business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

In the past year, Gamestop, Gap, JC Penney and Nordstrom have all opened and then closed storefronts on Facebook. No doubt that there are many out there who see this as a sure sign that social networking sites, while great for sharing photos and updates of kids and pets, are not the spot for business.

I’d argue completely against that point of view. Let’s start with a great quote from the television show “The West Wing”:

“There has been a time in the evolution of everything that works when it didn't work.”

The only reason storefronts have yet to work on Facebook is that no one has quite done it right. But eventually, someone will get it right. In a big way. Really soon. And then, will take it even further.

It’s time we take a really long view at social networking to understand the incredible range of ways that Facebook, Twitter and others can dramatically impact the way business is done on line and in stores. In fact, it’s already happening.

Social networking is already a shopping partner for an increasing percentage of customers. Linked to their world of friends and advisors, customers are increasingly reliant on these networks for research prior to the shopping trip, for advise and discussion in the aisles of the store and certainly after the trip ends, when they happily post critiques and reviews on countless sites. The challenge for business is to understand how to best interact with this new thread of discussion so that your presence leads to sales and satisfaction.

Major insights into the intersection of commerce and the social web are all part of the third installment in the new study from the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council of North America, which you can download here.

All three sections can be downloaded for free here.

(Again, full disclosure: I serve as research director for the Council and am heavily involved in this new study.)

While the first two sections of the study focused on the fundamentals of social media - the scope of its use and the reasons why people seem compelled to make these connections - the third installment (and the two that will follow) get into business issues. The section being released today provides a few key areas for business discussion:

• The different personalities or roles that social networking users adopt. Understanding these helps businesses identify the most influential shoppers who are most willing to post opinions and advice about their shopping experiences.

• The incredible importance of food in the realm of social networking discussions. Any doubters in the industry about the importance of social media need only review the statistics compiled by the Integer Group, the study’s authors, to get a sense of just how prominent food is on the social web.

• The evolving nature of the shopping trip and how, thanks to smart phones, networking is increasingly part of purchasing decisions. This section also helps outline the growing ease of planning and commenting on trips to influence others.

• A quick list of do’s and don’ts for businesses trying to make an impact through social media.

And that’s only scratching the surface. The real value in this entire section of the report comes in starting the discussion inside your company on how best to get on top of the wave that is changing the way the world communicates. Remember, before everything works, it doesn’t, but those who figure it out first get an enormous competitive advantage.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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