When it comes to social media use, many food retailers are merely dipping toes in the water, while a few have taken deeper dives.
One of those proactively embracing social media is Supervalu, which hopes the strategy will help fuel its corporate turnaround. It’s a strategy worth watching.
“There are blurring lines on what social media means today,” said Jeff Swanson, director, external communications. “We see it as part marketing, part communications, part customer service.”
The company operates in a wide variety of markets with some 10 banners and 140,000 associates. Social media is helping the distributor advance both external and internal goals, he said.
The internal activity is probably least apparent to outsiders. Supervalu uses the social media platform Yammer to share ideas and connect store directors, corporate executives and others. Store directors, for example, use this tool to share best practices in real time, including about how to serve the college student crowd.
External uses of social media are diverse. Supervalu reaches customers through the Facebook pages of each store brand, and is piloting a new initiative using Twitter. Some 34 store directors now operate Twitter accounts to communicate with customers about their individual stores, and the initiative will be rolled out if proven successful. This approach joins with a new effort to create individual store web landing pages, all of which “helps support our hyper-local strategy,” Swanson said.
Customers aren’t the only external audience for social media. Supervalu operates a Twitter feed (@supervaluPR) that shares news about the organization for investors, media bloggers and others. Meanwhile, a career Twitter feed (@SVUCareers) reaches out to potential hires, especially younger candidates. The company is also eyeing emerging opportunities with YouTube, Foursquare and other platforms.
The overall strategy was spurred by Craig Herkert, president and CEO, who “has a passion for social media,” Swanson said. A taskforce exists to develop strategy.
It’s hard to say exactly how much social media can help move the needle for Supervalu, which has faced ongoing challenges, including those related to pricing and financial performance. But it seems the company has taken a sophisticated approach to social media by starting at the top and driving the effort throughout its business. It will be one of the more interesting models to track in the food retail space as we move into 2012.