Mark Shaw is the UK’s leading expert on Twitter who has started to publish a “Hall of Shame” of companies who use Twitter badly. Many firms set up a Twitter account and then do nothing, leaving their brand to attract dust. Or they set up a Twitter account and use it to blast out endless messages about buying their products and services. In both instances, they have clearly failed to understand that Twitter is conversational where individuals talk to each other. It is person-to-person communication, not a broadcasting system. Mark is very clear about that and his Hall of Shame has started to expose businesses who obviously don’t “get it”.
But, even though this section of his blog is but days old, it has already revealed a significant factor for established, offline businesses. An item so important, unless companies pay attention to it, their future could be limited or short-lived.
Tesco is one of the companies shamed by Mark. It seems they set up a Twitter account last year, sent out one Tweet promoting Easter Eggs and that was it. For such a major brand, that’s not good…! But within moments of Marks’ blog “Tesco Real Food” responded pointing out there were other Tesco accounts on Twitter. But what is Tesco Real Food? It is a website and magazine produced for Tesco by the publishing company, Cedar Communications. The Tweets about Tesco Real Food are therefore done “on behalf of” Tesco. Tesco itself, is not Tweeting it seems.
But then why would they? Take a look around any major retail store. Who markets what is on sale inside? Is it Tesco, for instance? Or do they expect Heinz to market the beans, Cadbury’s to market the chocolate or the Meat & Livestock Commission to market British meat with the little tractor logo? Yes, it is true that Tesco markets their own stores, but they – like almost every other retailer – expect other companies to do much of their work for them when it comes to the individual products.
Take a bookstore as an example. Who do you think actually puts up those displays for new books? Who decides which shelves the books should be put on? Who arranges all those book signings, the posters and the other promotions? Is it the bookshop? If you think so, it might come as a surprise to you, but the UK is full of publishing company sales representatives who travel from shop to shop arranging much of the retail side of things. They don’t just recommend which books the shop should stock, in many instances the bookshop expects those reps to stack the shelves as well. And, for that pleasure the publishers have to give the retailer at least a 50% discount on the cover price.
For decades retailers have squeezed suppliers expecting more of them for less money. It has resulted in a cultural position within the retail sector where the suppliers do the marketing, often the stock control and the shelf-stacking as well in some places. The retailer takes half the money (or more) in exchange for having some spotty youth grunt at you as you hand over your cash.
Now it seems, Tesco thinks it can extend that culture online – by getting other people to do its work. Here’s the problem for the likes of Tesco. When we visit their stores we cannot have a direct relationship with them; we simply (in their words) have a “shopping experience” with their brand (yes, I know, pass the sick bag!). But online, we can have a direct relationship with named individuals within companies such as Tesco. And what’s more, online we expect it and increasingly demand it.
In other words, the “other people do it for us” mentality which is rife throughout retail no longer works online. Mark Shaw’s exposure of the failings of Tesco on Twitter have actually revealed a fundamental chasm in the retail sector. Online, gone are the days when you could expect your suppliers to do everything for you. Now, online, you simply have to do it yourself – which means individuals within your business Tweeting – not an agency. This is a dramatic shift in thinking which most large corporations in the retail sector have yet to grasp. But grasp it they need to. If they don’t they can expect to feature on Mark’s Hall of Shame sometime soon.