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For the latest post looking at how major brands use social networks I’ve decided to nominate Whole Foods Market.
For those who aren’t aware of the brand, Whole Foods is an increasingly popular natural and organic food store with nearly 300 locations in North America and the UK.
Social media has been an essential part of the brand’s success, so it’s a great case study for other brands to try and learn from.
Whole Foods has managed to attract 1.4 million fans to its Facebook page and keeps its community entertained with several posts per week.
It includes a broad variety of content including recipe ideas, product information, competitions, coupons and questions.
In general the level of interactions appears to be quite low, with fewer than 1,000 ‘likes’ and comments per post. The social team endeavour to provide full responses to the first few comments its receives on each update, but as with most brands it has to ignore a large majority of users as it would take too long to respond to all of them.
Whole Foods doesn’t have much of an ecommerce offering at the moment as not all of its outlets allow customers to order online.
Therefore unlike other grocery stores such as Walmart and Kroger it doesn’t post loads of product promos and links to its ecommerce site. Instead it has more of a soft sales approach that promotes the benefits of eating healthy, wholesome produce and links to blog posts, videos or its other social accounts.
Whole Foods also posts a lot of content around the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in its products as it’s something that the brand is keen to avoid being associated with.
The social team also has to respond to a lot of user comments on the subject and seems to prioritise these above other interactions.
Alongside the main account it appears that all or most of the local outlets have their own dedicated Facebook page. Most have fewer than 10,000 fans, but those in bigger cities such as New York and Chicago have upwards of 60,000.
The local pages are apparently only loosely controlled by head office, so they are largely left up to their own devices. The local community managers do a good job of updating the pages on an almost daily basis with interesting content that reinforces the brand while giving each store its own individual identity.
Whole Foods has a whopping 3.5 million Twitter followers and appears to use its feed primarily as a customer service channel.
The community team responds to upwards of 100 users each day, ranging from complaints to people simply mentioning the fact that they’re in a Whole Foods store.
It’s a great way of communicating with its customers and creating personal connections with the brand, and as a result Whole Foods has more followers than most of its competitors.
Whole Foods also posts a number of marketing tweets each day that largely follow the same theme as the content posted on its Facebook page. The tweets include recipes, information on GMOs and information how to be more eco-friendly.
The community team also host regular Twitter chats every Thursday, which are cross-promoted through its ‘Wellness Club’ Facebook app. Recent topics have included pets, Oktoberfest, South African Wines and recipes ideas.
To keep the Twitter chats flowing Whole Foods posts a series of questions around each topic and then other users respond using the hashtag #WFMdish.
As they are hosted at a regular time slot each week the chats have built up quite a large following and it’s another way of helping to build customer loyalty using social channels.
As with Facebook, Whole Foods’ local stores each have their own dedicated Twitter feeds that tend to have a low number of followers.
In general the local feeds only tweet a few times per day at most and the content focuses on marketing messages and promotions rather than engaging with other users.
Pinterest has proved to be a hugely successful marketing channel for Whole Foods according to its global community manager Michael Aaron Bepko.
It has a whopping 150,000 followers and has pinned 2,600 images across 55 boards. As a result Pinterest overtook Twitter as a referrer to the Whole Foods website in December 2011.
Bepko said that many of its boards are created with the aim of appealing to a broad range of Pinterest users while tying the brand to a certain type of food culture. One example is a board called ‘How does your garden grow?’ that contains images of people growing their own vegetables.
The idea is that these types of boards will appeal to a number of different interest groups, including craft lovers, gardeners and vegetarians. Once these people have landed on the Whole Foods Pinterest page they are then exposed to other brand-related content such as recipes ideas and products.
And it’s the recipe ideas that prove to be the most popular form of content as well as the most successful in terms of traffic referral.
The two most popular images Whole Foods has ever posted are recipes, one of which is for spiced squash spaghetti and has been repinned 68,000 times driving 44,000 views to the website.
Overall, 500,000 visitors from Pinterest have viewed Whole Foods pages 760,000 times. Of that, 80% came from recipes.
Whole Foods is also one of a number of retailers that has run a Pinterest competition, asking users to create boards celebrating motherhood.
It seems the main benefit of the contest was the discovery that people like to share quotes and infographics. This informed Whole Foods’ future campaigns and led directly to the creation of a bee infographic.
The community team now creates it content with Pinterest in mind and existing content was edited to make it more pinnable.
As far as I can tell Whole Foods began regularly updating its G+ page at the end of 2011 and kept it up all the way until March 2012, then lost interest and went on hiatus until June 2013.
It now posts content almost everyday but achieves the usual low levels of interaction that we see with pretty much every brand on G+.
The content is actually very engaging and includes a excellent imagery and videos, some of which is used on its other social channels.
Whole Foods has also trialled Google Hangouts as a way of promoting new store openings. This is something that I’m in favour of, as it is a unique tool for Google+ and is a great way for people to communicate with their favourite brands, however I don’t think Whole foods executed it particularly well on this occasion.