Spilling the Beans: Asda's head of social media Dom Burch talks 1m Facebook fans, Walmart and cheese on beans on toast

Asda’s head of social media Dominic Burch divulges the supermarket’s plans to bring social media into its stores and engage customers via their mobiles as they shop.

On the day of The Drum Live, supermarket chain Asda is nearing 1m Facebook likes and has 137,000 Twitter followers – an achievement that pleases the company’s head of social media, Dom Burch, a witty and cheerful individual who has joined the event to discuss the social strategy he has implemented in recent years.The strategy has focused on growing engagement and loyalty from mothers especially, led by a team of just two including himself. As a result, he has brought in an agency to help manage the social output, however this is not a strategy he advises other companies to take.“I would normally advise social media be done in-house so you can establish that tone of voice and understand the character of the company because often it’s fleet of foot, nimble stuff,” he explains, adding that real-time messages do not need to be decided by committee.“I’ve got a lot of faith and trust in the agency we use because they are effectively my extended team and they’ll agonise over three lines of copy in a post because they know it’s as important in a journalist sense as a press release that lands in your inbox. If you don’t get it in the headline or the first sentence, it’s gone. You’ve moved on,” he explained.“Being really true to who you are and not taking yourselves too seriously is where we find the sweet spot to be,” he continues, adding that in one sense the number of fans doesn’t matter, as long as there is true engagement generated.“Getting to 1m [Facebook likes] shows we’ve actually connected with the most loyal of our mum customers who really love Asda. Do we need to try harder to get many more? These fans are absolutely engaged with the brand, so much so that 25,000 of them were talking to us about cheese on beans on toast last night, leaving 5,000 comments.”The success of a Facebook post can be determined pretty quickly, with 50 or 60 likes expected in the first minute, or else “tumbleweed rolls across the screen”, indicating that the post should be removed and reconsidered, he states.How does the UK business operate alongside parent company Walmart in the States? “Our business is different,” he says, adding that customers in the US only shop at Walmart once or twice a month, while Asda customers buy baked beans on average once a week. “What’s interesting is that we’re more developed in a lot of ways, particularly in terms of mobile adoption.” This leads Burch to discuss the recent introduction of Wi-Fi in-store, where he explains how the supermarket is aiming to integrate its social activity in-store across the UK and “unlocking” the ability to connect with customers while they shop.“Customers already have their phones out while in-store, so we need to find an obvious, relevant and engaging way for Asda to operate as a brand on mobile. What we are interested in is unlocking those moments in-store where we can be useful and engaging for a customer, not in a disruptive way but in a contextual way,” he explains, adding that the plan would be to extend its Facebook reach to hit the 2m mark through a focus on sustaining the engagement of its current base.He says that the brand welcomes the use of photography, taking pictures of ‘Del Boy Deals’ where the offer is one for 50p and two for £1, and sharing those. Burch claims that Asda fans “do a lot of Facebooking” and the typical number of brands that most fans follow is around 10, but an Asda fan follows 96 other brands on average.“To get five times the number of interactions than some of the other people we measure against says that our content must be engaging our audience, so talking about cheese on beans on toast must be what our mums want to interact with from their supermarket. Talking about Andy Murray winning Wimbledon is irrelevant to our mums in relationship to Asda. So you have to work hard to be disciplined enough to not fall into the trap of following the buzz.”By taking customer views as to the products Asda could sell, it could be critical in engaging its audience, stating that “lots of these things are transferrable in social” between different industries, such as banking for example, Burch claims.In order to speak to customers, Burch advises that the conversation must be relevant and in context to where they are, which could transfer into a like of a product on Facebook. Such an act could then reach that user’s 260 or so other friend’s newsfeeds as a result. “The viral reach we are getting from some of the posts didn’t exist two years ago because two years ago we weren’t on Facebook. One of the challenges we always have is what is the ROI of social media, and how much Matey Bubble Bath do you sell off the back of that?” He describes such commercial thinking as“a dangerous starting point” and continues to say that Asda chose the starting point to be about having a relationship with customers who liked the brand.“We’re going to put credit in the bank three or four times a day with that audience and every 10 times we post about Matey Bubble Bath or cheese on beans on toast we’re going to ask them to do some heavy lifting. If we get that wrong, unlike lots of other forms of digital marketing it’s completely the opposite, where you’re never just seeking to engage an audience.”As to an example of the power of social activity and Asda fans, he cites a competition for Huggies promoted through a TV advert, which ‘no one entered’. However one post on the Asda Facebook page drew 45,000 entries. “The post was deliberately written to target sharing with someone who would like to win a year’s supply of nappies. 15,500 took that post and forensically then shared it with someone they knew.“Once you’ve created that community of people who love you and shop with you, people who you know will probably like you.”Asda is clearly witnessing the value and power that its social fan base can have, and Burch seems enthusiastic about building that fan base long past the imminent 1m milestone on Facebook.Burch was interviewed by Stephen Lepitak at The Drum Live. The Drum Live issue, published on 19 July, is available for purchase at The Drum store.

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