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I’m seeing companies spend lots of money trying to get customers to talk about their brands and products in social media.

For many of these companies, it’s a big waste of money.

Let’s be rational about this. What customer wants to tweet to his or her friends about toothpaste or B2B procurement services? (Please repeat after me: “None of them.”)

So what do we do when our customers just aren’t that into us? We come to grips with the fact that social media isn’t all about us, it’s all about them. Companies should be much more focused on listening to customers than they are on talking to them.

Here’s an example that I heard at this week’s SAP Forum New York City: Some Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies like General Mills have invested in analyzing the social media conversations of their various target demographics. In one case the trends showed that mothers are concerned about protecting gluten-sensitive kids from getting sick. That led General Mills to begin prominently labeling its appropriate foods “gluten free,” which helped drive more sales, according to Marcus Shingles of Deloitte, who spoke at the Forum about research he has done with CPG companies about market analytics.

The increasing power of analytics should not be used with customers alone, however. We must also listen to the market, as SAP CMO Jonathan Becher pointed out recently. That means developing sophisticated analytical capabilities that enable us to make better decisions across the business. Here are some best practices that I picked up at the Forum for doing that:

  • Know what your competitors are doing with analytics. In CPG, for example, a few companies have constantly been pushing the envelope of analytics for decades. Now that the analytical possibilities are exploding, that’s a gap that competitors need to close—fast.
  • Let customers do the data gathering. Gigwalk is an example of how CPG companies can crowdsource tasks that normally cost them a fortune in employees’ time and labor. In a typical Gigwalk example, customers get a nominal fee to walk through stores and monitor things like stock outs and competitive placement.
  • Keep an eye on startups. Gigwalk is just one example of the many startups blooming in the fallow field of analytics. “Three or four CPG companies have worked with all of the startups,” said Shingles. “Other companies need to start doing the same if they want to keep up.”
  • Create an analytics sharing model. Companies need easy ways to share analytical information across the organization to improve and speed up decision making. But they also need to share analytics nerds, who are in short supply right now. Shingles recommends establishing an analytics center of excellence.
  • Keep the insights simple and visual. Analytics is for geeks, by geeks. To make it accessible to the rest of us lowly humans, put it all in a visual format—it’s how our brains like to process information.
  • Speed translates into margin. What good is insight if it comes too late to act? Especially in social media, companies must be ready to decide and act quickly—which means the data must be processed quickly. German home shopping network HSE24 uses real-time data from CRM and social media to determine the right up-sell and cross-sell products to offer customers while representatives have them on the phone. In another example, Fox saw that the lead ape in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was trending more on social media than the human actors. So Fox ripped down all the human posters and replaced them with shots of the ape.

What do you think? Have you stopped talking about yourself in social media yet?