Selling SIM

Retailers dial into a new wireless potential.

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

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Social Media’s Mobile ‘Ecosystem’

While retailers may not understand how social media ties into talk about mobile technology, Anthony Shop, founder of Washington, D.C.-based Social Driver, says it’s an integral part of a two-way conversation between the store and its customers.

“My grandfather ran a gas station and used a cigar box as a cash register,” Shop says. “But he’d always complain to me about how customer service today wasn’t like what it was back then. When he had his store, they’d go out to the cars, fill the gas and talk with customers. It was a community.”

To grasp the community-building potential of social media, retailers need to break away from a “broadcast mentality,” in which options such as Twitter or Facebook are used simply to “push” content. “Social media brings people together around a conversation, like a campfire,” he says. “It’s a way to get people together, with information going back and forth.”

Shop names a few common industry problems social media can address:

  • Reducing customer-service call volume. If a retailer is prepared to respond directly to customer complaints via Facebook or other social-media outlets, then that company can cut down on the number of phone calls it accepts on its own lines.
  • Increasing awareness of branding and marketing messages. As companies work to develop the community, a stronger, more direct communications pipeline builds.
  • Quicker feedback from customers. Shop mentions a soft-drink company that used a particular word in its latest ad that apparently offended customers. Fortunately, the company discovered the mistake before the ad rolled out.
  • Connecting employees. With most employees having cellphones, communications about promotions and other important customer-facing information can flow to those devices, Shop suggests.
  • Recruiting talent. Again, a stronger pipeline to customers can also result in a better way to identify potential new employees.

What companies need to do, however, is first identify their core strategies and then align them with an outcome. Often this preliminary work will lead to the kind of social-media activity—be it texting programs or apps—that is warranted.

App Advice

Retailers hear of many delightful and potentially lucrative uses of mobile technology and social media, such as accepting mobile wallets to encourage low-cost transactions, rewarding customers with downloadable songs or engaging smartphone users with a scratch-off-and-win game.

For all the enticing ideas that social media can bring, retailers may fail in their efforts if they skip the basics, according to Anthony Shop, chief strategy officer and co-founder of social-media consultancy Social Driver, Washington, D.C.

“Customers love apps that are useful,” Shop says. “[App] ideas can be great but won’t work without a supportive audience.”

Often social-media efforts wallow or fail because companies don’t take basic steps with regards to finding purpose, involving stakeholders and considering the target audience, he says, referring to a three-stage process:

  • Boardroom. In this initial step, key executives focus on company goals, not the result. For instance, one reason many retailers are delving into mobile payment is to encourage customers to pay with debit, which helps retailers avoid high credit-card transaction fees. Focusing on a goal such as that may lead a retailer in many directions, which may or may not involve mobile wallets.
  • Conference room. After doing the legwork of deciding on goals and direction, retailers have to bring in the players within the organization who will execute the plan, including management, accounting, marketing, operations and possibly the cashier who needs to learn something new. For instance, Shop says many apps fail or are downloaded but never used more than once or twice because cashiers don’t encourage customers to engage them on an ongoing basis.
  • Showroom. Finally, what the result looks like and how it operates at the store level is the final test. Bringing up the theme of weather, Seattle-based Starbucks develops products for all day-parts and has automated programs tied to weather that send offers as the day cools off or heats up.

“Many companies do apps because the competition is doing them,” Shop says. “But if you look at app reviews and [usage stats], you’ll be underwhelmed.”

Ultimately, the key is to understand the chain’s goals, bring in the moving parts—the people—who need to execute on any plan and, finally, know the customer and what he or she expects and would find useful.

Such advice may transcend the many aspects that mobile appears to be touching, including products, payments and operations, Shop says.


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