Big (Social) Data: How You Can Use It Best — Q&A with Safeway Social Manager Paul Albright

SocialTimes recently chatted with Paul Albright, Safeway's senior social marketing manager, about using data intelligently (and not intrusively) in social advertising.

Companies have an incredible amount of data regarding the habits of fans and customers — and we’re not just talking about Google and Facebook.

Increasingly, big brands down to your local coffee shop are offering a rewards card that offers deals and discounts in exchange for your information and purchasing behavior. A lot of this activity ends up back in your life as social ads.

But how can you ensure that the data is used, but not abused? SocialTimes recently chatted with Paul Albright, Safeway’s senior social marketing manager, about using data intelligently (and not intrusively) in social advertising.

Safeway works with Adobe Social to manage its social campaigns. In one case where Safeway produced a series of videos for its Facebook page, this lead to a more-than-11x increase in organic reach and 487 percent higher engagement rates with optimized video content. Albright talked with SocialTimes about how a major part of the supermarket’s social marketing mission is to create a positive emotional bond with customers.

SocialTimes: Can you talk about some ways that data can be used on social to drive sales or key objectives?

FullSizeRenderPaul Albright: The data piece has been a conversation for the last 20 years. As brands and companies have been amassing this amazing and vital information, I think that the knee-jerk reaction that a lot of superficial marketers had was to find a way to extract more dollars from those people.

I think that’s limited. Yes, you want to figure out a way that you’re using that data for insights that help the marketer how to create exchanges with those individuals, but the bigger relationship factor is understanding the composite of that individual: what they make, who they are, their digital footprint, their behaviors — and that you’re not pissing them off.

Honest to God, that’s the number one thing: How do I not piss people off? Social media is not a transactional response tool; it’s a relationship.

As a marketer, if you’re telling me over and over that you’re never going to buy dry goods from my store, it’s too expensive, I go to Target. If I knew that about you intrinsically, I could navigate my communication around it or cajole you into understanding why it’s better.

For data’s sake, I can say look, this is their shopping cart every week — how can I get them deals and promotions? That’s going to get you so far. From a behavioral perspective, I’m trying to understand, look, they never open their email. They go to social media 17 times per day, and it’s between 10 and 4 — I know that about them — so how do I open my conversation and tailor it to what they’re looking for at that given time? That’s where the data is powerful.

ST: Safeway has a lot of data around consumers who are visiting stores, so how does Safeway use this data while toeing the line between effectiveness and creepiness?

PA: That was exposed in great detail when we launched the Just For U campaign. Every store pretty much has a loyalty program, and Safeway is no different. The last 15 years, people have been swiping their club card and that data has gone into the centralized database. It was always forward-looking, as if they didn’t know what to do with it, but they knew they needed it.

That loyalty was all going to this giant database. About 10 years ago, they realized how to configure it so they could market back to individuals. Personalization was becoming so key in marketing — market to me, don’t market to the masses. The only way they could do that was by personalized data and taking all of your purchase history.

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