Commentary

Social Media Could Have Saved RadioShack

I always get a bit nostalgic whenever an iconic American business succumbs to bankruptcy.  RadioShack’s recent announcement of its Chapter 11 status was even more personal and disheartening for me.

In 2006, I was part of a pitch team at Arnold that eventually won RadioShack’s creative business. As my friend and the guy who led the pitch, Will Burns, recalls in Forbes: “Our pitch theme: turn perceived negatives into positives. The stores were small, so they could be tucked into every neighborhood in America. The assortment was limited because their buyers bought only the right stuff. The staff were a little geeky because they were a little geeky, and so, were better able to help you than the snotty nosed kid at Best Buy.”  

Though this brilliant strategy won the business, RadioShack was unable to “operationalize” it -- that’s business-speak for not being able to live up to those promises. In the cases of store size and product selection, I agree that no amount of great advertising could turn these limitations into positive business outcomes.

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But the incredibly knowledgeable staff on the ground at each and every RadioShack  could have been the silver bullet that, if leveraged properly, might have saved RadioShack from its fate.  If this was the promise that RadioShack operationalized in its marketing, then things might have turned out differently.

Let’s backtrack for a second. In 2006 my role in pitching RadioShack was to help its execs imagine how and why positive word-of-mouth could deliver real business results. The challenge was to create deeper connections between those quirky, MacGyver-like, long-tenured store employees, and the customers who trusted them. 

Operationalizing this word-of-mouth marketing strategy was a challenge for RadioShack partly because, in my opinion, execs didn’t trust the promise of their employees enough to spotlight them in marketing or enable them to develop communities with their local customers. 

Even if RadioShack had trusted its employees, in 2006 we still lacked the robust social and professional networks through which such a task could have been achieved.

Which brings me to my original hypothesis: Social just might have been able to save RadioShack. Fast-forward to 2015, when Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube had already built the infrastructure and connectivity to enable these neighborhood know-it-all’s to dispense guidance and yes, product recommendations for any technology task. This isn’t to say operationalizing a local employee-driven social-media program is easy, cheap or fast. This approach still takes patience, trust and passion.

As a brand marketer, are you ready to accept and appreciate the distributed nature of your brand? Are you ready to trust your local employees to represent your brand in social media?

Before you answer, consider this: Do you have a greater affinity for the national holding company of your grocery store -- or the person at the deli counter who knows just how you like your cold cuts sliced? Do you trust a Sunday circular for advice on which TV to buy, or that one “go-to” guy in your network whom everyone hits up for technology advice?

Affinity is largely local and entirely interpersonal -- and there is no marketing medium better suited to make these connections than social media.

For RadioShack, it seems this realization came too little, too late. A quick glance at Facebook reveals that at some point the company created Pages for each of its local stores. But these store pages are empty. No posts. No local employee photos. No local events. No user community.

What if every RadioShack store had a vibrant Facebook Page with new product updates and local employee spotlights? How about if the company had leveraged Twitter for local customer service and Q&A? And imagine in-store experts posting how-to videos on YouTube for everything with a cord. 

As multi-location businesses continue to experiment and succeed in developing local strategies, perhaps the question is not whether you have the time, budget or trust to create a local-social strategy, but whether your business can afford not to.

8 comments about "Social Media Could Have Saved RadioShack".
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  1. John Fredette from Alcatel-Lucent, February 11, 2015 at 3:59 p.m.

    I agree it is a shame to see Radio Shack close but I am not sure there was a customer base to support them. I do go to Ace hardware because their people are accessible and give good advice. But I don't have much need for electronics assistance aside from when I make a big purchase and there I am going to go on cost and probably Costco. The days of the electronics tinkerers who made transistor based projects at home are gone. Now they write apps on ready made equipment.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 12, 2015 at 8:05 a.m.

    If my experience with Radio Shack is typical, nothing could have saved this chain. Every time I went into a Radio shack store near my old office location in down town Manhattan, I was ignored by the "sales" staff, which was busily chatting amongst itself. Obviously, they didn't give a damn about making sales, so I usually left and made my buy elsewhere. How would social media fix that?

  3. Jamie Tedford from Brand Networks Inc., February 12, 2015 at 11:48 a.m.

    Good point John. Ace is a great example of a brand that delivers on their promise "Ace is the place for the helpful hardware man/person." Radioshack never embraced or delivered that strategy, but it was theirs for the taking.

  4. Jamie Tedford from Brand Networks Inc., February 12, 2015 at 11:50 a.m.

    I've certainly had that experience at RS as well Ed. National chains have the challenge of consistency of service across thousands of locations. It's one of the many challenges that is difficult to overcome when considering an employee driven social media strategy.

  5. larry towers from nyu, February 12, 2015 at 3:39 p.m.

    "But the incredibly knowledgeable staff on the ground at each and every RadioShack "

    Are you kidding me? You don't get it. What killed radio shack was the move away from its roots of electronics as hobby, to trying to become an overglorified consumer electronics chain. It's notr that he customers weren't there. It's that the customers changed, not so much interested in pure electronics as Maker culture. They had an enormous opportunity to ride the wave of 3d printing, robotics, programming of microcontrollers etc. but did too little too late in that regard. There certainly is a customer base for his as there really isn't any local source for this sort of gear in most places. Having really competent staff hold workshops to get people started would have been a boon. Another example of why the executive level in corporate America are overcompensated idiots driving potentially profitable businesses into the ground by chasing short term profits instead of long term strategic thinking. Social media would have done nothing here. It is a hands on engagement that was needed.

  6. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, February 12, 2015 at 4:50 p.m.

    Yikes. I'm reminded of a presentation I heard at an account planning conference about the brilliance this agency used to win Starbucks. Except I knew the business they won. And they still didn't really have a clue about the business - they waxed poetic about their own brilliance .... And took credit for what Starbucks already new...and avoided anything showing insight into unique challenge of the specific piece of business they'd won. And, so, we have this blanket claim that social media would have saved a store that stocked a strange assortment, poorly made parts, and was out maneuvered by the vast resources of bigger stores. Will I miss having a place that theoretically has pieces and parts I might need? Absolutely. But would social media have saved them? Not in a million years. Another agency claiming they had the "real truth" if only the client had listened. Have heard enough of these...

  7. Jamie Tedford from Brand Networks Inc., February 12, 2015 at 5:04 p.m.

    HI Larry, thanks for the feedback. It's been almost 10 years since I immersed myself in RadioShack's business in order to pull out some insights that might drive their business. You've got some interesting theories about the demise of the company. Here's some other perspectives from a guy closer than I. http://www.forbes.com/sites/willburns/2012/02/10/there-has-never-been-a-better-time-than-now-for-radioshack/

  8. Jamie Tedford from Brand Networks Inc., February 12, 2015 at 5:18 p.m.

    Hi Doug, I appreciate your perspective but wanted to clarify a few points. First, I left the agency world later in 2006, to start and run an ad tech company- so I've got no incentive to pound my chest around the strategy. I believed then, and still believe some really smart people at Arnold came up with a great strategy that might have helped turn RS's business. Agencies, great ones, can do that. Steve Jobs, for all his marketing genius often credited Lee Clow @ Chiat for creating and shepherding the Apple brand and building the business to its current heights. Your business seems to focus on direct marketing, mine on social media activation, but let's agree to disagree that there's a place for creative agencies to come up with game-changing strategies and hope that clients will take risks and be brave.

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