Responses to customer comments make up 85% of all the tweets sent out by Whole Foods Market stores, said Bill Tolany, the company’s integrated media, at the recent Corporate Social Media Summit in New York. Just 10% of the tweets are content-based and 5% are promotional.
That ratio is no accident. Customer interaction forms the core of the company’s social media efforts, because that’s what ultimately serves the company best, he says.
Tolany used his talk to explain how focusing on customer needs helps improve Whole Foods’ bottom line. A few of his key takeaways:
Education is the best advertisement. The company has found that consumers who are more knowledgeable about food are more likely to be Whole Foods customers, Tolany says. Helping consumers learn more about ingredients, find recipes and pick up health tips are all actions that benefit the customer, while naturally making Whole Foods more appealing. The company has dedicated Twitter accounts to help customers with questions about recipes, wine and cheese. The company’s mobile application also helps share recipe information.
Speak to the entire customer base. Not all of their customers are hard-core foodies, however. Tolany notes that for many of their customers, Whole Foods is a supplemental grocery store — a place to shop for a special meal or to pick up a few favorite items. Whole Foods uses social to give these occasional shoppers more reasons to connect, such as announcing flash sales on seasonal items that will only be in effect for a single day. These short-term sales give occasional shoppers a reason to stop by the store in between their regular trips. Social media is also the only channel the company uses to promote its gift boxes, which provide another way for the brand to reach out to occasional customers.
Don’t take the brand too seriously. Whole Foods makes itself more approachable by encouraging fans to talk back. Contests and questions about food and healthy living form a pillar of the brand’s social media communications. The company has even been known to play April Fool’s jokes and pass on videos making light of its image. “Customers will fill in the blank if you let them,” he said.
Culture is the core. The company’s headquarters can’t answer inventory questions for local stores — so many individual locations have their own Twitter accounts and/or Facebook pages. Local accounts mean customers get better, faster answers. It also means that the values of social media become a part of each Whole Foods location, which is in keeping their company’s broader culture of local empowerment.
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