Social Media’s MVP: Feedback

social media fansSocial media is new and we’re just now exploring all the things it CAN do.  We’re learning that while social media CAN do many things – it’s better at facilitating some business tasks better than others.

Despite the fact that in the beginning, it looked like social media was going to be a GREAT way to generate sales leads, we’re now discovering that’s not the case.  Even though  social media communication tools are chocked full of various ways to analyze the various interactions we have using – it turns out the biggest lesson may be that  those tools are only able to measure LINEAR movement through the sales process.   We’re learning yet again that the sales PROCESS is anything but linear.

While the results of the big “social media as lead generation tool” experiement may be disappointing – there is a HUGE bright spot on the horizon.

Social media is a WONDERFULLY effective tool for providing valuable feedback.

Customer feedback is vital to the success of any business.   In the past, businesses have had to resort to “unnatural” methods to access customer feedback.  One common method used to this day is to herd customers into a room and watch through a two way mirror as they “openly discuss” the product in question.   Until recently, this was the
“it’s the best we can do” option.   After all, we couldn’t EAVESDROP on actual conversations – so we have to pay people who might be our customers to sit and discuss their opinions.  The fact that in many cases – these people were NOT our customers was just something we had to accept as a flaw we couldn’t address or correct.  People with jobs and families usually won’t take a day off to talk about deodorant with other strangers – so we’ll talk to people who will.

Enter social media – and suddenly setting up a Google Alert allows us to “eavesdrop” on the written conversations of tens of millions of people.   Since it’s happening “naturally” – businesses can rest assured that the conversations happening in social media are the REAL issues – and not one targeted by a planning committee.

Feedback is of critical importance to the health and well being of a business.  Social media makes it easy to listen in – to not only the conversations about YOUR product or service – but the products and services of your competitors.  Oh the gold mine of information that is called SOCIAL MEDIA.

The value of customer feedback was driven home to me a few days ago when I paid a visit to my local health food store.  The shelves were two thirds empty and there was a hand written sign at the cash wrap announcing discounts if you’ll use the green stuff to buy your green stuff (herbs, natural foods and supplements).  Then, I heard a radio ad for the store on my way home.  The owner does her own radio ads and unfortunately – you can hear it in her voice.  Things are not going well at the local health food store.

This local health food store isn’t online in any way as far as I know.  The only “technology” is the cash register – and there’s only one that can process a debit card.  There isn’t a newsletter, or an email list or even a web site. Even though I’m a regular customer – the owner doesn’t know my name or what I do for a living.

The way I formed a connection with the store owner was one day I asked for her advice one.   My life had gotten out of balance (read about that here in Achieve Success While Maintaining a Healthy Work Life Balance) and I needed help getting “back on track”.  While I poked fun at one of her suggestions –  Hemp bagels.. (When You Hear Hemp, Do you Think “Rope” or “Dope”?) overall, she recommended a variety of supplements which I continue to purchase and use to this day.

Notice – I reached out to her but she did not reach back out to me – her customer.  During the two and a half years I’ve been a customer of the store – there’s never been an opportunity for me to offer feedback to the store’s owner.

  • When she stopped carrying the natural licorice my children adored – I told the clerk who rang me up – and nothing happened.
  • When the supplements were “reorganized” on the shelves and I couldn’t find the products I needed – I wasn’t able to offer an input.
  • When I couldn’t find a product which health food bloggers are raving about –  I asked the clerk about the possibility of getting the product. The clerk didn’t even bother to write down the name of the product I was seeking or even PRETEND that there was a possibility of carrying the product.

Despite the lack of input – and even though it was infinitely EASIER to order the products I need online – I feel a certain responsibility towards the owner of this health food store.  After all, I wouldn’t have known about half of the products if she hadn’t personally recommended them to me, so I’ve made the effort to continue to patronize the shop.  However, since my oldest son has now graduated from high school – the health food store is now a trip in and of itself.  So when I made a special trip and discovered that half of the things I needed weren’t in stock – I was disappointed and saddened.

I was disappointed because I have a feeling that the next time I make the trip to the health food store – it won’t be there.  The reason it won’t be there is simple – the store owner was operating without the benefit of customer feedback.

There’s no doubt about it – the store owner has a gift.  I described my symptoms and she darted from aisle to aisle, gathering the various “cures” for what ailed me.  What she  probably doesn’t know is that when she’s not there – no one helps. During her “trip” around the store with me – she placed about $300 into my basket.  The last time I went – I spent $50.  If she were tracking sales by customer – which she isn’t – it  would be easy for her to look at the “figures” and interpret them as, “She spent less because of the lousy economy.”   It would be easy – but it wouldn’t be true.   There were two factors which greatly contributed to my significantly reduced average purchase:

  1. The products I wanted were not in stock
  2. When I asked the clerk to find the products, she simply told me they weren’t in stock.  She didn’t offer an alternative that was in stock – it was “too bad -we’re out.”

The technology that is driving social media has a lot of potential to provide significant and valuable information to businesses.  However, it still takes human insight to interpret that information.  Sure – the process of analyzing the information is labor intensive – and it’s not easily outsourced for $2 an hour.  However, there is truly GOLDEN INFORMATION to be mined using social media.

The true GOLD in social media is the unaltered and natural feedback delivered in REAL TIME from actual consumers.  Feedback isn’t always pretty – but it’s essential to know what customers are saying.  They’ve always been talking – now thanks to social media, you can eavesdrop on the conversations that are happening “online”.

The fact that this tool can ALSO gather and produce a sales lead or two along the way is just icing on an already nutritious and delicious cake.


  1. Hi Kathy – Unfortunately, many bricks and mortar store owners don’t realize that an engaged customer is a repeat customer, and that relationship-based selling is always a two-way street. It sounds as though the owner of the store you’d like to keep patronizing is active and engaged with her clientele, but she fell short of engaging her employees to get excited about the mission to provide healthy solutions to the needs of the customers.

    In the specialty food industry, there is no better operation than Zingerman’s out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. They’ve made a mission out of evangelizing their customers and their employees. It seems to me that the first thing a retailer needs to do is to convert their employees into total zealots, so that their enthusiasm is as infectious as you described your encounter with the owner. Easier said than done, but necessary.

    Secondly, soliciting feedback is crucial, especially when you’re relying upon customers to make the effort to come to you. It’s probably not too late for this retailer. But she’s going to have to excise and re-set. For many, it’s just too easy to blame the economy. Someone recently wrote, “It’s not the economy. You just suck.” Words to keep in mind.

    Good examples here, Kathy. Thanks.
    .-= Betsy Wuebker´s last blog ..LOVELY LEELANAU =-.

  2. This is what I tell people all the time, Social Media is great for gaining knowledge about your product or services without you needing to make an awful lot of effort over it. The valuable information can be used to improve your products or services to ensure your customers keep returning.

    It’s a shame that your local health food store is probably going to go out of business, purely because the owner hasn’t listened to her customers, but this is a sad fact of life. I imagine it’s too late for her to start to make the changes that you and her other customers would recommend. This is a real shame because it’s small and medium sized businesses that are suffering the most in this global recession, but paradoxically there is potential for growth in this sector at the moment for those that are willing to make the extra effort.
    .-= Amelia Vargo´s last blog ..Images And Videos To Support A Variety Of Content And Your SEO. =-.

  3. Betsy- OUTSTANDING point about being “evangelical”. Actually – I realized AFTER I wrote this that the store owner was REACTIVE and not PROACTIVE. When I approached her and asked for help – she did so – but many a time I’ve wandered those aisles without so much as a “can I help you?”…..

    “The first thing a retailer needs to do is to convert their employees into total zealots”

    Great insight – great advice…

    It is WAY to easy to say – “It’s the economy”… the economy is just exposing the “cracks” in the foundation of your business. You can either fix what’s not working or continue to bury your head in the sand of excuses.

    Amelia – I absolutely ADORE your take on gathering information without a lot of effort or investment. BEAUTIFULLY PUT!!!

  4. Kathy — You know the sad thing about stores like the one you mention is that they need to realize how easy it now to use the Internet for on-line purchases.

    Local stores have to really work much harder to keep customers. Even if you have a unique niche in a town, like being the only health food store, if you don’t reach out to your customers, they can just go on-line.

    This happened to me recently, when I visited a store for a product and was promised they would have in a couple of days and call me. Well, it’s been a week and now I’m about to order the product on-line. I can actually get it cheaper. Thanks for this post:~)
    .-= Sara´s last blog ..Kindness Can Improve Your Health =-.

  5. Sara – GREAT point!!! I think it’s interesting that both you and I spend a LOT of time online – yet we’ll “choose” to do business locally – that is until the local business doesn’t do their part. Yes it’s easier – and sometimes cheaper to order a product online. Local retailers need to understand that consumers are WILLING to pay more – but what we’re willing to pay for is SERVICE. If I have to wait several days for a product – I can order it onlin and get it cheaper AND save myself a 2nd trip. It’s the reality of the world we live in today.

  6. You totally took the thoughts right out of my brain when you said there are usually people problems, not tool problems.

    I need to keep the following in mind too, “not letting problems get big enough – hairy enough – ugly enough” to cause even bigger problems. ( I tend to procrastinate with backing up my laptop.)

    And I’m going to go study Tom’s tweets now, see what makes his social success tick.