Retailers are testing social media in an effort to win public support, and sometimes to effect change, as a Walgreens-paid Twitter campaign — #ILoveWalgreens vs. Express Scripts — illustrated.
The campaign on Jan. 12 attempted to drum up public support for Walgreens’ failure to renew its contract with Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management company. The main issue is reimbursement rates. Walgreens dropped out of the PBM network that represented 88 million prescriptions filled by the Deerfield, Ill., drug retailer in 2011. Walgreens also used Twitter to publicize the convenience and value of its brand.
The paid tweet resulted in a back and forth tit for tat with Express Scripts. The tweet reached some 25 million people who favored Walgreens, the drug retailer said in media reports.
Walgreens’ Twitter campaign raises questions about how far retailers can go to effect change, win customers and drive traffic through social media and if they really understand its implications, Bill Bishop, chief architect of Brick Meets Click, told SN.
Bishop (left), a longtime retail consultant based in Barrington, Ill., who studies how consumer technology is changing shopping patterns, discussed Walgreens’ use of Twitter, how others are experimenting and where he sees social media evolving as digital communication transforms shoppers.
SN: How effective was the #ILoveWalgreens campaign?
BISHOP: At a minimum Walgreens’ goal was probably to make shoppers aware of why they no longer could get their Express Scripts prescriptions filled at Walgreens, and ideally, to get understanding and empathy for their position.
Social media is driven by an interaction that is of interest to customers. Why would customers be interested in the reasons why they are being inconvenienced? Customers’ primary interest [in this case] is that they are inconvenienced.
Two huge organizations duking it out is not legitimate fodder for most social media. And, it’s probably not even understandable. That is part of the reason, I think, this campaign doesn’t work too well. The campaign triggered a set of discussions about Walgreens and Express Scripts but there was no indication that the additional information changed the way people felt or let alone behaved.
SN: Wegmans caused a flap with its Alec Baldwin commercial. First Wegmans took the commercial off the air after Baldwin’s American Airlines incident, which produced some negative social media feedback about the retailer’s ads, then it put the ads back on the air after more public conversations rose in Baldwin’s defense. What was the end result here?
BISHOP: Wegmans inadvertently discovered that using Alec Baldwin didn’t have a huge amount to do with what people have come to love about Wegmans. They are arguably one of the best supermarket brands in the United States.
Alec Baldwin is a good-looking guy who is eye candy for the Wegmans’ ads and he has a name. But when he starts fooling around on an airplane all of a sudden it becomes evident he is an arbitrary add-on and has no real authority to recommend food stores. He is not Dr. Oz.
The social community pointed out to Wegmans that it was certainly OK as long as Alec Baldwin was OK. But some got upset when Alec started misbehaving and then it deteriorated.
The key point here is Wegmans becomes embroiled in a conversation that has nothing to do in their core business. It is an interesting example of how social media can call you to account or discipline you about staying on target to be the Wegmans we love to go to because of great prices, a great experience and a focus on food.
In the Walgreens situation, they incorrectly took a fight into social media. If it only was about getting attention, they got it but I can’t believe anybody at a high managerial level is going to look at hits or tweets.
SN: What retailers are using social media to their benefit?
BISHOP: Whole Foods, which has a very large number of Facebook followers, allows interaction as local as possible. It’s not really the Whole Foods chain. It’s Whole Foods in Palatine or Whole Foods on the Upper West Side. They have store-specific web pages and they maintain them reasonably well. They have taken their commentary local. They have found a way to have their community find new information from them about organic and product availability.
Whole Foods moderates conversations. It’s not like they manipulate or orchestrate or curate. They moderate. What they’ve done very effectivity is to have a set of guidelines and use real employees who understand their culture.
Also, look at the way Meijer presents themselves socially. They invite you to use Facebook, Twitter, text, voice mail and email in commenting or asking a question. It’s 360. You don’t just have to do it my way. They open it up. Different social media allow you to deal much more effectively with different segments of the population. I hold them up as an example of using an authentic invitation to communicate. You can communicate with us and buy from us anytime and any way you’d like.
An aspect of social media that is worthwhile is using online promotions to drive people to the store. H-E-B has a nice program in partnership with Kimberly Clark called SocialTwist offering coupons to a specific store. We’ve gotten used to the Sunday supplement and clipping coupons to use any place. Now we are getting an alignment where offers may come from an H-E-B website or pushed out through email that drive customers back to a store.
Knowlans’ Festival Foods once a month has a hot promotion they text out to shoppers’ cell phones. The promotion is good for one day. That is an excitement factor.
Stop & Shop through Modiv Media is migrating to cell phones. They have an app that shares with friends on Facebook if there is a really special deal going on in a store.
SN: At what stage in development are most food retailers with their social media programs?
BISHOP: A lot of retailers are unsure and a little tentative in social media. It clearly creates an opportunity for retailers to give shoppers a better experience and ideally to influence their behavior. Retailers have to be very aware it’s the shoppers’ social community. They have to be accepted in it. They can’t buy a seat at the table or insert themselves and have it work.
The social media community is looking for a place where they can communicate with their friends and with you [the retailer]. They are looking for easy access to information that they can’t elsewhere. Those who have done the best job with social media have learned how to conduct the conversation. And, it’s important to recognize social media is concentrated among certain groups — obviously younger people, and women in their 30s and mid-40s.
SN: Sounds as though the industry is at an early stage in social media marketing?
BISHOP: Here’s why it’s at an early stage. Social media is a 21st century form of word-of-mouth advertising. I don’t think retailers have gotten that point as yet.
We are seeing the emergence of a form of social shopping vs. e-commerce. If this is word-of-mouth on steroids then the basis of shoppers forming opinions about things is quite different than it use to be. It has to do with ratings or referrals or conversations in the community. Shoppers are being influenced by a broader and less controlled and less programmed set of influences that come through word of mouth. The goal of social shopping is to go beyond loyalty to cultivate advocates. The advocates are the influencers who really drive patronage.
SN: How will the industry start using the information they are gathering from social media conversations? Will retailers be able to drill down and offer exactly what individual shoppers want?
BISHOP: Yes, but here is what our research is showing if information is truly helpful and meaningful and relevant then people will share more of their personal information to get the what is meaningful and relevant to them. There is no question about that. It doesn’t mean there aren’t privacy concerns though.
It’s an interactive process in building trust, sharing and getting closer to the customer so that customer will feel more comfortable sharing.
SN: What’s the next stage of social media?
BISHOP: It’s going to take a much higher level of relevance or personalization. Truth of the matter is that most relevance and personalization in today’s loyalty programs are laughable, which is a function of the quality of data and analysis. We’ve all gotten the diaper promotion when kids don’t exist or are grown and out of the house. So this is the way to get the handshake going both ways.
Through social media, retailers have the ability to develop real relevance. They also can combine social and mobile as Stop & Shop with Modiv Media are doing and maybe Foursquare. But signing in and being followed and letting people know where you are is a subset of activities that isn’t for everybody. Sharing things that are exciting is a broad-based phenomenon.