A debate appears to be brewing in the retail community about whether chatter from social media sites should be viewed as a potential direct marketing research goldmine or as sketchy territory.
Raz Schionning, Web director at American Apparel, Los Angeles, said that feedback from sites like Facebook and Twitter can be as misleading as it can be helpful. Random comments shouldn’t be viewed with any more significance than a snail-mailed customer letter, he said.
"Right now, marketers are so wrapped up in the hype of social media that they pay an illogical degree of attention to it," Schionning says. "You should pay some attention to it, but put it into context."
He says that the strands of information at social media sites were typically too disjointed from which to regularly extract meaningful information. "I think the amount of energy you have to put into pulling those nuggets far outweighs the benefit of them," Schionning says.
SkyMall has a much different take due to a couple of recent tests. The brand opened a Twitter account in late January and has accrued a modest 226 'followers' of its tweets.
But the cataloger has used feedback from Twitter to push a 'Wonder Woman' cuff bracelet above-the-fold on the homepage for a recent two-week run, pushing it forward from a deeper site category. Shea Beck, online marketing manager at SkyMall, Phoenix, Ariz., said that the bracelet became the top-rated product on the homepage, and sales on the item jumped "well over 100 percent."
"Now if we see something that gets a lot of blog buzz for a whole week or an extended period of time, we’re going to put it on our homepage," Beck said. "We won't advertise that it's there because Twitter said it's hot. We simply put it up and place copy around it."
And during December, Beck started using Google’s blog search application to see what SkyMall products were the talk of the blogosphere. He discovered positive chatter concerning its already in-stock item, "The Slanket"—a competitor of the better-known shawl-and-blanket-combo item, "The Snuggie."
Beck says that an e-mail on Feb. 9 featuring The Slanket beat the previous week’s campaign in sales by 121 percent. The two offers included the same 25 percent off coupon. The buzz-worthy product was the only major difference in the campaigns, he said.
Additionally, Beck saysthat SkyMall's print catalog redesigns are in the offing due to his company's social media feedback.
“We have taken the step to making social media a listening canvas," he says. "While we are hearing what people are saying, we are then contacting the customers who have negative feedback via messages and thanking the ones who have positive things to say."