Going Local with Social - Lessons Learned

I had the pleasure of presenting this week at Ad Age Digital on the topic of Going Local with Social. My co-presenter was Natanya Anderson from Whole Foods Market, truly an early pioneer in driving a meaningful local social presence down to the store level. We had several conversations as we prepared for this presentation that surfaced an interesting set of learnings to date that I wanted to capture and share here. To be clear, these are my impressions - formed by conversations with Natanya as well as other leading retailers, big brands and agencies that are aggressively pursuing a local social strategy. The Big Ask Let's start by acknowledging that just asking for a consumer to follow your brand is a big ask. Expecting them to follow your local presence as well is a REALLY big ask. A 2012 survey by InSites Consulting gives us some perspective. They found that consumers follow 10 brands on average - and actively engage with just 5. So, your local social presence is competing for a limited number of space in the newsfeed. What do consumers want? Coupons. Discounts. Yes, these matter. They need to be part of the content mix. These special offers will be an important part of how you prove the ROI of your local social efforts (see ROI below). But consumers want more than that for their follow. They also want early information about new products. They want to hear about your mission - and how your company is making good on its brand promises. And they want to hear how your company's local social presence is contributing to the community where they live. If you want the numbers for this, have a look again at InSites Consulting's survey results that show the various forms of content and information consumers expect from brands on social. Are You Ready to Share Your Brand with Your Employees? At the Ad Age conference, Eric Hippeau, investor and former CEO of Ziff Davis, talked about the fact that creating brand content takes a lot of work. To paraphrase him, brands have been investing significant money in creating expensive, resource intensive, and highly engaging stories for their audiences (i.e. television advertisements). What would be possible if we applied the same level of resources and money to create many more locally sourced and executed brand stories? What this means is that some (or even most) of your content will be developed by employees and agency partners in their local markets. That will be a big shift for most companies. Are you ready to empower them to share your brand? In fact, many things need to change or evolve for companies to succeed with local social:

  • Local teams will need to become content creators - not just disseminators. The Detroit store teams MUST tell a different set of stories than the Austin store teams. While content themes and suggestions can be developed centrally, companies will need to lean in to local marketers becoming developers of local content.
  • Local store marketers need to live the "25-75% content" rule. This means that only 25% of content should be brand/product explicit messaging. The rest should be curated from local sources (e.g. a great local vegan chef) or be responses to and engagement in conversations your local customers are having on social - even if it does not directly involve your brand. This 25/75% split seems to be the unwritten rule of every successful local social practitioner I talk to.
  • Connect the endpoints. For local social to be predictable across all your stores/regions, you need to have a central platform that allows local teams to do their work while central teams measure what is working and what is not. Readers of the Spredfast blog know this means putting a great social media management system in place. Remember that just because you are empowering your employees to share your brand - you are not giving up the ability to monitor and approve local content.
  • Dedicate people to local social. Consider that you are opening a virtual store for every local social presence you set up. You would not open a new store without staffing it - so do not make that mistake with local social. The ability to staff these virtual stores will end up being a big driver in how local you go with social in different areas. You may decide to only go to the city level for smaller geographies, but have specific store presences where you have dedicated store marketers that can take on this role.

  Justifying the Investment In every presentation I have given or attended on this topic, the audience asks about demonstrated ROI. Particularly as we start thinking about staffing for local social. The usual questions include: are you showing bigger basket sizes? Are socially engaged consumers shopping more frequently? Can you prove it? Frankly, the results are just starting to come out. We work with one food service company that has shown digital promotions can drive double digit revenue growth at a fraction of the cost of print promotions. So, for their target audiences and markets, local social is showing both revenue gains and cost reduction compared to how they were doing business before local social. More results will certainly be coming as companies lay the foundation for successful, connected local social efforts. Many of the companies investing in local social are doing it because it is right for their brand now. It is part of their culture. In the case of Whole Foods Market, their stores are a totally integrated part of the communities where they are located. They carry local products. Local musicians play concerts in the stores. People come to learn to cook. It is hard to imagine brands like these NOT doing local social. These brands tell me that while they are looking for hard ROI as part of the mix in the long run, the benefits they get today are many:

  • Early warning on local issues that could have broader regional, national or international implications. In a socially connected world, problems at your San Francisco store can have impact on your New York store.
  • The ability to direct problems reported in social back to local stores. You hire great people in your local stores - drive consumers that have questions back into the stores for face to face engagement.
  • Bridge the conversation between shopping visits. If you are doing a great job with content, then you are staying top of mind for your consumers - adding value to their daily goals that relate to your brand or products. You are also giving them a reason to visit your store again.
  • Local authority gets local shares. The more you lean in to being a local authority and helping grow community, the more your local followers will share your content.

  The Right Social Mix: Mission and Utility I want to leave you with a final thought - and one that I will develop more fully in the future. The companies that we see having significant success with local social have figured out how to combine their corporate social presence with local social. A simple formula that we see them following is this: use your corporate brand social to drive your biggest messages around your mission as a company; use your local social to provide utility to your followers - information they can use every day in their lives in the town where they live. Is your brand activating local social presences? What challenges and successes have you encountered in making social local?

Jim Rudden's picture

Jim Rudden

Jim is responsible for worldwide brand, product and revenue marketing at Spredfast. Prior to Spredfast, Jim was VP of Global Marketing at Lombardi Software (acquired by IBM) where he was responsible for brand and product marketing, as well as demand generation. He has more than 20 years experience in technology marketing and implementation in the areas of enterprise software. He has held positions in product management, marketing, consulting, and sales at Lombardi Software, BetweenMarkets Software (acquired by Innovis), and Trilogy Software. Jim holds a B.A. in American Studies from Stanford University.