Introduction

In the business world, Whole Foods (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/) gets noticed for a lot of good reasons, by customers and competitors alike.  When it comes to learning about how to do social media marketing right, it certainly pays to take notice.  For one thing, Whole Foods takes full advantage of social media integration.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and a number of blogs are utilized to support and extend their website, enabling a truly dynamic social media presence.

For another thing, Whole Foods uses Technographic Profiling to determine ‘where’ their customers are.  This technique defines how different consumer segments use social media – ‘where they are’ – and thus, how to reach them.  Obtaining that critical bit of information gives Whole Foods an edge on determining what products to offer and what ways they might use to improve their product line and service delivery.

Besides understanding the importance of full social media integration to website productivity, Whole Foods also knows how to optimize SEO.  Do a Google search of “natural” or “organic foods”, followed by any city name and the local Whole Foods grocer will be on the first page.  Whole Foods believes that their commitment to be local, for their customers and the community, is important to their bottom line.

The commitment to being considered local is no small task.  Whole Foods has over 310 (and counting) stores, spread throughout North America, across the Atlantic, and into the United Kingdom.  To live up to their focus on local identity, Whole Foods implemented Twitter and Facebook accounts for individual stores.  That’s more than 300 Twitter accounts, and over 250 Facebook pages!  The payoff is worth it though, because the targeted information provided helps the local stores better understand the customers and community they aim to serve.

Whole Foods wants to bring a little fun, some discovery, and maybe even some excitement into the routine chore of buying groceries.  Whole Foods, you may or may not know, has a mission:  Whole Foods – Whole People – Whole Planet.  In a way, Whole Foods has made the 21st century drive for corporate social responsibility part of their recipe for success.

Whole Foods is respected for quality organic foods.  But, they also believe strongly in sustainable agriculture: buying regional and local produce, supporting local farming operations and promoting foods that are seasonal.  In addition, Whole Foods runs two foundations devoted to child nutrition and global sustainability:  Whole Kids and Whole Planet.

Whole Foods invites its customers and communities to learn more about Whole Foods; to learn the story behind the organization and its people.  On their website, for all to see, Whole Foods lists their Core Values, Quality Standards and their Declaration of Interdependence.

Whole Foods’ Goals

Whole Foods wants its customers to live well, and be well.  They want their target audience to know about healthful foods and ingredients.  They want to arm their customers with the knowledge they need in order to make better, healthier nutritional choices for themselves and their families.  They want their customers living healthier, more responsible lifestyles – not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the planet, too.

Whole Foods wants to bring back the trusted local grocer; the one your parents knew and relied on for wholesome foods and good nutritional choices.  Whole Foods wants to earn the trust of their customers; to interact with them and the local community, who together form Whole Foods’ target audience.  In this way, Whole Foods hopes to increase its market share, and grow their bottom line.  I think Whole Foods is the kind of company that believes in doing well by doing good.

Customer Goals

Whole Foods customers:

  • Want to find an alternative to the standard, run-of-the-mill chain grocery operation
  • Seek information about better nutritional options for themselves and their families
  • Want fresh options for healthier lifestyle choices
  • Seek variety with a local, seasonal flair
  • Want a familiar, personal touch in their shopping experience
  • Need to feel secure about the safety of the food they bring home, and to know the grocer who sold it to them is trustworthy

‘Whole Story’:  The Whole Foods Blog

Whole Foods’ blog (http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/) is entitled “Whole Story:  The Official Whole Foods Market Blog.”  The blog features posts by a variety of exceptionally well versed author/employees.  Colorful pictures support interesting texts, altogether making for a persuasive, pleasurable and very powerful branding mechanism.  Content is relevant, timely and includes local and community information.  Customers can access videos, podcasts and recent as well as archived posts covering topics ranging from healthy lifestyles and recipes to sustainability and community activism.  If they want, Whole Foods customers can set up a “My Recipe Box”; an account where they can store all the delicious recipes they’ve downloaded from the site.

Whole Foods also has two other blogs, one each from the two co-CEOs of the company:  John Mackey writes an eponymous blog (http://www2.wholefoodsmarket.com/blogs/jmackey/), and Walter Robb writes one called ‘Updates’ (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company/walterrobb.php).  Recently, Whole Foods had to contend with the fallout from a controversy due to an Op-Ed piece by co-CEO Mackey published in the Wall Street Journal.  The article addressed Whole Foods’ answer to the 2009 Health Care overhaul passed by Congress in 2009, under the aegis of President Obama.

Rather than shy away from the stir that the article provoked, Mackey responded on his blog that he wanted and encouraged people to express their feedback.  Whole Foods welcomed all the controversy that ensued, taking in and posting more than 3,000 customer responses.  The incident is an excellent example of a company demonstrating one aspect of what ‘transparency’ means in a social media setting.

thrive:  Whole Foods on YouTube

Whole Foods’ YouTube channel is called ‘thrive:  a whole foods marketing thing’ (http://www.youtube.com/wholefoods).  Similar to ‘Whole Story’, ‘Thrive’ is a medium for showcasing the talents and individuality of its employees.  Unlike ‘Whole Story’, though the general tenor of the content found on ‘Thrive’ is reflective of the slightly anarchic quality inherent in YouTube as a medium:  zany, goofy, sometimes silly, and just really fun.  Despite the free-wheeling character of the content, Whole Foods skillfully manages to keep ‘Thrive’ videos true to their overall purpose:  they’re informative, for customers, and they’re also excellent devices for conveying a genuine quality of authenticity so essential for effective social media marketing.

Content ranges from “What is local?” (about produce), to recipes, to ethical and environmental issues regarding how domestic farm animals are bred and raised.  Whole Foods has also produced a number of excellent YouTube serials, among them:

Twitter

Whole Foods’ uses its’ Twitter account (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/twitter/) for news, updates, special events and, of course, fostering quick back and forth customer feedback.  What makes Whole Foods use of Twitter different is that in addition to their corporate account for their Austin, Texas headquarters they also maintain Twitter accounts for local stores; specific Metro areas and special topics, such as ‘Cheese’, ‘Wine’, ‘Recipes’, ‘PR’ and their Whole Kids Foundation.

Bill Tolany of Whole Foods said in a March 2011 speech at the Corporate Social Media Summit, in New York, that 85% of Whole Foods’ Tweets are in response to customer comments, 10% are content based, and that only 5% are promotional (http://friedmansocialmedia.com/blog/2011/07/27/whole-foods-markets-subtle-social-media-marketing-plan/).  From those statistics, it’s obvious that cultivating customer interaction is the core of Whole Foods social media strategy, and the key to growing the organization’s bottom line.

Facebook

Whole Foods’ Facebook account (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/facebook/) is used for news, updates, events and customer interaction.  With Facebook, Whole Foods gets the ability to have longer posts while also providing access to videos and photos.  Whole Foods’ Facebook strategy is similar to the one employed for Twitter, in that there is not only a Corporate Fan page, but there are also individual pages for local stores ( http://vimeo.com/12154582).

Each store has a community manager for each Facebook page (also the case for Whole Foods on Twitter).  This individual is a trained Whole Foods employee, and they can be anything from a cashier to a fish monger.  Employees are given the freedom for self-expression, and encouraged to use it.

Whole Foods believes that the individuality, originality and creativity that results from this approach, helps to establish and foster connections to the local community.  Those connections, and the conversations and relationships that follow can then continue and multiply outside of the store, ultimately working to strengthen and reinforce the Whole Foods brand.

Flickr

Whole Foods approaches Flickr differently than Facebook and Twitter.  There is a single corporate account to which all the stores have access (http://www.flickr.com/photos/whole_foods/). The images are of different events, promotions of various locations and of employees.

The Flickr account is an effective way for customers and employees alike to share their personal stories, highlight seasonal events and celebrate special activities within the stores.  On a recent visit, there were pictures of bright orange pumpkins next to subduedly colored but startlingly vigorous and full chrysanthemums, all in celebration of the fall season, and the October festivities culminating in Halloween.

Customers can select a number of tab options to locate and view photos.  Selecting the ‘Favorites’ while writing this blog entry yesterday, I came across an appealing picture of an infant dressed (all in green) to look very much like a peapod (http://www.flickr.com/photos/brynnshouse/3351109371/in/faves-whole_foods/).  The child was seated in an outdoor display of brilliantly hued fresh produce, holding a green bean, while in the foreground was an overflowing basket of garden fresh green beans.  What better way for Whole Foods to promote its brand?

Conclusion

Whole Foods is very effective in their use of social media marketing to answer the needs of their target audience thru various social media channels.  Whole Foods provides meaningful content while engaging their target audience.  They provide and nurture customer and community relationships that go beyond the bricks and mortar store.  They stay true to their brand and core values and deliver on their commitment to local by providing great service, and so much more, to all their customers.

Social media is ongoing with Whole Foods, they have launched a mobile site for web enabled devices including an app for iPhones and iPads.  Users can access recipes, individual store information, directions, specials and a calendar of events.  They are also attracting customers by offering deals on the location Foursquare app.

This ongoing, evolving social media marketing commitment benefits Whole Foods customers as well as its bottom line:

  • More than 1.8 million followers on Twitter
  • More than 480,000 Facebook fans
  • More than 95,896 times viewed on YouTube
    • More than 2,165,702 uploaded views
    • Over 3,554 subscribers
    • More than 8,348 items on their Flickr account, with more than 174 sets

Whole Foods is a great model for how to use social media for marketing.

Advertisements