Friday, 20 February 2009

"No way, it's just not for my customers!"

I was at the Retail Week eCommerce Summit in London this week and talking to several leading retailers. Our Sales & Marketing Director, Steven Hampson, presented the e-inbusiness take on creating a buzz for brands online using engagement techniques including social media. I wanted to know what the audience thought so, direct as usual, asked them. One senior person fired back "It's a load of rubbish, what relevance is any of this to my customers? They dont use Facebook and Twitter is for celebrities, not selling". I considered this an invitation to wax lyrical.....

Now, i'm not defensive about social medial. If you don't like it, fair enough. However, if you don't get it, i'm not going to accept the negativity without explaining my viewpoint. So that is what I did with my usual enthusiasm. This week's blog is the condensed version of the stream of consciousness that burst forth....

Firstly, there is no right answer to the question "Will social media work for me?". I don't know. Nobody knows. But you can build a business case. Many brands are using social media effectively to engage customers and drive traffic/revenue. It helps them influence perception. But it is not a brand & reputation management tool per se. Success (how do you define success?) depends on many factors but the most important are a) is it relevant to your customers? (b) will it add value to your customers? (c) are you committed to making this work? (d) are you open to allowing your community to grow at its own pace, with a little encouragement?

There are many good examples of large (mainly retail) brands embracing Twitter. Zappos is the one I always use and I took the liberty of asking their CEO (via Twitter of course) how/if they measure the impact on their eCommerce site; the answer was a pleasing "we don't really measure it, it's just another relationship building tool". Now, thanks to that interaction I have blogged about it and told a lot of people in my personal networks. That might not monetise the time Tony spent replying but it has given him a lot of free PR.

So my view? Don't judge a book by its cover and don't infer your personal viewpoint on your customers. People use Twitter. Some people pointlessly follow everyone through fad addiction, these are the people who will switch off as soon as the "next best thing" arrives. However, there is also a myriad army of genuinely interested people who want to connect and share information. If you can tap into these people, you can build yourself an effective follower base who will talk about you and tell others. That just might drive people to your website.

But if all you want is measureable sales & profit, turn to your standard eMarketing channels. Just don't expect people to get excited about your brand.

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