The 475-store Red Robin (NASDAQ:RRGB) hamburger chain is using social media site Yammer to connect employees with the chain's upper management, according to Chain Store Age—and that's decidedly not the way most chains are approaching their social-media opportunities.
Typically, chains are using social for marketing, pushing offers and engaging with customers (usually by telling them to send an e-mail to customer service). That's often half-hearted and frequently highly disposable. But in Red Robin's case, Yammer is being used to let associates ask questions and make suggestions in real time. Executives can also deliver video messages across the company in real time, but that one-to-many approach has been possible for decades. It's the opportunity for instant employee feedback that's interesting here.
For most retail chains, the more widely dispersed the stores are, the harder it is for either upper management or associates to feel connected with the whole operation. There's never going to be an all-hands meeting when some of the "hands" have to come in from the other side of the continent (and if they do, who's minding the store?). That dispersal also makes the classic "managing by walking around" impractical, with the result that execs can never hear in-store grumbling by either associates or customers, see empty shelves or racks, or check out how crowded (or empty) store aisles actually are.
Instant social-media feedback can't completely close that geographical gap. But associates who believe they've got a direct line to the top are much more likely to point out problems or opportunities that would take weeks or months to travel back to headquarters through conventional channels. That feedback would also most likely be filtered through management layers, which means it would stop being the front-line view that gives feedback from shop-floor associates its greatest value.
Retailers have become masters of numbers over the past decade. With POS, loyalty and inventory data, it's now possible to get a full numerical view of how well a store thousands of miles away is doing. That's great if the model actually matches the business reality of the store. Turning social media inside-out and shifting it from just a marketing tool to a management conduit could work as a clever way of finding—and filling—the gaps in that view.
- See this Chain Store Age story
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