WalMart’s Facebook Strategy Sinking: Analysis and Reccomendations

Previously Walmart built a MySpace clone on the corporate website which was pathetically closed after a mere 10 weeks. Having learned their lesson to consider joining existing communities before building their own they’ve saddled up for more social networking. Today, Wal-Mart’s sponsored group in Facebook is aimed at dorm-bound students who need to pimp out their pads –sadly, after 2 weeks in, there’s little to brag about.

Low membership
I’m checking up on the group, and have noticed that the group size is very low, in fact only 934 members. The Web Strategy Group that I promote is at 1500 members in just a few weeks longer, and it’s certainly a much smaller ‘brand’ than Wal-Mart.

Business Week’s blog notice this damage and apologize, Sorry, Wal-Mart. The kids would rather talk labor politics than home decor, followed by GenDigital’s observations of the “Enlightening Conversations

I encourage you to take at look at the Wall in the Wal-Mart’s Back to School sponsored group to get a sense for what’s happening. I’ve posted the last 20 wall posts, only 10% are positive.

20 most recent wall posts (last names removed, and company names although it’s viewable by any member)

Mark (New Orleans, LA) wrote
at 5:22pm on August 23rd, 2007
why do you lonely retards insist on joining, and writing on this wall, about how “WalMart sucks”? Wouldn’t it be better if you started your own group(s)? Oh….because noone would join and read your crap?
Message – Report

Spencer (UGA) wrote
at 2:06pm on August 23rd, 2007
Message – Report

Kendall (San Diego, CA) wrote
at 1:45pm on August 23rd, 2007
All you people saying “Walmart is a great company” are so full of sh|t. You are obviously getting paid by Walmart to come here and spout off propaganda. Everything at Walmart is made in China and every time you shop there the Chinese will gladly collect your money and give it to the Red Army. So, by shopping at Walmart you are indirectly helping to build the Chinese army. What a great American company!
Message – Report

Barbara (no network) wrote
at 8:21am on August 23rd, 2007
Walmart is a great American company that shows what you can do in America if you only work hard. A woman I know who worked for Walmart recently lost her husband and Walmart did so many things for the family during her trying time. I can’t say enough good things about Walmart. I think the unions are just mad because they haven’t gotten into Walmart and are trying to ruin their business. I love the low prices and I guess lots of other people do too because the parking lot is always crowded.
Message – Report

Brandon wrote
at 12:33am on August 23rd, 2007
Wal-Mart is a great American company that has been extremely successful at what they do. Sam Walton rose from a cashier to one of the richest men in the world, if that isn’t the American Dream, I don’t know what is.

My grandpa worked for Wal-Mart and recently passed away, he loved the people and the company treated him well. Over 200 people from the store he worked at came to his funeral and the manager of the store he worked at brought in workers from surrounding Wal-Marts to work at the store while the local workers went to his funeral.

They may make mistakes like any other company but, Wal-Mart is a good company that knows it’s business and does it well.
Message – Report

Christopher (Kansas) wrote
at 9:14pm on August 22nd, 2007
If you haven’t seen “The High Cost of Low Prices” you need to…its a great documentary of how WalMart is the armpit of society and treats its employees that way.
Message – Report

Dave wrote
at 5:24pm on August 22nd, 2007
Give Wal Mart a Union !

typically hippies and the labor movement, which is what i think wal mart needs don’t get along. Help save our great country and don’t shop at wal mart !
Message – Report

Myles wrote
at 4:57pm on August 22nd, 2007
you hippies need to look at the jobs creation, savings, and fun-ness of wal mart before you attack it. smelly friggen hippies

Janine (UCSC) wrote
at 4:41pm on August 22nd, 2007

Wal Mart is toxic to communities and livelihoods.

Facebook should take the number of negative comments on this page as a note that we don’t support this company of it’s use of a space for social networking to further horrendous business practices.

And this goes for all companies that profit from human devastation: GET OFF OF FACEBOOK.

This is a space for people talking to other people. Facebook, get your priorities straight.
Message – Report

Mark (New Orleans, LA) wrote
at 1:12pm on August 22nd, 2007
Sara: You would live at WalMart, if you could?!

Wait…..what’s stoppin’ you?
Message – Report

Adam (Dartmouth) wrote
at 10:55am on August 22nd, 2007
one more link for you… my hometown in Maine – and all the small towns that neighbor it – recently banded together to pass legislation that effectively prevented Wal-Mart (or any other big-box retailer) from invading the neighborhood. a documentary was made about the process. it’s a pretty good story/resource for any town that has a similar battle on its hands.
Message – Report

Sandeep (UC Irvine) wrote
at 10:31am on August 22nd, 2007

Message – Report

John (Clemson) wrote
at 11:14pm on August 21st, 2007
Wal Mart was once the small local store competing against the big guys. What did they do to overcome?
Message – Report

John (Capital) wrote
at 8:00pm on August 21st, 2007
are you kidding me. they are getting rid of every person that owns their own store. yes they found a new way to move products to the consumers and what not. big deal. im apart of a business that found a even better way to do that. but the fact is they are putting people out of business and taking their jobs. wal-mart is a bad business for this country

Matthew (Kettering) wrote
at 5:28pm on August 21st, 2007
Why is it that it takes a company like Wal-Mart to stop the overpricing of goods at other stores?
Message – Report

Nicole (Smith) wrote
at 12:43pm on August 21st, 2007
In case folks haven’t seen it yet, here is the BusinessWeek blog post on the wall posts for this group:

Also linked to from the Wal-Mart Watch blog:
Message – Report

Sara (UCLA) wrote
at 12:09pm on August 21st, 2007
I adore Walmart. I would live there if I could. P.S., there should be an apostrophe in “Roommates” in the “Mix it up” box — it should either read “Roommate’s” or “Roommates’.” Please fix it.
Message – Report

Stefan (Hillsdale Baptist) wrote
at 1:23am on August 21st, 2007
Grant, you don’t live in the same community that the HQ of Target is located. Of course you aren’t going to see what they do for schools and surrounding neighbohoods.
Message – Report

Stefan (Hillsdale Baptist) wrote
at 1:22am on August 21st, 2007
Don’t do it. Don’t shop at wal-mart.
I know it sucks, my school is less than 2 two miles away from a wal-mart but it can be done. Good luck.
Message – Report

Jamiah (CBS) wrote
at 6:28pm on August 20th, 2007
Organize against Wal-Mart in your community! Don’t contribute to the abuse of American workers. Contact me and I will send you a free DVD of the documentary, “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” so that you can organize a community screening in your neighborhood! Educate others about the evil of Wal-Mart.

Web Strategy Recommendations
Is this program salvageable? Absolutely.

The battering of the brand continues on for the next 100 wall posts, and it will likely continue, this is expected. I’ve analyzed all the comments and there’s only a few students and a handful of folks that admit to actually shopping there –they’ve not reached the college segment.

This sponsored group doesn’t have discussion forums, I’d recommend they turn those on, and try to segment the conversations about going back to school, and even consider keeping folks on topic. Continue to allow critics (you can’t stop it anyways) but try to use the forums to guide a discussion about school. I’m not sure why Wal-Mart has not chosen to turn on it’s marketing engines and point people here from their corporate site, using a cross-promotion tactic would certainly drive more folks over to the group.

What’s the great thing about all this? Wal-Mart’s still here, was bold enough to try it again, and hasn’t pulled the site down. I highly recommend that Wal-Mart consider trying a community strategy using a transparent and authentic blog or video blog series that addresses the very brand issues that they are getting slammed on. I took at look online for a “Walmart blog” and didn’t see any from the company, why is this? It’s going to be very difficult to try a community marketing strategy with eCommerce hooks without first addressing the brand detractors.

Update: Connie (in the comments below) suggests that Wal-Mart may need an evangelist, certainly an interesting notion.

  • I think that they are coming at it from the wrong end (in my humble opinion). They’re still trying to use the traditional ‘drop it in’ & it will work methodology. It is something that people can learn from. It underlines the importantance of the human factor (community evang.). They are a large enough org. to afford hiring a # of people that could speak for the company & create community.
    As to salvaging it,
    Jeremiah, I’m sure that somewhere you have a list of steps, but I think it would be imperative for them to enlist some evangelists that can do damage control for the brand & work that utilizing google alerts & going where the conversations are. Then they can consider their next strategy. And wouldn’t it be better if it were evangelists creating something like the FB group? It would be more successful I would think & not viewed as so corporate.
    I love shopping at Walmart & they recently gave my library/workplace $5,000, so I am even more appreciative. And as much as I’m tempted to evangelize, I think they need to step back & get a plan together, it’s a huge project. I have lots of ideas and if they can harness the power of those that believe in Walmart, that will overcome that of the detractors in time.

  • Connie, that’s a great point, a corporate evangelist would be a great idea.

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  • Connie, Jeremiah —

    A community evangelist is only a great idea, it’s essential if this is going to work.

    There’s a great precedent Wal-mart could look at as an example of how to move forward: Dell. When Dell launched their blog and community, it was trashed and eviscerated. It wasn’t until they brought in their evangelist — Lionel Menchaca — to answer questions and focus the conversation that it really took off.

    There are two key takeaways (in my opinion):

    * People don’t relate to brands. They relate to people.

    * They have to be open to real, authentic conversation. Right now, they are, but it’s all one-way (outside going in).

    Michael E. Rubin
    Arment Dietrich, Inc.
    Call me — 312-787-7249 x212
    Tell a friend — fight destructive spin! http:///
    See what I’m up to —
    See a picture of an orangutan —

  • Stephanie

    Hi Jeremiah,

    I love your blog! I work with social media for a large corporation and we’re looking for tracking/reporting/monitoring services for social media (user generated content). Do you have a few companies and services you recommend?



  • Stephanie

    Thanks, I’m glad I can be of help.

    I have a list of companies, but cannot recommend any, as I’ve not used them all

    Check the website, as industry analysts they’ve done some research.

  • Are you all saying that Wal-Mart needs their version of a Robert Scoble?

  • Jeremiah,
    Great post. I checked out a few of the profiles of the questionable comments (some of these sound like press releases).

    Barbara, for example, the fourth one down on your list has no friends, no profile picture, and is in zero networks. It’s very clear to regular users that she started a Facebook account to keep an eye on this group. Barbara’s motives for commenting aside, I agree with Connie’s post above: social networking is more about collaboration and transparency than nose diving in.

  • No, not a Robert Scoble – and, does their corporate culture allow for such transparency? Square pegs, round holes – where social media doesn’t work for each company.

    Taking a look at that, is the Walmart/Facebook thing a good idea? It could have been implemented a different way, and the person that set up the group could be responding to comments.

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  • Echoing Jeremy, no, not a Robert Scoble. You need a Lionel Menchaca.

    When he was at Microsoft, Robert didn’t have a mandate to solve customer problems. His job was, in effect, to humanize Microsoft. In many ways, he was like Microsoft’s Indiana Jones, exploring the deep crevasses of innovation that was happening within the company and then bringing them into the open. He helped create a major cultural shift at MSFT in terms of its relationship to the public, both internal and external.

    Lionel is more of a Superman/Clark Kent. His mandate from Dell was to solve customer problemss as well as evangelize the compay. Many people use the Dell blog to vent their frustrations, and he acts as a connector between the public and the company. My perception is that he’s not high on the totem pole, yet he’s also not a junior exec, either.

    Both accomplished the same goal through different means. Both acted in a way to humanize the colossal organizations they worked for by presenting a face and personality for people to latch onto. The end results were different, but the goal was ultimately the same.

    Michael E. Rubin
    Arment Dietrich, Inc.
    Call me — 312-787-7249 x212
    Tell a friend — fight destructive spin! http:///
    See what I’m up to —
    See a picture of an orangutan —

  • So what does everyone else think? Does Walmart need a Robert Scoble (who humanized Microsoft) or Lionel Menchaca (who’s leading Dell)

  • Isn’t this all about authenticity of voice and appropriateness of targetting?

    The WalMart page is selling their products on Facebook to the original Facebook crowd. They’re NOT on Facebook to do that – they’re there to connect with each other for whatever reason.

    So yes, I think WalMart should have an evangelist out there connecting with its very many audiences. But (and this is going to get very cliched) they need to be:

    – dipping long tail, not just at the kids fitting out their dorms, but their little sisters who might get them a beanbag, or their grandma who might get them some nice towels, etc.
    – expanding the long tail stuff, going for the wisdom of the crowd and convincing the circle around the students that WalMart is the place to shop to fit out their dorms
    – realise that the very thing that’s going to happen by putting up their page on Facebook is pushback. Very cluetrain.

    What I think they’ve done is hit Facebook for the cool factor without fully considering everything else they need to do.

  • Adnohryak

    My blind insight, is that Walmart is hanging in there (and will continue to do so) despite the troubled economy.

    Walmart is always packed with people of diverse income and ethnicity, but people can not and are not spending as much for whatever reason. Whether it is due to rising gas prices, mortgages or rent. Those with the lowest incomes have to tighten their belts, that will effect Walmart. But, others of slightly higher incomes who “never wanted” to shop there and will start, or shop there more often. Too many people live well beyond their means.

    Walmart’s effort to coax the most vulnerable spenders (the adult-essence age group) isn’t a bad marketing idea…but into their social network? Nah! Not going to work.

    There is nothing “cool” about Wal-mart.

    —Now if the Walmart greeters had Abercrombie abs, and the cashiers, well ya know, seductive instead of surly.
    (As well as resolving other serious issues…) Who knows?

    Personally, I don’t think Scoble can make Walmart cool. Scoble is way too cool for Walmart…too techno fabulous. Walmart is toe nail clippers, hair dye, and cheap underwear.

    If Walmart wants to get on track with what they have to offer, the answer is “single mom’s”.

    copywrite by Adnohr Yak (If there is a definitive answer somewhere in this comment, I’ll let you know where you can send the check.)


    Very Interesting Post, “J”

  • Oil & water = Wal-Mart & Facebook. It just doesn’t mix. They’re about as hip to the college crowd as Home Depot is to my wife. There’s no chance to succeed in that space with the blatant commercial approach they used.

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  • Well, I believe that they’re in need of a Community Manager that can recruit a group of evangelists. Finding people who like to shop at Walmart isn’t hard.

    As to what type of person, I agree with Adnohryak that it needs to be a woman. But not a single mom. I think it needs to be a woman that is strong enough to speak out intelligently initially to turn the brand around, but viewed as an avg American shopper. And yes, she needs to appeal to a range of ages & guys too. She will need to have strong leadership skills in order to support & motivate her evangelists because in the beg. it’s going to be a challenge. So the woman should be a cross between Robert & Lionel – someone who knows the tools to use, be out there with a strong message & intelligently utilize both.

    After posting this morning I thought of a summary – the effort needs to be:
    Community manager engaging at grassroots level utilizing WOM & evangelizing rather than Corporate top down (ie – stick in a Faceback campaign then ignore it).

    Give Walmart a human voice(s) & the company would gain more respect & it would benefit everyone (brand, customers, employees, corporate, etc). Sales would probably increase, too. The venture could only make things better.

  • No doubt about it: Wal-Mart needs an online presence beyond its online store…they need an online presence with a blog, Twitter, facebook…the works!

    An evangelist would be a prescription to help WalMart turn its image around in the blogosphere as a whole, but I have doubts that it would change the sentiments the company will receive on networks like facebook. I think it would be nearly impossible for them to manage or guide a conversation on their facebook group without being discredited as a censors or propaganda machines.

    The best way to turn around the facebook nightmare they now have is simply to provide information on their page to positive studies about WalMart (it may surprise you, but the majority of academic research actually comes out on WalMart’s side…) rather than letting the flow of information be only negative.

    They certainly face an uphill battle, especially in facebook: the college student’s haven of ideals!

  • mark

    maybe….not so fast there! Walmart gets written up here, WalMart gets written up in BusinessWeek, etc. Walmart couldn’t have bought this kind of attention in the blogosphere, not at any price! (And how much do you think that group on FaceBook cost ’em?)
    And give it a little time, the WalMart group on FB will dwarf your Web Strategy Group.
    Full disclosure: I own no stock in WalMart, I shop there so infrequently you wouldn’t believe it.

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  • I suspect that some of those posts are Walmart plants. eg Barbara, and Brandon. If so, Walmart have learned nothing.

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  • Dorothy J Patrick

    I have nothing positive to say about Wal-Mart at this time.
    On Wednesday, 5 August 2009, I stopped in Midland Texas to purchase a few items. I was told that I had to use my debit card. I entered my PIN to complete my transaction, and, on Friday, 7 August, my bank called to notify me that someone had used my card to purchase an airline ticket from British Airways in London England.
    Wal-mart is so greedy that they are not willing to pay the fees charged them to use the credit feature on card. Thereby, leaving unsuspecting consumers vunerable to identity theft. And, that is just what has happened to me. It took them all of two days to access and use this information, which has compromised my entire bank account until the matter is resolved.

    Woe to you, Wal-Mart.

  • An article very well written. And yet another thumbs up.

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