Let’s face it: we’re all glued to our phones. Lockdowns across the globe have seen 70% of us spending more time on our smartphones, while 45% of us have increased our social media intake. And we’re not just using social networks to keep in touch with our loved ones. We’re also spending more time engaging with the brands we follow online.

Despite the general economic downturn, businesses in all industries have reported an average increase of 44 engagements per day on their social media posts. And smart retailers like TOMS use this activity to make the best of a difficult situation. From day one, the iconic footwear brand — as famous for pioneering the one-for-one business model as it is for its products — has made a point of listening to its customers. And as COVID-19 upends those customers’ lives, TOMS is listening even more.

So, while some retailers are struggling to connect with customers, TOMS is discovering what their customers need — and using this knowledge to engage them better. Here’s how.


Getting smarter with data

TOMS has always been in business to improve lives, so when the pandemic hit, the team at TOMS knew they could help address the negative effects of COVID-19 through giving. They turned to their long-standing giving partners to understand where the most immediate need was and where they could make the greatest impact. In an unprecedented health, social, and economic crisis, they knew how crucial it was to inform their customers of how TOMS and their partners were responding. To do this, they needed insights into what questions the customers had and how they were feeling. And with those feelings changing every day, they needed that insight delivered in real time.

To solve these challenges, they used Social Studio to tune into the needs and wishes of their 4 million Facebook, 2 million Twitter, and 950,000 Instagram followers. Their socially conscious customers, it turned out, weren’t as interested in buying shoes right now. They were interested in finding solutions for people in need, supporting frontline workers, and promoting public health measures.

Armed with this knowledge, TOMS developed its COVID-19 Global Giving Fund. For every $3 customers spent with TOMS, the retailer would donate $1 to giving partners directly addressing the negative effects of COVID-19 through hand washing, mental health, and medical supplies.


Staying connected at scale

TOMS has always used social media to engage with its customers. Human connection is an essential part of the brand’s ethos — and something TOMS wasn’t prepared to lose as it scaled.

Before COVID-19, the TOMS team would use Social Studio to roll out initiatives like Instagram challenges that encouraged followers to share photos of their bare feet on the platform. For every picture shared, TOMS would donate a pair of shoes to a child in need.

As the crisis unfolds, the team still uses up-to-date insights from Social Studio to make sure they stay connected with their customers and understand their questions and conversations. Over the last few months, TOMS’s social media team has shared information on the giving partners supported by the COVID-19 Global Giving Fund, including International Medical Corps and Americares. It’s offered tips for dealing with anxiety from the nonprofit Crisis Text Line. And it’s kept its community engaged by sharing photos of customers wearing TOMS shoes as they shelter in place, and asking followers to share helpful links within their own circles.

All the while, TOMS has ensured this connection goes both ways. The retailer knows that 40% of all consumers expect brands to respond within the first hour of their reaching out on social media. Because Social Studio uses machine learning to prioritize comments and questions from customers on social, and route them to the right team for actioning, TOMS has been able to maintain personalized, real-time connections throughout the crisis.


Keeping one eye on the future

Overnight, retailers like TOMS have had to relearn everything they thought they knew about their markets. Adjusting their message to reflect changing customer needs isn’t always easy or intuitive — which is why TOMS is fostering a culture of “test, test, test.”

With Social Studio providing real-time insights into the tone, sentiments, and locations of the conversations customers are having about TOMS — and its competitors — it’s easy for the footwear brand to find out what’s working and what’s not.

“The dialogue our customer service team has been having with our customers is centered around our Global Giving Fund and specifically asking us how they can give more,” says Application Technology VP Marie Thomas. “We have a community that aligns with our core values, and we have learned that they want additional information on our giving partners and the work they are doing. So, we are using our social media and website to share this information and further engage with our customers.” And with TOMS working hard to give its community what it needs today, that community will make sure the retailer continues to thrive tomorrow.

To find out more about how today’s leaders are pivoting to meet new customer needs, check out some articles in our Leading Through Change blog series. Hear from other companies sharing their thought leadership, tips, and resources for navigating this uncertain time. You can also: