Who is winning the supermarket social media sweep?

If you thought this post was going to be about the gameshow that made Dale Winton a household name, I’m sorry to disappoint…

Nielsen data published recently shows that supermarkets are pulling back from advertising in newspapers. In January alone expenditures saw a sharp decline (32%). According to Richard Dodds, from the British Retail Consortium, which counts the big supermarket chains among its members, it is not only social media, but also ‘other channels’ that are responsible for this shift. Undeniably, however, supermarkets are making increasing use of social media to promote their offers.

In a study we conducted back in November 2011 analysing social media conversations around the top retailer brands (for the 8 weeks prior), posts around marketing and PR activity accounted for 16% of all mentions and this was the third largest conversational theme after shoppers relating their recent shopping experiences and discussing price and promotions.

This is not that high, you might argue, but actually the important bit is the momentum that these conversations create.

In these uncertain economic times, customers have a strong focus on special deals which supermarkets are expected to deliver in addition to offering EDLP. It seems that announcing deals via social media not only gets your brand talked about (ok so that’s not rocket science) but more importantly it plays a role in reinforcing customer perceptions of being the best value for money.

Out of the ‘big four’, Asda seems to have made the most effective use of social media to exactly that purpose. There is evidence that its social media strategy, in addition to its through-the-line activity, has helped reinforce consumer perceptions that Asda is the cheapest of the big 4. Many customers seem to increasingly agree with this recent tweet by an Asda customer “Got an Asda not too far away. They are always the cheapest”, as their store numbers slowly but surely increase, in part through the acquisition of retail locations from other retailer chains (Netto in 2010 and Focus DIY more recently).

So what has their main strategy been around social media?

In essence, it appears that Asda has focused on driving consumer conversations around various events and competitions. An example of this was its activity around the launch of FIFA12 back in October. Asda’s strategy of tweeting a competition to win a copy of FIFA12 for the Xbox360 or PS3 helped it secure the dominant share of conversations around the launch of the game, relative to other retailers and – despite the fact that Asda did not talk about pricing in this instance – it helped bolster the supermarket’s wider reputation for value. More than 400 people re-tweeted the Asda competition and it certainly helped Asda attract favourable opinions (half of all its social media conversations over a period of 4 months to the end of December 2011).

Further evidence of Asda’s success in terms of social media engagement has been demonstrated by data published by Starcom MediaVest based on a survey of 8,000 people (see – http://www.slideshare.net/StarcomMediaVestGroup/starcom-media-vest-group-supermarket-uk-a-very-social-christmas), which shows that Asda has, amongst the ‘big four’, the second highest level of average likelihood of its visitors taking a social media action (e.g. enter a competition, play a game, post a tweet etc…) after visiting its Facebook page.

According to the same Starcom study, Waitrose performs the best in terms of social media engagement (out of the big 4 supermarkets, plus Waitrose and the Co-operative). Waitrose’s social media share of voice might be small (it hovers at 5%, which is in line with its market share) but it has a very engaged group of customers who talk about Waitrose on social media. Asda’s share of voice is also in line with its market share but it has the highest share of social media content going through Facebook at 5.3%, which could explain this high level of engagement compared to the rest of the top 4.

One thing that remains for certain is that whilst Asda is not the most talked about retailer around social media (Tesco leads the charge on that one), for the time being at least, it wins the supermarket social media sweep when it comes to driving engagement and positive opinions.  The key question is  though, will it keep its momentum? Sainsbury’s was leading the way in terms of social media presence and engagement only a year or so ago and is now punching well below its weight when it comes to social media share of voice compared to its market share.