report presents the material in a simple, user-friendly manner, the information is anything but simple and the implications for companies are enormous. Like it or not, the social web has changed the world you live in. Hopefully this new study can help you make some sense of what that means to you.

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