Recommend.ly's Walmart Study; My Local Walmart study and initiated a very interesting discussion about the findings of the study. We saw several stalwarts contributed to the discussion and boy, are we glad the study opened such high quality discussion! Passionate as we are about the subject, we couldn't hold ourselves back from writing a whole blog about the questions raised by Tom Ryan of RetailWire. Below is our view point:
Do mom & pops have a sizeable advantage in driving social media engagement at the local level versus national chains such as Walmart?
Our study showed the numbers on how mom-n-pop stores are beating Walmart local store pages on Facebook. How did they manage that? The answer is quite simple: mom-n-pops have always been social businesses at heart. They are genetically wired to be active contributors to local communities. Using social media is just an extension of their core values. Here is how mom-n-pops work:
- Know your key customers by name
- Build social interactions beyond business
- Reward positive social interactions with concessions in business
- Increase business by being loyal to customers and their needs
They are doing better on Facebook because they are simply replicating the same behaviors on their pages.
Should national chains have local store Pages?
National chains, on the other hand, trust processes more than people. They believe that discounts and advertising, not loyalty, will bring more business. Because of the importance national chains give to monetary advantage, their customer relationships do not have many exit barriers. All it takes is a minor price differential for a new brand to capture the market. National chains have always known the importance of being social and of building social barriers, but had little time or resources to address these issues. Social media changed it all.
Social media gave a low cost technology solution for large chains to engage with local communities directly. Walmart, when it launched its local store pages on Facebook, said that the initiative will 'illustrate the brand’s commitment to creating a deeper relationship with people in the communities it serves'. We believe that Walmart was right in creating local pages for its stores.
Here is a brand that recognized the true potential of social media and is using it to engage with local communities. National chains with standard store layouts and central advertising should at least localize their social media strategy to be a part of the communities they serve. Having a single brand page at corporate office is just more of the same. Most customer complaints on a brand page get a standard response – 'We appreciate your feedback. We'll pass on your comments to the appropriate store'. Why not facilitate a direct communication between the store and the customer? Local store pages can reduce these filters and enable open networks at local level, resulting in faster communication and a higher trust. Walmart's initiative was seen as a major step forward for exactly this reason.
However, our study found that Walmart failed at achieving its objectives because the open networks never came about. Walmart appeared to have trusted process again, not people. When AdAge approached them, Walmart did not dispute the findings of our study. Instead, they said that their My Local Walmart initiative is still in its early stages, implying that there is a lot of learning ahead. You bet there is!
What steps should Walmart be taking to drive engagement at its local store pages?
To reiterate our point, Walmart should do the following to create deeper customer relationships using Facebook local pages:
1. Walmart should use its pages to build fan communities, not for advertising. To make this happen, local employees of a store should own the page and control the content. Facebook should be
used to enable open networks between customers and employees, otherwise the whole purpose is defeated.
If not at a store level, the regional marketing team should take the ownership of Facebook communities and work towards building common interests.
2. Walmart should get local stores conversing with each other on Facebook. If stores in a region start following each other and post photos, congratulatory messages, may be birthday greetings to each other, you have a community there already
3. Walmart should drive fans to local stores in a steadfast manner. Try this: a disgruntled fan writes on Walmart's corporate page complaining about lines at cash registers at Frankfort, Indiana. Walmart corporate should make a wall post to the Frankfort store's Page, quoting the fan's comments and get the store to respond immediately. A link to the response on Frankfort's
page should then be provided to the fan. If all this is done within 10 minutes, the fan knows where to go when he/she has a problem next.
All that is possible only if there is an 'owner' at the store, with mobile Facebook in hand and a commitment that matches the people manning the corporate page. This probably takes a lot of carrot-and-stick, but is by no means impossible to achieve. Particularly for Walmart which manages its corporate page like a superstar!