Embracing blogs to connect with a company’s network of customers is fait accompli for the tech industry, but what about the rest of the planet that doesn’t put its every movement up on Twitter?
Here are four retailers that are using blogs and social media in an attempt to better connect with customers.
After several failed attempts at blogging, most notably the reviled "WalMarting Across America" shill blog, the planet’s largest retailer might be starting to get its act together. In 2007, the Bentonville, Arkansas company launched the "Checkout Blog," a group blog penned by nine of its corporate buyers that covers topics from the garden to video games to sustainability. A definite step in the right direction for the company, with actual employees communicating about their individual areas of interest, with minimal company shilling taking place.
WalMart wasn’t the only retailing behemoth to receive derision for its initial forays into blogging. McDonald’s, too, had its challenges. (Hopefully, you missed the fake "Lincoln Fry" blog, about a french fry shaped like the 16th President of the United States. Yes, it was as abysmal as it sounds.)
The company behind the golden arches now has a "Open for Discussion" blog with weekly postings on topics regarding "Corporate Social Responsibility." While certainly better than the LIncoln Fry, there are still some challenges here:
1) It looks to me like someone at McDonald’s headquarters has committed to some sort of MBO of "one blog post per week." As such, the posts are infrequent and not heavily trafficked.
2) While it’s great to spread the wealth, all the most recent posts on the site (March-April 2008) are from different authors. Accordingly, each post is starting with a "who I am and what my role is" statement. This also means that the revolving cast of characters hasn’t a chance to connect with readers. It’s drive-by blogging.
3) To their credit, comments on the blog are open. However, the paucity of comments makes me think that either (a) the blog is receiving almost no traffic or (b) the comments are being heavily moderated. The bold TERMS AND CONDITIONS of the blog also state: "McDonald’s owns any comments or other content that you post on this
site. That means that McDonald’s has the right to make, have made,
offer for sale, use, sell, copy, distribute, perform, transmit,
display, modify, adapt and otherwise use your submission(s) throughout
the world in perpetuity in any manner that it sees fit without
compensation to you. McDonald’s also has the right to use your name in
connection with any use of your submissions." This is not the best method to develop trust and a long-term relationship with a customer.
Of the four retailers profiled here, Starbucks has gone the furthest with respect to using social media to not only connect the organization to its customers, but to enable customers to rally around ideas as a community. Their "My Starbucks Idea" site is a venue where customers can submit suggestions to the organization, vote on the suggestions of other individuals, and see which ideas are going to actually be implemented by the organization.
The best part of the site is not the technical implementation but, rather, the cultural one. Starbucks does not seem to be censoring comments about their organization in any way, even when the feedback is less-than-stellar. For example, one representative comment on the site states:
"Decaf drinkers want strong coffee also. I go (or used to go) to
Starbucks because of the decaf Sumatra, Verona etc. I can get Pikes
Piss coffee from Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s. My grandmother makes
stronger coffee. Starting today I am no longer a customer of Starbuck’s
coffee except for whole beans. I urge everyone reading this to follow
my lead and make Starbuck’s understand that the reason we (used to)
spend our money on their overpriced coffe is because it is the best and
no one else offers a strong decaf. There is strength in numbers – walk
The key thing that Starbucks realizes is that these conversations are taking place anyway. If this site didn’t exist, customers such as the individual above would be making these comments in other forums that were removed from the organization, or on his or her own blog. With My Starbucks Idea, the organization is getting the feedback in realtime, and has the opportunity to address issues in a rational and constructive way.
Whole Foods Market
Although their CEO got himself and the company in some hot water by commenting negatively about a competitor using a pseudonym (n.b. the investigation into his actions has now been concluded), Whole Foods has a farmer’s market full of blogs, podcasts and videos they are using to give customers a variety of methods to learn more about the organization.