February 23, 2011, 4:14 PM

Best Buy says free online listening tools are A-OK

The retailer relies on free listening tools to keep up with online shoppers.

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A variety of tools can help multichannel and web-only retailers process and understand the online conversations about their brands or services. Though some can cost tens of thousands annually, consumer electronics giant Best Buy Co. says free tools such as Google Alerts and HootSuite work just fine. 

Gina Debogovich, Best Buy’s senior manager of communities, says most free tools operate in real time, which means they quickly alert Best Buy to customer concerns and helps the retailer get in front of issues that could impact sales. “They give you information that is actionable in the moment,” she says.

Best Buy, No. 10 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, also uses free monitoring tools from TweetDeck, which follows Twitter posts, and RSS feeds to monitor the broader web, and hosts several of its own community forums through BestBuy.com and Twitter. Forum members number in the millions, Debogovich says, and the retailer hosts a robust Twitter page (@twelpforce) that the team watches for customer service issues. Given the many online mentions of Best Buy, Debogovich says her team prioritizes conversations that gives the retailer’s staff an opportunity to address problems or answer questions first. Her team is organized by subject matter so that questions or comments about computer games, for example, are answered by the team’s gaming expert.

Monitoring online communications helps Best Buy to respond quickly when problems crop up. For example, in the spring of 2009, Blockbuster Video retained the services of Kirkland & Ellis, a law firm with a reputation for helping companies with bankruptcy filings. Rumors that the video rental chain was going to file for bankruptcy spread like wildfire across social media. In the melee, one Twitter post used Blockbuster’s stock symbol, BBI, to report the rumor. Reading it, another Twitter user asked, “Is this Best Buy?”

Best Buy—its stock symbol is BBY—was listening and responded to the Twitter post directly, cutting short any rumor that the electronics retailer might be in trouble. The event exemplified the power of consumer conversations occurring online today. Blockbuster, which later said it hired the law firm to help it raise funds and didn’t file for bankruptcy for about another year and a half, saw its stock plummet 77% to 22 cents a share that day.

It was one of Debogovich’s 15 team members who saw and responded to the potentially devastating tweet. Not all web conversations are so loaded, but listening to what is being discussed does help Best Buy become aware of site issues. A forum post, for example, alerted the company that a category page for refrigerators on BestBuy.com actually displayed TVs. The team was able to alert the person responsible for the page and get if quickly fixed.  

The Best Buy communities team has the web covered 24/7. “In a day when anyone can tweet, blog or post a video that may or may not be based in fact, brands have to be monitoring the conversations out there,” Debogovich  says.

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