Local social media can be powerful marketing tools, but they can't just be add-ons. They need to be tightly integrated into the corporate culture, according to Whole Foods social marketers.
Whole Foods makes aggressive use of local social media. But local connections were important to the 33-year-old grocery chain long before social media came along. "At the heart of Whole Foods, the heart of the business, is the local store, tightly coupled to the local community," Natanya Anderson, its director of social media and digital marketing, said at a conference last week. "This local marketing is so much a part of our business that we see local social as a natural offshoot of that."
Whole Foods Market in the East Village, New York
We wrote about Whole Foods in February. That report was based on its presentation at the Online Marketing Summit in San Diego. Whole Foods spoke again at the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York last week, providing further perspective on its local social marketing strategy. Anderson said the company has hundreds of social media accounts, with 3.1 million Twitter followers and more than a million Likes on Facebook.
Whole Foods handles local social efforts differently in different markets. In some, like Austin (where the company is headquartered) and New York, the accounts are broken out regionally -- one per city. In other places, like San Francisco, each store has its own account.
In addition to local social marketing, the grocery chain has social media channels devoted to individual brands and to special interests. One such interest is meat -- some people love meat and appreciate the focus on that particular kind of food. Other Whole Foods customers are vegetarians and vegans and are offended by discussions of meat. So it makes sense for Whole Foods to break out meat into a separate discussion, Anderson said. Similar channels (which she called "outposts") are devoted to cheese and wine.
Brands face a tough battle for consumer attention, and it's even tougher for a brand like Whole Foods with multiple social media accounts. Jim Rudden, CMO of Spredfast, the marketing agency that works with Whole Foods, presented jointly with Anderson at the conference. He said a mature social marketing company averages 178 accounts, but the average consumer follows only 10 brands and interacts with five.
That means a brand needs to make its social discussions count. "People don't get out of bed to hang out with Whole Foods," Anderson said. "They go on social media to hang out with their friends." Each account must have a unique and compelling story. Some companies will have local accounts that echo the messages of the national account, but that's a complete waste of time, giving consumers no reason to follow the local account rather than (or in addition to) the national one.
The brunt of the work of running local social accounts falls to the marketers at local stores, who also interact with local news media and host events. They only have about an hour a day to manage social media in addition to their other duties, Anderson said.
To make that time count, Whole Foods has a 75-25 rule -- marketers should spend 25 percent of their time creating content and 75 percent interacting with customers. That's because local social representatives can do things that people in headquarters can't, like invite customers to come to the store to fix a complaint, or provide detailed information about local stores.
One benefit of social media is the opportunity to correct rumors, such as recent gossip that the company was being bought by Monsanto. Because of the chain's social media presence, it was able to refute those rumors on its Facebook page and even via one-on-one discussions with employees' friends, Anderson said.
A good local social campaign requires the corporate office to trust the people in its stores to represent the brand. If that trust isn't there yet -- if local representatives haven't received adequate training -- the company isn't ready for a local social strategy.
Whole Foods' social marketing faces a special challenge. CEO John Mackey is outspoken politically, and his views, laid out in his book Conscious Capitalism, are divisive. "Professional social marketers are used to getting beat up on, but local social marketers have trouble with it and need to be trained in dealing with it," Anderson said.
‚ÄĒ Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution