Brands, retailers strive to engage consumers, blend content and commerce on social media

(Photo: Flickr user Jason Howie)

Having a presence on social media is no longer an option for food retailers and brands, especially as consumers become increasingly connected and social platforms continue to grow. But managing that presence varies from one company to another, with some brands and retailers finding the right balance of engaging with social media users and others still figuring it out.

Regardless of what stage companies are at in the social media game, it is vital that brands and retailers tailor their approach to social media to their businesses, instead of going with a one-size-fits-all strategy, according to a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“Pick the right channels for your business, then double down on them,” PwC US Principal Andrea Fishman said.

Social media management is often associated with teams like marketing or communications, but some companies approach social media from a data perspective. At Sam’s Club, social media is just another type of data and another way to create meaningful connections with consumers, Chief Member Officer Tracey Brown said. And organizations that understand customer relationship management at its core are able to harness that in a social way, she said.

It’s important to “understand, analyze and model” what is going on with a retailer’s customers, Brown said.

Wal-Mart has taken the data it’s collected from its 250 million weekly shoppers and used it for efforts including improving its mobile app, adding functionality to its e-receipt offerings and developing personalization efforts like its Wish List, according to Jaya Kolhatkar, vice president of global data at @WalmartLabs. And data collected from social media plays a part in all of these efforts, she said.

But getting to the point where retailers and brands are using social media from a data perspective doesn’t happen overnight.

Currently, less than half of companies actually measure the returns they see from social media investments, and nearly 90% are interested in learning how to do so, the report found. For companies looking to boost their social media efforts, the report recommended they start by using standards of companies that already use social media effectively as a place to start. Retailers and brands should assess how consumers are engaging with their social media content through commenting, sharing and other interactions, whether the overall tone of the comments is positive, whether they are gaining new users that are engaging with their content, whether social media engagement is driving consumers to shop with them, how much they are paying to get new social media followers and whether their social media presence is growing, the report said.

The goal for the industry overall is to reach a point where social media engagement also means sales, and brands and retailers are finding the right way to marry content and commerce. The intersection of content and commerce is only accelerating with the increasing rate of new technology, said Gwen Morrison, CEO of marketing and communications firm WPP’s The Store. Her examples of intersecting content and commerce included Twitter’s buy buttons, shoppable ads and in-store events.
Combining shopping and entertainment in a retail space is key to achieving the intersection of content and commerce, she said.
Social commerce has yet to become fully realized, but it is likely that a significant amount of consumers will start looking to social media to make purchases sooner rather than later, according to the PwC report, especially considering that 87% of users perusing Pinterest for things to buy made a purchase after visiting the social media site, and social media is the fastest-growing online channel for site traffic and referrals.

When it comes to engaging consumers, retailers and brands should strive to make the most of user-generated content, which the report called the “holy grail of social communities.” Using social channels to share user-generated content builds trust and relationships between brands and consumers, and retailers and brands can even get creative and find ways to bring user-generated content offline as a way to influence more consumers, according to the report.

“When companies go beyond selling products to providing services and fulfilling customer aspirations — based in part on the vast trove of customer data that social media yields — they are acknowledging the ultimate power of social communities to serve as online gathering places for consumers who share common interests and lifestyles,” the report said.

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