LAS VEGAS — Independent retailers need to use Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to reach their customers and interact with them, a panel of retailers told the annual convention of the National Grocers Association here last week.
“It’s evident these networks are top-of-mind for consumers,” Carlos Smith, president of Bodega Latina Corp., Los Angeles, said. “The landscape is still relatively new, but the larger chains are already way ahead of us, so we have to figure out how we fit in. People on these networks are talking about our businesses all the time, and we need to participate in those discussions and enhance our stores.
“This is not an ‘or’ proposition — something we can do instead of what we do now. This is an ‘and’ — something in addition to what we do now, and we’ve got to understand how we fit in.”
Independents need to use social networks to carve out a unique position for themselves with customers, Jay Lawrence, president of Lawrence Bros., Sweetwater, Texas, suggested. “We need to discover our niche and then go after it. People in large and small towns are getting connected, and the numbers are huge and growing. Our customers are there, and we retailers must go there too. We’ve got to be in that world.”
According to Chris Coborn, president and chief executive officer of Coborn’s, St. Cloud, Minn., “As far as social networks go, the industry is probably in only the first inning, and there are still a lot of things we don’t understand. But we need to
understand how we can use these networks to be better merchants.
“As an industry, we are familiar with change. These networks already exist, and we have to determine how we can use them to reach out and provide better exposure of our store brand.”
Coborn suggested companies empower employees who are familiar with social networks “to move us along more quickly because that will make a big difference.”
He said his company has already benefited from reaching out after asking readers of its Facebook page to come up with a new corporate jingle. “We were amazed by the response,” he said, “and we ultimately chose a new jingle written by one of our customers.”
The retailers’ remarks came in response to the second segment of an ongoing series of reports on social networking by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council, which was presented at the NGA meeting.
According to Craig Elston, senior vice president, insight and strategy, for The Integer Group, the Denver-based company that is conducting the study, it is human nature to connect and communicate with other people, “and you need to understand what people think of you to take control of it. These [social network] communities exist, and you must tap into them.”
He suggested businesses think of social networks like high school, “where you try to influence the opinions people have of you.”
The study indicates four levels of engagement through social networks, Elston said — listening, “to get a sense of what people are talking about”; understanding, “to determine what role you can play in the discussions”; participating, “to let people know what programs or deals you have available”; and creating, “to share ideas and interact with the community.”
He said the next two parts of the study will be released in March and the final section in April. Copies of the study and other research by the CCRRC are available for free at www.ccrrc.com.