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    'Social' Media

    Don't forget the social aspect of social media

    By now most grocers have mastered the technical aspects of managing their social media presence. They know how to blog, tweet, upload videos to YouTube, and to post on the wall of their Facebook page.

    Yet while they post weekly special and videos of charity events for their social media audience to see, they still seem to overlook the basic reason why these platforms were created in the first place -- to create a dialogue between participants.

    They've overlooked the ''social'' part of social media.By this I'm not referring to the one-way communication of the fresh red snapper that just arrived, or the buy one, get one free special for Facebook fans. I''m talking about creating a dialogue with your social media audiencethat is multi-directional -- from grocer to customer, from customer to grocer, and from customer to customer. The kind of dialogue you engage in while you are walking the aisles of your stores.

    Small talk.

    Chit chat.

    Chewing the fat.

    The only difference is that you are doing it online and involving far more than a single shopper standing in front of you. The insights you stand to gain from such dialogue are tremendous.

    Look at it this way. From years of chatting with your customers about their weekend plans during the summer, you have a pretty good idea of what their basic grilling needs are. But to get this information involved dozens, if not hundreds of quick conversations over a long period of time. And you were only limited to the information each customer shared directly with youy.

    Enter Facebook. You post a simple question on your Facebook wall: ''What are your cooking plans for Memorial Day weekend?'' Within a day, not only do you get dozens of comments from fans detailing their grilling plans -- which is valuable information in itself -- but you also are privy to your Facebook fans' comments to each other. Perhaps one fan mentioned a particular barbecue rub they are using and another comments on how much they like it. Or they swap seasoning advice with each other.

    What's key is that you don't limit your participation to the initial post, but that you actively join the discussion. And you don't sell them. IIf someone mentions an ingredient, don't respond that you are running a special on it next week, give them advice on how to best incorporate that ingredient into their meal. Recommend a wine that complements the strip steak they plan to grill. Give them tips on how to marinate it.

    In doing so, you become much more than a source of their products, you become a source of information. What's more valuable in the long run, a Facebook fan saving a couple of bucks from a promotion you posted, or one who has the best barbecued spare ribs they ever tasted because of one of your recommendations?

    The only challenge to making this work is time. Engaging in such dialogue can be time-consuming, but it's definitely worth it. But this is easy to address. If you don't have a smartphone -- one that can use a Facebook and Twitter app, get one. You'll be able to see posts in real-time wherever you happen to be, and respond in seconds without having to interrupt what you're doing and running to your PC.

    Not only will your customers keep returning to your Facebook page, but they'll keep returning to your stores, as well!


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