Hot Links: Social Media, Customers, and Business Models

Reaching Out: Four Retail Companies That Are Reaching Out with Blogs and Social Media

Embracing blogs to connect with a company’s network of customers is fait accompli for the tech industry, but what about the rest of the planet that doesn’t put its every movement up on Twitter? 

Here are four retailers that are using blogs and social media in an attempt to better connect with customers.


WalMart

Revenue: $375 Billion
# Locations: 6,800
Notable URL: http://www.checkoutblog.com/
Notable post: "Great News About WalMart’s Milk" (over 230 comments)

After several failed attempts at blogging, most notably the reviled "WalMarting Across America" shill blog, the planet’s largest retailer might be starting to get its act together.  In 2007, the Bentonville, Arkansas company launched the "Checkout Blog," a group blog penned by nine of its corporate buyers that covers topics from the garden to video games to sustainability.  A definite step in the right direction for the company, with actual employees communicating about their individual areas of interest, with minimal company shilling taking place.

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McDonald’s

Revenue: $23 Billion
# Locations: 30,000+
Notable URL: http://csr.blogs.mcdonalds.com/
Notable post: "A Trip Down Memory Lane" (Good handling of a troll in the comments)

WalMart wasn’t the only retailing behemoth to receive derision for its initial forays into blogging.  McDonald’s, too, had its challenges. (Hopefully, you missed the fake "Lincoln Fry" blog, about a french fry shaped like the 16th President of the United States.  Yes, it was as abysmal as it sounds.)

The company behind the golden arches now has a "Open for Discussion" blog with weekly postings on topics regarding "Corporate Social Responsibility."  While certainly better than the LIncoln Fry, there are still some challenges here:

1)  It looks to me like someone at McDonald’s headquarters has committed to some sort of MBO of "one blog post per week."   As such, the posts are infrequent and not heavily trafficked.

2)  While it’s great to spread the wealth, all the most recent posts on the site (March-April 2008) are from different authors.  Accordingly, each post is starting with a "who I am and what my role is" statement.  This also means that the revolving cast of characters hasn’t a chance to connect with readers.  It’s drive-by blogging.

3) To their credit, comments on the blog are open.  However, the paucity of comments makes me think that either (a) the blog is receiving almost no traffic or (b) the comments are being heavily moderated.  The bold TERMS AND CONDITIONS of the blog also state: "McDonald’s owns any comments or other content that you post on this
site. That means that McDonald’s has the right to make, have made,
offer for sale, use, sell, copy, distribute, perform, transmit,
display, modify, adapt and otherwise use your submission(s) throughout
the world in perpetuity in any manner that it sees fit without
compensation to you. McDonald’s also has the right to use your name in
connection with any use of your submissions."  This is not the best method to develop trust and a long-term relationship with a customer.

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Starbucks

Revenue: $9 Billion
# Locations: 15,000+
Notable URL: http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/
Notable post: "Vote For All Day Bold" (Giving contrarian viewpoints their due)   

Of the four retailers profiled here, Starbucks has gone the furthest with respect to using social media to not only connect the organization to its customers, but to enable customers to rally around ideas as a community.  Their "My Starbucks Idea" site is a venue where customers can submit suggestions to the organization, vote on the suggestions of other individuals, and see which ideas are going to actually be implemented by the organization.

The best part of the site is not the technical implementation but, rather, the cultural one.  Starbucks does not seem to be censoring comments about their organization in any way, even when the feedback is less-than-stellar.  For example,  one representative comment on the site states:

"Decaf drinkers want strong coffee also. I go (or used to go) to
Starbucks because of the decaf Sumatra, Verona etc. I can get Pikes
Piss coffee from Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s. My grandmother makes
stronger coffee. Starting today I am no longer a customer of Starbuck’s
coffee except for whole beans. I urge everyone reading this to follow
my lead and make Starbuck’s understand that the reason we (used to)
spend our money on their overpriced coffe is because it is the best and
no one else offers a strong decaf. There is strength in numbers – walk
away today!"

The key thing that Starbucks realizes is that these conversations are taking place anyway.  If this site didn’t exist, customers such as the individual above would be making these comments in other forums that were removed from the organization, or on his or her own blog.  With My Starbucks Idea, the organization is getting the feedback in realtime, and has the opportunity to address issues in a rational and constructive way.

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Whole Foods Market

Revenue: $4 Billion
# Locations: 270+
Notable URL: http://wholefoodsmarket.com/socialmedia/blogs/
Notable post: "Slow Down and Green Up" (Rich conversation)   

Although their CEO got himself and the company in some hot water by commenting negatively about a competitor using a pseudonym (n.b. the investigation into his actions has now been concluded), Whole Foods has a farmer’s market full of blogs, podcasts and videos they are using to give customers a variety of methods to learn more about the organization.

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Conversations Abounding

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All sorts of good things going on this week.  Here we go!

1) The "networks don’t have people…people have networks" concept floated here has become a full-fledged snowball.

  • Ross Mayfield – "Here’s some related Soylent Green."
  • Demian Entrekin – "Individuals create value for organizations through the impact of their Project Network, not through their position in the organization chart."
  • David Wallace – "It’s about the people, people."
  • David Cushman – "When you aggregate personal data in profiles (eg facebook) you risk imposing structural limitations on the conversation and on the way groups form. This leads to severe restrictions on value and growth creation in your network."
  • Marshall Lager – "It’s why Facebook (for example) has been having trouble – it takes ownership of pieces of you."

2) A point of caution on the "social media divide" from Francine Hardaway (with more here) – "Fellow geeks, we live in a dream world — a world of Twitter – Twhirl – Friendfeed – AlertThingy – Seesmic. And if you think most people reading this can identify any of those things, think again. Moreover, if you think there’s a chance of any of those crossing the real chasm in the next ten years, think again."

3) A pragmatic step toward mobile networking for the iPhone

Launching Now: BlogHer Guide to Political Bloggers Networking Widget

Our customer BlogHer just launched
their new BlogHer Guide to Political Bloggers.  Neat stuff, built on top of Cerado Ventana.  (But i’m biased
:-)).

Check it out. From the BlogHer page:

Blogherpolitics
"We’re excited to announce our latest project, BlogHer’s
Guide to Political Bloggers, brought to you by BlogHer’s politics team
and our friends at Cerado.
While we love the many blog-lists that abound of amazing political
blogging by women, we got tired of trying to guess which state bloggers
are from and/or which party they’re in or leaning toward. That’s why,
as a non-partisan guide to women who blog, BlogHer has developed a
widget that you can instantly categorize your blog in and find other
bloggers. You can:

  • Search by state
  • Search by blogger’s first or last name
  • Search by political party using the color key:

Blue = Democrat
Green = Green
Gray = Undecided
Khaki = Libertarian
Orange = Independent
Purple = Other/Multiparty
Red = Republican

This guide is incredibly easy to use –both to list your blog and
then to post on your blog, too. We’ve pre-loaded it with a few bloggers
we know, but hey — we don’t want to make a mistake about where you live
and what you think! So rather than pour all 700-ish blogs from the
BlogHer Politics blogroll into the mix, we think it’s better if you add
your blog."

If you still have questions, use the Help button, let us know or see it in action.