Social Security

Paula wonders why Bay Area stores don't have double coupon days. Judy craves more health foods. Georgia says more cashiers are needed in Stockton. All three women are among nearly 30,000 of Safeway Facebook a designation that enables them to voice comments and ask questions about almost anything. The Pleasanton, Calif., company is one of a growing number of food retailers using Facebook, Twitter,

Paula wonders why Bay Area stores don't have double coupon days. Judy craves more health foods. Georgia says more cashiers are needed in Stockton.

All three women are among nearly 30,000 of Safeway Facebook “fans,” a designation that enables them to voice comments and ask questions about almost anything.

The Pleasanton, Calif., company is one of a growing number of food retailers using Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media to connect with their tech-savvy customers. Others actively involved include Dorothy Lane Market, Lowes Foods, Ukrop's, Whole Foods, Brookshire's, Price Chopper and Hannaford Bros.

Having a presence in the social media world gives Safeway another way to interact with customers and grow loyalty, said spokeswoman Teena Massingill.

“It's important to communicate with customers in a way that is comfortable for them,” Massingill told SN. “Millions of consumers communicate and share ideas on Facebook.”

Safeway closely monitors activity on its Facebook page, and responds in a timely manner to comments and concerns.

Take Paula's question about double coupons. In response, Safeway wrote, “Thank you for your comments requesting the Bay Area stores to get some double coupon days. We will send this through to our advertising department for future consideration.”

Along with gaining insight into shopper wants and needs, Safeway strategically leverages Facebook for advertising purposes.

Nestled among all the compliments and critiques are mini-ads, like the one for Safeway's Bright Green private- label household cleaning line. “Clean up your clean up with Bright Green Paper Towels, whitened without elemental chlorine and made with 100% recycled fiber,” one Facebook ad read.

Facebook's clout is becoming stronger as its membership climbs. The social networking site just announced that it has 300 million users — almost as many as the population of the United States.

Along with Facebook, other forms of social media — including the micro-blogging site Twitter and online blogs — are becoming a core part of supermarkets' go-to-market strategies.

Those that are involved could see positive results, as there's a correlation between a brand's social media efforts and financial performance, according to a study by Wetpaint and the Altimeter Group.

Companies who measured as having the greatest breadth and depth of social media engagement grew company revenues by 18% over the last 12 months, while the least engaged companies saw revenues sink 6% on average over the same time period, according to the study, which reviewed more than 10 social media channels, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter, wikis (websites using wiki software that allows for the editing of interlinked Web pages), discussion forums and more than 100 brands. Starbucks led the list, followed by Dell, eBay, Google and Microsoft.

For supermarkets in particular, social media can do a lot to help them build relationships with their target women-with-children market. That's because women with children at home are more likely to use Facebook (60.3%), MySpace (42.4%) and Twitter (16.5%) than average adults (50.2%, 34.4% and 15.0%, respectively), according to a new Retail Advertising and Marketing Association survey conducted by BIGresearch.

Moms respond well to social media because they like to share experiences and information, and say other peoples' opinions influence their purchases. Nine out of 10 (93.6%) mothers regularly or occasionally seek the advice of others before buying a service or product, according to the survey. Additionally, a whopping 97.2 % said they give advice to others about those products or services they purchased.

“Quite frankly, moms like to talk,” Phil Rist, executive vice president of strategic initiatives, BIGresearch, said in a statement.

Some supermarket blogs are written by moms themselves. Take Safeway, whose blog author (identified only as Kate) works fulltime at Safeway and is a married mother of three girls. She often blogs about activities and recipes she's experienced with her children, but also promotes various Safeway products and services, such as the Bright Green private label.

Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, uses Twitter to remind shoppers of its many store events, including the annual food and wine show.

It also uses the service to boast its products offerings.

For instance, the retailer recently tweeted about an accolade bestowed on its sushi supplier: Hissho Sushi.

“Congrats 2 Hissho Sushi CEO Philip Maung on winning Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year,” the Tweet read.

Jungle Jim's International Market, Fairfield, Ohio, isn't on Facebook or Twitter yet, but is exploring both options, according to creative director Jim Bonaminio.

“Shifting to social network sites is the next step for us,” he said.

For now, it's focusing on its online Foodie Talk Forum, where shoppers often write about their Jungle “finds.”

“Our store is so unique and interesting that people want to talk about what they've found here,” Bonaminio said. “This gives people the opportunity to chime in at any time and comment about our stores.”

Jungle Jim's frequently reads posts and makes sure it responds to all shopper comments in a timely matter.

Indeed, social media benefits retailers by providing a quick feedback loop, said Jim Hertel, managing director of Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill.

“It's a way to get a very quick response,” he said.

Willard Bishop research shows that a core group of highly valuable shoppers feels a close bond with their supermarkets and want to contribute their options.

“They value being listened to,” he said.

He stressed, however, that the response is not necessarily representative of all shoppers, only those who are technologically literate and food enthusiasts.

Meanwhile, some retailers are offering financial incentives for shoppers who get involved in their social media efforts.

Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., for instance, is promoting its new online blog with a chance to win a $100 gift card.

All those who leave a comment about their favorite food at blog.ukrops.com [4] are automatically entered to win. The winner will be notified via email and announced on the blog on Oct. 2.

The promotion coincided with the Sept. 1 launch of the retailer's Facebook page, Twitter account and online blog.

“We're excited about this effort because it gets us back to our roots of word-of-mouth marketing,” Lynn Schafer, Ukrop's targeted marketing manager, told SN.

Likewise, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., recently offered a $25 gift card to five Twitter followers who tweeted about how Price Chopper has been helpful to their family.

Among the tweets posted in response to the contest:

  • “The gas discount we receive for using our Price Chopper AdvantEdge card has been a great help.”
  • “You have been helpful to my family by offering an extensive list of private label value products which help save us money.”
  • “You have helped my family by saving me $ on my groceries. I am unemployed & with coupons I can save 50% on my food budget.”