The power of social media is undeniable. Consider these statistics: Retailers hosting a Facebook “like” button on their website enjoy 80% higher monthly traffic growth. Moreover, the average visitor spends 11% more time on the site.1 While most retailers already have a social media presence, few use it as a strategic weapon to drive decision-making.

How can a retailer harness the power of social media to make better internal and external decisions that increase a brand’s relevance to customers?

  • Gather and analyze customer insights and feedback from social sharing sites to sharpen market intelligence. Use this intelligence to stay on top of what customers need and want from a brand.
  • Gain an edge in competitive intelligence by analyzing competitors’ social media activities. Seeing the choices a customer has available allows a retailer to take a more proactive position with marketing, customer experience and product offering.

Smart retailers can identify a number of areas within their operations to incorporate market intelligence into innovation and product development processes.

Because of the digital nature of social media and its sheer volume, the potential exists for relatively inexpensive data-gathering on a large scale. Many tools are available for regular gathering of social media data, which can then be analyzed and used in conjunction with other business analytics.

Consider Google’s Realtime, a free tool that’s been quietly developed in beta by the search giant.

Realtime follows, in “real time,” status updates, tweets, discussions, blog posts and other social media inputs. The interface enables a retailer to select which elements to track and to set search parameters for alerts and updates. Tools like Realtime offer the benefit of no cost and immediate implementation, though they require some internal investment to make them work as effectively as possible and they lack service support.

Subscription-based software products can also gather data automatically from a wide range of both social and traditional media to generate customized reports to track the data a retailer wants to look at, as well as enable that retailer to dig more deeply into any data point at any time. Both paid and no-cost resources deserve consideration for developing approaches to monitoring and reporting.

Competitive Intelligence

The same tools of data gathering for market intelligence can be applied to competitive intelligence. Establish alerts to review conversations related to a brand and its competitors. Look for thought leaders among bloggers, Tweeters and denizens of all social environments—those who are most active are analogous to customers who enter a retailer’s stores most often. They are reviewing and commenting on what they see amongst competitors and broadcasting their views to ever-expanding networks. Over 75% of consumers read online product reviews—so should retailers. Competitive insights should be analyzed and acted upon as appropriate across an entire business, from marketing and customer service to product development and store experience.

1 New York University’s L2 Digital IQ Index. Average 3-month traffic growth.

This is the last in a four-part series on leveraging social media for more than just marketing. Please see our related insights below.

Strengthen Customer Loyalty Through Social Media
Enhancing Internal and External Decisions with Social Media
Using Social Media to Improve Marketing ROI

17 December 2010