Yesterday I noted that Whole Foods was one of only seven brands in the Top 100 Twitter accounts by follower and the first to move to over 1 million followers. After analyzing over 500 tweets by Whole Foods over the last month, it’s clear the company’s unique culture (devout advocates and purveyors of organic and natural foods) is defining its success on Twitter, similar to what we saw when we broke down Zappos Tweets.
Here are some of the highlights:
- The majority of those 525 tweets (91%) over the last month are replies back to users across a multitude of questions; the Whole Foods team averages just under 14 public responses a day
- When Whole Foods tweets on its own (averaging 1.3 per day), the majority of those tweets are very culture-specific, lending credence to their cause and authenticity:
- Culture/Insider: 29% – a wide variety of organic-centric causes (e.g. its Whole Planet Foundation, the USDA National Organics Program, and Non-Genetically modified project) to “Insider” bits like who they buy salmon in Alaska and new store openings (plus the ability to suggest locations for new stores).
- Promotions: 26% – other than a giveaway around their 1 millionth follower, their promos are also culturally relevant: pitching free organic yogurt and a “wholefoods5” contest “Tell us your food philosophy in 5 words for a chance to win a million grains of quinoa (oh, and a $50 gift card).”
- Organic Recipes from their blog: 18% – everything from Watermelon Lemonade to Quinoa.
- Cross Promotion of Other Ways to Connect: 11% – in addition to the blog posts mentioned above, Whole Food promotes its iphone application as well as a bevy of other more subject specific Twitter accounts (more on that below).
- Other Subjects: 15% – these tweets covered everything from random questions to users (What are you having for lunch? What are you cooking for the 4th) to some non-food product plugs which were eco-friendly products.
Some additional tidbits about the how Whole Foods is managing the tweeting around its core brand:
- Whole Foods generally doesn’t reply or post on weekends.
- They have multiple people managing the core Whole Foods account and leveraging CoTweet to do so.
- Whole Foods has worked with Twitter to set up their account to allow direct tweets without the need for Whole Foods to follow the end user, allowing for more confidential customer support with less hassle.
Whole Foods Growth to 1 Million Followers
Was it some promotion that got Whole Foods to 1 million followers? From the chart below, you can see that the growth has been pretty steady, with an inflection point around June 18th. Looking through the tweets during that time, they did offer an atypical (for them) Dave Matthews Band promotion. But beyond that, there really are no huge promotions running to push up the numbers. Indeed, the only promotion around their 1 millionth follower was launched July 9th (on Twitter, their blog and to their 98,000 fans on Facebook) and they hit the level Sunday July 12th but from the chart you can see no real bump in the new follower rate as a result.
To me the main reason for the continual growth of Whole Foods is due to it being a leader in a specific niche — organic foods — and its continual response to customers and on-topic usage of Twitter to support it’s leadership in that niche.
Getting Local: Twitter as the New-Age Phone Directory?
One of the more difficult issues for brand marketers with multiple retail outlets is how to effectively manage customer communications beyond the corporate office and down into the local markets. Brands like Best Buy are starting to tinker, but Whole Foods looks like they have made a solid commitment and have put together an impressive list of contacts. Whole Food’s list of Twitter accounts by department, region and store is the modern-day equivalent to the corporate phone list, allowing a consumer to contact and connect with the brand both on the corporate level, but at the local level as well. Some highlights:
- With 38,800 followers collectively, the 3 subject matter accounts (wine, cheese and recipes), 8 regions and 111 stores would rank #859 in the top 1,000 by followers, just ahead of Matt Giraud of American Idol fame.
- Just under 40% of the 280 stores have a specific twitter account (many in the last two months), and several others in Texas and New York are under regional accounts. Houston and New York City are the two leading regions with 2,528 followers of both accounts.
- The top stores with the most followers (between 650 to 900) include Columbus, OH (@WFM_Columbus), Nashville, TN (@WFM_Nashville), Birmingham, AL (@WholeFoodsBham) and Boston, MA (@WFM_Symphony). Naming conventions are fairly haphazard, so you can tell that a lot of the impetus behind this has come organically (no pun intended) from the stores themselves.
- Tweets by store really are a reflection of the local management, highlighting the ability to push local sales, or highlight in-store tours and events. Just as with any marketing program, different stores are actively tweeting, others only periodically.
- Besides the 111 stores with Twitter accounts, there are 98 stores with their own Facebook Fan Pages.
- For managing these tweets, there doesn’t appear to be any specific corporate-driven tools, as several are using the web, blackberry and other tools.
Whole Foods appears to have taken a bold step and is leveraging its employees and distinct personalities of its stores in each region and city to provide more outreach around the brand than any centralized PR or marketing function could possibly provide. It will take time to optimize and share best practices for engaging and reaching out to customers across the network of stores, but it sets a helpful path for other organizations to follow.
Questions for Discussion
Who else is setting up similar structures (Best Buy comes to mind)? What other companies have the specific culture around a niche that would make this successful? How do the traditional grocery store chains compete? How could you scale this for local franchises? Could McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts make use of this strategy or is there a limit to the number of stores that can really actively participate and provide truly “valuable” information to consumers? The numbers are still pretty small on a store by store level (and the program is really still very new) – how can we really understand the ROI at the local level?