When you think about Australian retail powerhouses, you think of Woolworths. As the largest retailer by revenue in Australia, the brand clearly has impressive reach with consumers.

But how does its social media measure up? Let’s take a look.

With over A$60bn in revenue in 2014, second only to mining company BHP Biliton, Woolworths is both Australia’s largest supermarket and retailer.

And with 872 locations across Australia, an incredible 91% of Australians live within 10km of a store.

Its ecommerce footprint is impressive as well. Woolworths enjoyed more than A$1.2bn online sales for the year ending June 2014, a 50% rise from last year.

On a per capita basis puts it far ahead most other online retailers globally.

And Woolworths is clearly reinvesting profits in digital The brand just launched a new online shop with big photo buttons, clearly designed for mobile.

So with all of these other things going on, what is Woolies up to on social media?

Website

Before we look at their presence on social media, let’s take a quick look at their website for clues about its social media strategy.

The Woolworths website is bright and colourful and offers a lot of information to help customers feel more comfortable shopping online. 

One interesting feature I noticed straight away was that put the Facebook ‘Like’ button right at the top. The Like button was popular a number of years ago, but it has fallen out of favour recently. The reason for this may be that Facebook organic reach for brands is so low now that most are no longer growing a Facebook following.

Also at the top are the social icons. At just 15px high these are much smaller and less notable than social icons on other sites (though for the mobile site Woolworths does enlarge them to 75px).  

But what is really interesting is that the site is missing a social icon which is very common on other Australian retailer sites… Twitter. More on that later.

So, let’s go through them in the order on the site which is presumably the order of importance to the brand.

Facebook

First is Facebook. With more than 800,000 followers, 6% of Australia’s 14m Facebook users, Woolworths has a very popular page – in line with the reach of Macy’s in the USA, or Tesco in the UK.

And as with most other Australian retailers that we’ve covered recently Facebook is the brand’s home base.

Woolworths updates the page daily and posts up food pictures, special offers, how-to videos, and info about how the brand ‘gives back’ to the community.

Most of the content is fairly typical, but Woolworths’ engagement with its audience is impressive. Many post have hundreds of likes and dozens of shares.

Now, some of this probably is achieved by paying for reach, but what’s really interesting is how many comments the posts and page get from fans.

Just looking through them, it seems the page gets a comment or a post every few minutes, and many of them are complimentary. Woolies clearly is doing something well here.

It’s difficult to say exactly what that something is, but I suspect that it is related to providing a great customer experience at its stores. This creates goodwill with customers and Facebook is the place where the customers return the favour.

This contrasts sharply with other brands that, for whatever reason, have failed to deliver a great experience in the real world and try to make up for it by being chirpy and friendly online. Doing this brings out the worst in your online audience!

Lessons from Facebook: Deliver on your brand promise everywhere and Facebook can be a place where people don’t only complain, but engage with you in a positive way.

YouTube

Woolworths has a relatively successful YouTube channel with more than 12,000 subscribers.

This is much smaller than Facebook, but I don’t think the YouTube subscriber model works well for retail brands. Sure you don’t mind seeing a brand-centred video now and then, but subscribing seems a step too far.

What is cool though is that Woolworths has the YouTube ‘gadget’ interface which lets them design their YouTube channel like their website.

The YouTube gadget interface was discontinued in March 2015 but existing users are allowed to keep it until the end of the year. It is surprising that such a feature is being removed, but it must just not have been popular enough for Google to support.

The content on the Woolworths channel though is high-quality and timeless. Woolies put together short cooking videos which are great for social sharing. Some of them feature Jamie Oliver and will certainly have a long social shelf-life.

What is unusual, though, is that the view count on YouTube is very low, many with less than 1,000 views. Compare this with the same videos on Facebook, some of which had hundreds of thousands.

I think we are seeing a real challenge to YouTube here. I mean, why go all the way to YouTube to watch a video when you have plenty available to you in your Facebook and Twitter feeds? Brands need to be more conscious of this shift when devising their media strategy.

Lessons from YouTube: Still a great place to do evergreen content, but watch your view counts and make sure you’re distributing your high-quality work to a platform which gives you decent exposure.

Instagram

Woolworths has dutifully created an Instagram feed and has amassed 20,000 followers with just 350 posts over 18 months.

Funnily enough though, it wasn’t able to wrestle @woolworths from some other guy who just has 60 followers. Surely this sort of squatting is something that Instagram has to deal with if they want traditional brands to join the platform.

But despite being relegated to @woolworths_au, the brand does seem to be enjoying the platform and using it well. The pictures are largely the same on Instagram and Facebook, but it seems like the photos were taken originally for Instagram and then reposted on Facebook.

Woolies also includes some user-generated content on its feed which is always a great way of both engaging and making life a bit easier for the social media team.

Lessons from Instagram: For brands not yet using the platform, it’s an great place to build up a new audience – but you might be too late to get your brand name if you’re not there already!

Pinterest

And last, and perhaps least, on Woolworths’ social media icon list is Pinterest.

Now, Woolies has put a decent effort into Pinterest and there is some quality content here including beautiful food photos, gift ideas, and links to the brand’s YouTube videos.

But with only 1,900 followers and 400 pins, the board doesn’t have much life in it. Even the best pins have very few comments and hardly any repins.

I did start wondering about what ‘killing it’ would look like on Pinterest.

A quick search turned up the Whole Foods board with 177,400 followers and 5,200 pins. With a larger audience the US supermarket had many more repins and likes, naturally.

But have a look at how different Whole Food’s pins are from Woolworths:

Instead of just posting up food pictures and linking to content hosted elsewhere, the Whole Foods pins are self-contained nuggets of information. They include ingredients, instructions, and some are even done in an infographic style.

Now, the different levels of engagement could be caused by the US having many more Pinterest users than Australia. But even taking that into account, it seems like there is something missing here so the channel isn’t working well for them

Lessons from Pinterest: If you are determined to ‘make it’ on Pinterest, then have a look at other brands who have great engagement and try to learn from them.

Twitter

So, as I said at the beginning, Twitter is noticeably absent on Woolworths’ front page. And a search for Woolworths on Twitter leads to a dead end.

Woolworths did manage to get its brand name on Twitter at least, but it is quite shocking that there is no content there at all. The brand joined Twitter in July 2008!

Also most of the other retail sites in Australia are using Twitter actively to both talk with and listen to their customers. Surely Woolies should do the same. So what gives?

Well a sneak-peak at its brand-new ecommerce site shows the state of things to come. Scroll down to the bottom and you will see…

That’s right. Pinterest has been kicked out by Twitter. And the link works, so this is no oversight. Stay tuned then for Woolies on Twitter.

In conclusion…

Like most other big, retail brands Woolworths has realized the importance of using social to stay relevant in the lives of its consumers. The feedback on social channels shows that its customers are having positive offline experiences with the brand.

And despite the apparent upcoming shift in platforms, Woolworths consistently delivers great photos and shareable videos with high engagement on Facebook and Instagram. This leads me to conclude that many other brands could learn a thing or two about social media from ol’ Woolies.