WSJ misses the Mark on Black Friday #Fail

Jessica Payne

According to The Wall Street Journal, Black Friday 2012 was officially a #FAIL for social media. A recent article cites the latest IBM 2012 Holiday Benchmark Report, analysis of real-time Black Friday sales data which shows a steady increase in sales via websites, mobile devices, tablets and multiscreen shopping, yet dismal sale referrals (.34 percent) via social media.

A statistic like that would send most social media gurus running for the hills. But does it mean anything?

I disagree with the Wall Street Journal’s assessment. Declaring social media a failure based on one day’s worth of sales data is hasty and misleading. Rather than try to decipher what went wrong (if anything) on Friday, let’s focus on the changing role of social media and what participation really means for today’s consumer.

Here are a few things to consider before dubbing social media an albatross.

  • All Activity Matters. Forrester categorizes social media participation into specific social technographics; each with their own set of distinct behavior that doesn’t always translate into proactive “actions” like tweeting or liking. 80% of social network users lurk regularly; consuming and sharing information and influencing others in the process. And while it’s difficult to measure such activity, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Audience members vary but are each important. Invest in understanding their behavior and set up benchmarks that can be measured against.
  • Social Media is A Research Tool. 51% of online shoppers consider social sites as valuable and credible resources for researching products and services. Never before has there been access to so much information. Generations of veteran info-seekers exist (thanks to Google) and research happens sometimes well ahead of shopping day. I’d be keen to see data on where consumers spent their time prior to Black Friday as it could reveal social media’s impact on day-of transactions itself. Recognize which information your target demographic seeks before making a fiduciary decision and make sure it’s available in spades. Then track it.
  • Church & State. Consumers expect different things from different social media platforms. Conversations are more welcome on places like Facebook, for example, while customer service issues are expected to be resolves quickly on Twitter. IBM’s data suggests consumers prefer traveling directly to websites or third-party retail sites for purchases. Consumers don’t like to make purchases via social media; not a surprise there. Analyzing behavior on social media profiles prior to Black Friday would help retailers smartly plan for engagement that works – translating to sales on their website or in-store.
  • Burnout. #BlackFriday has been tweeted more than 700,000 times in the last month according to Topsy.com. The argument could be made that people were sick of being bombarded with the sales firehose that they tuned out. There’s no way to tell but a good reminder that too much can simply be too much. Ever receive a presidential election email? Quality over quantity is a timeless rule of thumb.

We’ve never had this much access to data, but it’s imperative the right data is analyzed before making blanket conclusions. Consumer behavior is ambiguous and so marketers must follow a data-analysis methodology that leverages numbers but also taps into human behavior; not always possible from one or even ten data sets. Set benchmarks that measure accurately and stick to them. Otherwise, we’ll spend too much time fixating on a number like .34% and head for the hills.

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