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Social Media and Retail Marketing

I'm not a Social Media expert, by any stretch of the imagination. So, if this doesn't make any sense, please forgive me. Social media is clearly valuable as a mechanism for customer relationship management: responding to negative feedback on the social media "wires" can be a great way to manage brand image. Social media can be a material source of new customers for niche businesses. Tea fanatics are friends with other tea fanatics and can introduce each other to their favorite brands through Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. But most commodity retailers, those who sell merchandise made by others and who compete with firms selling exactly the same goods, have had a hard time using social media to drive meaningful sales. Brand affinity has less meaning for Target and WalMart than it does for Victoria's Secret. Last week I wrote a post on Lifetime Value in which I argued that an often overlooked value comes from happy customers telling their friends how great Acme is. The question struck me then: is there a way for retailers to use social media to encourage word of mouth marketing? Here's the idea: The Customer places an order on your website. On the order confirmation page is a link to Twitter, Facebook and MySpace and text to the effect: "Thanks for buying from Acme! If you Tweet "I just got a great deal at Acme!" we'll send you a coupon for $5 off your next order!" This requires either a human, or some software to fire off some sort of single use offer code to the person, but that doesn't strike me as impossible. Acme could put a limit of one code per order on the offer to prevent abuse. Pretty clearly, there's no way for Acme to know whether the person Tweeting that actually placed an order, but "paying" folks with a small coupon applying to a subsequent purchase isn't exactly cash out of pocket, and if the person didn't really place an order, but just wants the discount and is willing to say nice things about your brand to their network of friends that may not be so bad. To me this is much more compelling than asking customers follow Acme on Twitter or be Facebook friends. The idea is to get the message out to their friends, not to the customer...you already have their email and mailing address. Seems to me that you'd also ask for the referral at the right time (they just placed the order and are feeling the love for you) with the right level of incentive and the link to Twitter (or Facebook perhaps, as Twitter may not have long term legs) just makes it that much easier. Has anyone tried something like this? Is this old-hat? Am I nuts?
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