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Import of Social Media Trumps ROI: Speakers

NEW YORK — It is important for businesses to be engaged with social media, even if they can’t measure an immediate return on their investment, according to retail speakers at the National Retail Federation Annual Convention & Expo.

“You would never say ‘no’ to a customer that wants to talk to you in a store, but the customers are there online and they want to talk to you,” said Heidi Reale, director of marketing and consumer insights at Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y.

She said Price Chopper has one staffer dedicated full-time to social media and two others working on it part-time. In addition, Price Chopper uses the company’s call center to handle customer questions and complaints posed via social media.

Likewise, Michael Ross, vice president of customer marketing at Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Meijer Inc., said his company focuses first on getting social media right, then on looking for the return on its investment. The company has a million fans on Facebook and monitors social media 24/7.

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“When we started, we were just putting stuff out there and not listening,” he said. “But you need to listen. One of the most important things about using social media is to have a conversation.”

He said all Meijer staff are trained on using social media.

Reale of Price Chopper also pointed out the importance of having conversations about things customers care about — such as what they are doing with their children on spring break — rather than just about the company’s products.

“Social media gives you a chance to have a conversation with your customer,” she said. “Traditional advertising is more like archery — you just aim and shoot.”

Michael Sansolo, chairman of the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council, led off the discussion by noting that Facebook is being adopted more and more by older consumers. This year, 50% of Facebook users are expected to be age 35 and older, vs. 45% of users in 2011. “Facebook is not an alien device, but an amplification of something we have always done as a species,” he said. “We are social animals."

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