Navigating a Social Media World

With more and more consumers accessing social network sites to gather input and post reviews, Chain Store Age spoke with Dick Reed, CEO of Just Media, on a subject that is a top priority for retailers across the board: how to reach out to consumers in today’s social media world.

Your company has done some detailed research on how consumers make buying decisions in today’s social media world. Tell us about it.

We ran an online survey to discover what information sources were being referred to when regular consumers considered the purchase of a technology product. Our objective was to discover what sources they use and which are the most important and influential.

We did this to help a client understand the purchase process because, while we had run a successful advertising campaign (in terms of response and interest) promoting one of their products, there had been a lack of conversion to actual sales. Our belief was that other factors were impacting this conversion, most notably some poor user review scores that appeared on various e-store websites.

We believe that the response data we collected is quite representative of purchase processes for many general product categories given the overwhelming access the general population has to information through smartphones, computer and tablets.

How important are online reviews?

They are critical. Cumulatively, 73% of respondents claimed online user reviews were “critical, I always check this” (23%), or “an important part of decision” (50%). Professional reviews came in second, at 70% overall. Compare this, however, with feedback from in-store sales person at only 19%, or manufacturers’ own reviews at 22%.

Should retailers ignore negative comments?

Generally speaking, retailers are ill-advised to ignore complaints since the impact of the negative comments is obviously quite severe. Put emotion and hurt to one side, take a deep breath and respond professionally. Remember, even when he or she is not, the customer is always right!

More importantly, user feedback offers the retailers or manufacturers an opportunity to see where they may be falling short in terms of service, and to address the issue before it impacts on their business long term.

Many retailers seem uncertain when it comes to the thrust of their social media strategy. What should their focus be?

One of the most interesting responses we saw in the survey — and certainly the one that surprised us the most — was that users are not giving much credit to opinions posted in social networks like Facebook and Twitter. They much prefer user reviews posted on sites where they actually buy, such as Amazon.

We suspect this is because random comments in social networks are less in context with regard to others, so it’s hard to get a good overall picture. Users know that a few negative comments are always likely, and it’s a question of how the negatives compare with the positives.

Given this, we advise clients to focus on helping purchasers who like their products become advocates for them by posting where it matters, at the point of purchase, or where many user reviews are gathered like on a product review site. Facebook pages might be nice to get fans and share and build communities, but it’s not necessarily going to help those new prospects become a buyer.

Is online advertising on social media sites an effective strategy for retailers?

Yes, we have found social sites to be good areas for online campaigns, which perform as well if not better than many other types of online sites. 

Summing up, how should retailers reach out to consumers in today’s social world?

Never underestimate the power of user reviews, and encourage your social community to actively help by becoming advocates. Do not ignore negative comments, and if you have a product that users really don’t like, refrain from using marketing to try and drive the sales … all you do is actually damage the brand by directing people to all the negativity. Indeed, it actually makes sense now to advertise the products people love the most to help boost the brand and encourage even more positivity.

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