Why Supermarkets Are About to Feel Weirder

Social media conversationsWhen was the last time you went into a big supermarket and the cashier knew your name? Chances are, it just hasn’t happened, most likely because we expect anonymity when we’re shopping face-to-face.

However, that expectation changes when we’re online. Thanks to the marvelous, increasingly affordable amplifying devices we carry (otherwise known as smartphones), we expect brands and organizations to do much more than just know our name. We expect them to be social. Not just with ten, or even a hundred customers; rather, we expect them to be social with scale.

This was the theme of Social@Scale Summit, a recent event held in partnership with the social software company Sprinklr, at the Ketchum London office. The event, which featured Stephen Waddington, Ketchum’s European digital director, explored what it takes for a modern PR firm to keep up, by focusing on the move from influencer management, to community management, to enablers of truly social businesses.

The speakers pointed out that, initially, the Internet just made what we were already doing faster and easier. We could suddenly order groceries online; fundamentally, however, shopping remained a purely transactional experience. But, now that we’re in the Social Age, both our personal brand relationships and the wider role of PR require a more intimate, individualized approach, which in turn requires a lot of learning through trial and error.

One of the recurring themes was how, as one speaker said, “biologically, the human species is the accumulation of the experiments of all its successful individuals since the beginning” – much like the Internet in many respects.

In 2014, the Internet is a fast moving, constantly evolving environment, where the old rules of steady-state success simply don’t apply.

Several outstanding Internet performers had a presence at the event, such as Rightmove, a U.K.-based real estate portal that operates exclusively through its website, which was represented by its community manager, Sarah Brown.

Brown admitted mistakes had been made with Rightmove’s social voice. For example, in the summer of 2011, she asked Rightmove’s online community what they thought London’s urban riots would do to their house prices. Apparently, this went over about as well as a comment by Miley Cyrus on family planning might.

Nonetheless, Brown proudly reflected on how, overall, her organization’s commitment to social interaction at scale brought about massive volumes of positive interest. For example, when she posted content about a house featured on Rightmove, the site received 1.9 million visitors.

Like several speakers, Brown went on to argue that only through constant experimentation did she have the experience and wisdom to recognize social gold and utilize it effectively. Thus, without her previous voyage into the torrid waters of controversy, Rightmove would be another steady-state company in social media decline.

In other words, learning from mistakes is an increasingly valuable path forward when it comes to figuring out how to serve consumers on a wide scale. Such social content strategies are proving that the risk of ignoring social media is now greater than the risk of using it ineffectively.

Enabling companies to offer social at scale is the new PR frontier, and it may soon mean a trip to a big supermarket is now a little more personal.