Leveraging social media

The age of instant information is at once the most opportunity-filled -- but also perilous -- of times for consumer product companies and retailers. On the one hand, social media channels such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook are brimming with useful commentary about companies, products, and services. Never before have organisations enjoyed such visibility into consumer desires, tastes, and opinions. Think of it this way: each day, more text messages are sent than the population of the planet; each minute, almost a day's worth of video is uploaded to YouTube; and, each month, more than two billion photos get posted on Facebook.

The data generated by social media represents a massive opportunity for consumer businesses—if they can figure out how to discern useful patterns in the noise and mine this sea of sentiment and ideas. Consumer opinion used to take weeks, if not months, to gather through formal channels; the information was outdated long before decisions were made. Today, companies can virtually put their finger on the pulse of their consumers in real time.

But this treasure trove of data also brings with it risks. A product recall or food safety alert today has the potential to multiply unfiltered across all of these different media. How to respond to, tap into, and manage what financial journalist James Surowiecki called the “wisdom of crowds” has become one of the most important risk management issues in the retail and consumer packaged goods industries.