Will Wal-Mart’s newest Blogging Initiative Succeed? An interview with one of the Bloggers

Special Notes: I had previously published this post, but there was a mixup with the announcement dates and removed it. Detail here.


Social Media for Corporations: To build a better world
I’m somewhat sympathetic to large brands launching social media programs, having done it at Hitachi, and I stayed close to Dell during their launches, but I’ll have to admit, Wal-Mart/Edelman have had two major failures and it’s current Facebook initiative isn’t going as one would hope.

Situation
For many of us social media folks, Wal-Mart is a case study for doing it wrong, from Astroturfing fake consumer blogs, to launching a MySpace clone that closed after 10 weeks, trust is certainly not there.

All of the above is what I told Edelman folks who were reading my blog and interactive me in Facebook. They let me know that they are helping their client Wal-Mart launch a new blog, one that is to be transparent authentic, and written from actual Wal-Mart employees. I’ve seen a preview of this blog, which will be letting the buyers and purchasers of products speak directly to the world in a conversation.

Wal-Mart’s newest Social Media Program: Checkout
Although it’s not live, Wal-Mart’s latest blogging program will be called “Checkout”, I’ve seen the preview and it self-states that “This is a blog, simply, about a team of experts at Wal-Mart who have really cool jobs working with gadgets, wine, sustainability, fashion and more.”

You can find Wal-Mart’s latest social media venture at http://checkoutblog.com/

An Interview with Rand Waddoups, Wal-Mart’s newest blogger
One of the bloggers Rand Waddoups contacted me this morning, we had a brief conversation, and I probed him to make sure he’s the real deal, you see, I’ve become a hopeful skeptic.

I did some Google Searches on Rand, (interesting interviews on sustainability) it’s confirmed by others he is indeed a real employee, and he sent me an email as well.

I learned that Rand, who’s based in Arkansas has been with Wal-Mart for seven years, and first started out as a purchaser for Ice, (not that exciting huh?) then moved into buying snacks and then moved into the sustainability role. Currently as the Senior Director of Strategy and Sustainability, Rand insists he doesn’t know all the answers to how a company can buy green products but wants the community to help him move forward.

“Why Blog?”
Why blog? I asked Rand, “I’m new to blogging, its going to be interesting, but the main reason is I want to do better at listening to the market and learn. Sustainability has to be answered, and although there are other ways to learn, this is one of the ways”

“What concerns do you have?”
I asked Rand what are some of his concerns (I reminded him in detail of previous failures) and his responded “I’m new to it”. I gave Rand some advice on how to listen, using that feedreader (attention Edelman, please train clients how to listen), and suggested they use media like video and images, as those are very human mediums, and the trust of Wal-Mart blogging programs has been tainted.

Comments will be moderated by lightly moderated by Edelman staff, but just to weed out the nasties. Rand tells me his blog posts will not be filtered or reviewed, he can publish at will (a best practice), and he hopes to post twice a week.

“How is this different than previous initiatives?”
How is this different than previous social media efforts at Wal-Mart? I asked Rand, he comfortably responded that; “It’s an open conversation with people, its not about PR or Marketing, I want to better understand sustainability”

Feedback from the Community
As I wrote this post, I’ve asked my Twitter network (all 1000 of them) what they thought of Wal-Mart’s programs. I asked them to fill in the blank: “Wal-Mart’s social media programs are ________”

By the time I finished writing this post the following responses came in:


“… decided by executives who are too proud to let an outside consultant make *all* of the strategic decisions.”

“I loved their blogging across America campaign (joke!)”

“__disingenuous, insulting crap.”

“fake”

“….obviously social media programs.”

” Irrelevant to me.”

“sad, not getting it, using old techniques in new media, unfortunate, a good example for me to use as what NOT to do in my book.”

“Wal-Mart’s social media programs are nonexistent.”


Although their responses are public on Twitter, I chose not to publish their names, they can choose to self identify in the comments.

Summary
Wal-Mart has had a series of failed or half-willed attempts at Social Media, their credibility has been tarnished, I’m honestly wishing them the best in this latest venture. I and many others will be watching and from the sidelines, at some point, I hope to start rooting for them too, I really do.

Additional Resources:

  • Wal-Mart could use an Evangelist (but not a Lionel of Dell, nor a Scoble)
  • Under Analysis: Facebook Deployment Wal-Mart’s vs Target (one is working and the other is stalled)
  • Case Study: Wal-Mart’s MySpace clone dies after 10 weeks
  • Case Study: Caught Astroturfing, Wal-Mart’s fake blog
  • Wal-Mart Watch Blog: I expect the Official Wal-Mart blog to engage this group
  • Update: On a related note, the Blog Council (A user group for corporations that blog) just launched yesterday, it would be interesting to see Wal-Mart align with some peers, to learn and share best practices.