Spredfast's benchmark study of social media management users shows distinctions between those just entering social channels and those, like Whole Foods, whose usage is proliferating rapidly.

David F Carr, Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

September 5, 2012

6 Min Read

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Natanya Anderson is in charge of social media at Whole Foods, but that doesn't mean she is in control of it. Having joined the grocery retailer a little over a year ago as social media and community team leader, she is still in the process of auditing all its social media activities but estimates there are about 600 social media accounts promoting the brand, with approximately 2,000 employees regularly contributing content.

"The joke about Whole Foods and social is, it arose organically," she said.

With more than 330 stores owned by the chain, but operated in a decentralized management style where store managers decide what to items to carry and how to promote them, people from across the organization created social media accounts and have been managing them relatively independently until now. "One of the reasons I was hired was to try to take advantage of the fact that there is this massive social media presence at Whole Foods," Anderson said. The decentralized marketing plan mimics the hyper-local organization of the stores, and that's mostly a good thing, she said. However, she is also looking for ways to optimize and coordinate social media efforts for the benefit of the entire organization, she said.

Whole Foods is an example of what social media management firm Spredfast calls a "proliferating" user of social media for marketing and customer service. Spredfast has just published a benchmark report looking at the activity of the users on its network and dividing them into three broad segments--activating, expanding, and proliferating--to see what those in each category have in common.

Spredfast's selfish interest in this study is to showcase the volume of social media interaction organizations can handle through its product, which is designed to accommodate large numbers of users and multiple geographic or organizational divisions within a business. The proliferating organizations in the study averaged 21 business groups involved in social media, compared with three business groups for the activating companies. The average was 11.

[ Get local: Shoutlet Helps Retailers Track Foursquare Activity.]

The scale of Whole Foods social media outreach places it at the top end of the proliferating user scale, but it got there without the help of Spredfast, whose product it is just in the process of rolling out. "We're maybe a quarter of the way there, but 2,000 people is a lot to train, or even to just identify," Anderson said.

Anderson wants to use Spredfast to help manage social media publishing on a very large scale, combined with the multifaceted nature of social media communications, where there is no clear dividing line between a marketing channel and a customer support one. Marketing users who encounter complaints or questions they don't know how to handle need to be able to coordinate with other specialists, she said. "That's why we picked a tool like Spredfast that has workflow--for the marketing manager to be able to ... shoot that over to someone else in customer information or someone else on the team."

The Spredfast Social Engagement Index benchmark report is available for download or as a SlideShare presentation. The study is not necessarily reflective of the entire business world because it's not a generalized survey. One thing all the included businesses have in common is that they've already selected a relatively high-end social media management tool, which by itself hints at big ambitions. On the other hand, "these are accounts in the system," said Jordan Viator Slabaugh, the director of social media at Spredfast. "This is not a guestimate or estimate or self-reported type of stuff--this is what people are actively doing."

Even those companies in the "activating" category "are not absolute beginners," she said, but there's still a big difference between their activity and that of the "proliferating" companies. For example, the average Spredfast customer published 4,924 messages in the second quarter of 2012, or about 54 each day. However, companies in the proliferating segment averaged 10,583 messages during the quarter (and the most prolific organization published 155,926), while activating firms averaged more like 568 messages in that period.

Measures of engagement--defined as any audience interaction from a "like" to a comment, share, or retweet--show an even bigger split, with the proliferating accounts racking up 5.2 million interactions on average, while organizations that were earlier in the growth of their initiatives recorded 7,000 interactions, on average.

In future reports, Spredfast hopes to dig deeper into what makes organizations with the best engagement statistics more successful, Slabaugh said.

Facebook remains the social media channel with the highest engagement.

The study also shows big differences in the patterns of publishing and interaction across social networks, with companies publishing about four times as many items to Twitter but getting back nearly 10 times the engagement on Facebook. (The study did also find some organizations that enjoyed higher levels of engagement on Twitter, however.) While Spredfast aims to serve as a comprehensive social media monitoring, publishing, and engagement platform, chief marketing officer Jim Rudden said it's still common for some users to publish straight to the various social networks or use an alternate social media management tool of their choice for some fraction of the activity. "We're in the very early days of this being managed in one place."

At Whole Foods, Anderson said that out of 10 business units, so far she has Spredfast deployed and in active use in the Rocky Mountain region and deployed, with training now ongoing, in the Midwest region. She hopes to tackle the other regions over the next six months, but at a deliberate pace. "The Florida region is very different from the Midwest or Northern California, so we want to make sure the way we're configuring the software and approaching the software is going to work," she said.

Her first priority is less about imposing the use of Spredfast as a publishing tool for the sake of control than it is focused on getting social media posts (regardless of how they were published) imported into the tool for analysis.

"We've created these really fantastic hyper-local communities throughout the country, but now we have to understand: Do people who are engaged with us in social [media] shop more often? Do they have bigger baskets?" Anderson asked. "Just like a lot of other companies, we have to understand the business value of social--and start to make slightly more intentional decisions about the use of social."

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and facebook.com/thebyard

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

David F Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Government/Healthcare

David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and was the social business track chair for UBM's E2 conference in 2012 and 2013. He is a frequent speaker and panel moderator at industry events. David is a former Technology Editor of Baseline Magazine and Internet World magazine and has freelanced for publications including CIO Magazine, CIO Insight, and Defense Systems. He has also worked as a web consultant and is the author of several WordPress plugins, including Facebook Tab Manager and RSVPMaker. David works from a home office in Coral Springs, Florida. Contact him at [email protected]and follow him at @davidfcarr.

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