The power of social media to conflate our private and work lives has recently hit the headlines with Olympics volunteers banned from discussing aspects of the Games online
While this is a clear attempt to limit the role of social media, as businesses we are just as likely to increase our use of it to try and engage consumers. Not only does social media enable us to gain an insight into our customers' lives, it also engenders their loyalty by letting them know more about us, and perhaps giving them offers on products they like. Most consumers accept the trade-off for these perks is that we get to know more about who they are, and what kind of brands they like and are only too happy to jump on the bandwagon by joining, for example, the Facebook groups of their favourite brands.
Recent online discussion groups undertaken by Ipsos MORI for loyalty scheme providers The Logic Group
indicated that many users of retail social media are advocates of easy systems that regularly provide them with relevant offers. Social media is, in other words, a useful loyalty tool for busy consumers, who like receiving perks in a way that fits into their existing lifestyles.
But new technology is taking this integration of loyalty schemes into consumers' lives a step further. Take loyalty schemes that use credit or debit cards to identify consumers and mobile 'wallets' that allow small payments and points or coupon collection via smartphone.
This is where it gets interesting. With social media, loyalty remains a deliberate, conscious act on the part of the consumer. But in both new developments, any sign that consumers are part of a scheme will be hidden. The schemes will become so integrated into consumers' everyday lives that they may no longer have to think about them – or the brand – in order to use them.
We'll gain huge insight into our their shopping habits, but will consumers engage with us if they do not have an obvious reminder of their adherence to a loyalty scheme or brand?
The challenge for schemes reliant on these new technologies will be to devise a user experience that ensures consumers continue to engage with a brand - even while their participation in its loyalty scheme becomes an unconscious act.
Fiona Moss is a research manager for Ipsos Loyalty and wrote this piece for The Grocer.