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When Choosing Customer VIPs, Is It Time To Ignore Purchase History And Focus On Social-Media Clout?

August 17th, 2011

What social networks are doing is delivering a way to quantify the huge buying power of a customer’s friends and associates. As writer Carl Reiner once quipped: “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives. So choose friends with a lot of money.”

The influence factor is also based on a lesson so many of us learned in high school. When choosing who to interact with—especially in a non-pleasant manner—the nature of the individual is just one factor. (For example, if making a speech about how the student body’s intelligence seems to be plummeting by the hour, citing the school’s muscle-bound star quarterback is probably a bad choice.)

But a far greater consideration is the student’s associations. It was quickly discovered, for example, that members of the marching band were a very large and tight-knit group. The bandies had a Warsaw Pact perspective that attacking any one of them was an attack on all of them.

That philosophy very closely parallels Facebook friends and Twitter followers. If people think a retailer has ripped them off and they blast a note to that effect to followers, those followers tend to immediately see the rip-off personally as the group dynamics kick in.

(At my school, members of the chess club—and yes, I was a member—were the opposite of the marching band members and were seen as ideal torment targets. If a chess club member was attacked, the other members would most likely scurry away and theorize the most likely scenarios of where the conflict will go and the rough probabilities. It was less Warsaw Pact/NATO and more Keystone Kops with slide rules.)

SAS’s Bastone also makes a good point that a true influence yardstick wouldn’t even stop with the analysis of a customer’s followers and would have to extend—with some reasonable limit—to the followers of the customer’s followers.

“The re-tweet or mention of a post is an incredibly valuable data point, as it simultaneously acknowledges that the influencer’s post was in fact read and it serves to amplify the reach of that message to people who aren’t necessarily following that influencer,” Bastone said. “In other words, it is both a Nielsen rating and an indication of the relevance of the message.”

Admittedly, very little of this data gathering and analysis—let alone a practical means to deliver that information to associates in a timely and convenient way—is doable today. But the only way it’s ever going to be doable is for retailers to think about it today and decide what they would like to eventually see—and to then start changing processes to enable that vision.

The hurdles are mostly logistical and process-oriented, rather than technological. The raw data is freely available today, and the analytics needed are truly not that much more complex than what is currently being used. The biggest hurdle is getting retail execs’ minds to internalize a new way of thinking. If you think consumers are resistant to change, take an honest look at your own senior team.


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