Top 10 tips from Asda on building customer relationships through social media

Asda’s ORB – online reputation booth – is where head of social media Dominic Burch knows he will always learn something new about his business or customers



Building customer relationships is important for any business but in the retail industry it’s absolutely vital, and social media is the perfect tool. Customers are voicing their opinions across the social media channels – from Facebook to Twitter – and ignoring what they are saying means missing rich learnings and the opportunity to build closer relationships. It also risks brand damage given that customer complaints that were once made behind closed doors are now broadcast to the widest audience possible.

As one of the UK’s biggest retailers, owned by US giant Wal-Mart, supermarket giant Asda is today an active and effective social media communicator, yet only three years ago it didn’t even have its own Facebook page.

Speaking recently at the #SMWF Asda’s head of social media Dominic Burch revealed that the company’s approach to social media had its roots in a no-nonsense approach and a limited budget that had forced it to be creative in the early days. So what can other businesses learn from Asda’s approach?

Tip 1 – Understand that social media is the new PR and you have to be reactive

Burch headed up Asda’s corporate communications team before moving to his role as head of social media earlier this year and previous to that was in the PR team at Asda for over a decade. In that time things have changed dramatically. Neither customer nor journalists now use businesses themselves as their first point of contact and instead often take to social media airwaves before verifying facts. Burch said businesses and brands had to accept and be aware of this fact and react accordingly.

Tip 2 – Communicate through all of the channels that best suit your customer

Asda already has a number of communication routes to reach its customers. As a media owner it broadcasts to more than 18.5 million customers a week through its instore radio channel Asda FM, whilst its monthly magazine is read by 5.5 million women. Facebook, said Burch, offered yet another channel to speak directly to customers, especially since half of its 18 million weekly customers spend an average of 15 minutes a day on Facebook. Whilst they are less active on other social media such as Twitter Asda still monitors them, said Burch.

Tip 3 – Be the genuine voice and get rid of the copycats

Burch admits Asda was late coming to Facebook and imposters had got their first. Before its debut there were 15 unofficial Facebook fan pages. “Most of them were well intentioned – our customers creating fan pages because there wasn’t a real one,” said Burch. “The problem was our customers were talking to people who they thought were us. Our customers already expected we were there.,” he said.

Tip 4 – Listen and understand before you engage

The whole point of social media is of course in the name – it’s a place for interaction. Yet many brands forget this and focus on being in broadcast mode rather than having a proper dialogue with customers, said Burch. He said Asda had learnt to listen to its customers and to be responsive rather than simply stick to its own agenda of what it wanted to talk about. “Only after we have understood do we seek to engage,” said Burch.

Tip 5 – Connect rather than just collect fans

Burch pointed out that actively engaging customers rather than just building numbers was fundamental for success. “What’s important for us is to connect to people that shop at Asda. 85% of our fans on Facebook are 25-35 year old mums who love Asda. I’m far more interested in connecting with those cheerleaders — the advocates of who we are and what we do — than having irrelevant fans,” said Burch.

Tip 6 – Drive engagement by listening to customers

Engaging customers in deciding product strategy is the modern day focus group on a much larger scale. He cited how Asda had asked its customers to vote on the colour flask it should stock as it only had shelf space for one option. “Customers in their thousands voted,” he said. Meanwhile a promotion for Asda’s Little Angels nappies that urged people to share a competition to win a year’s supply attracted sharing in its millions.

Tip 7 – To influence you need to engage with customers as an equal

Burch pointed out that many, even some within his own business, want to jump to the influence stage of the customer relationship process. “They see social media as being a cheap way to get to lots of people to sell them stuff,” he said. But customers, as in real life, don’t like being sold at. “People want to engage as an equal and on things that are relevant to them. If you jump to that influence stage you will either be talking to the wrong people about the wrong stuff or you will just turn them off,” he said. This means relevant, targeted content.

Tip 8 – Use social media to aggregate sentiment about your brand

Some brands are precious. Asda, said Burch, isn’t. “We sell baked beans,” he said. Allowing its customers to share their love of being able to put their own toppings on pizza in store, or that they believe Asda’s Smart Price chocolate rivals some of the biggest brands – both conversations the retailer realised its customers were having online — was key. “If customers want to talk about things like that we should celebrate that,” he said.

Tip 9 – Take social into your business

One of Asda’s key targets is to drive traffic through social media in it stores, said Burch. With instore Wi-Fi now in every store the retailer plans to get closer than ever to its customers and will be able to better see what its customers are doing on the back of the conversations it is having with them. “We are giving them a reason to take their phone out of their pocket and use it,” he said. This can involve everything from its Easter Bunny zapper campaign to encouraging customers sampling products to then like them, whilst instore, via social media.

Tip 10 – Always be open to learn more

It’s easy for a big business to think it knows it all but Burch explained that Asda’s initial social media approach centred around the Orb – the Online Reputation Booth – a series of four screens in the company’s press office which monitored conversations and mentions of Asda and its rivals. “You can sit in front of those screens and you will learn something about Asda you didn’t know,” he said.

Effective use of social media means that same can be true of any business and those that ignore the opportunities of social media for fostering closer relationships with their customers do so at their peril.