Tag Archives: Between the Tweets

Between the Tweets: Analyzing How Whole Foods Got to 1 Million Followers

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?

Zappos Between the Tweets: Breaking Down How Zappos Uses Twitter

A veteran direct marketer was commenting on a LinkedIn forum that she wasn’t really bought into the value of having a ton of followers on Twitter – it’s costly, time consuming and “isn’t direct marketing just more efficient?” The ROI vs “engagement” and “conversations” argument went back and forth and ultimately others in the forum pointed to Zappos as an example of marketers who leverage social media to indirectly drive revenues.

Indeed, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hseih has amassed an impressive 650,000 followers. While a lot of Zappos rabid following is a reflection of the company itself (The Nightline video overview of Zappos nicely summarizes the “great customer service” and “fun” philosophy), you don’t get hundreds of thousands of followers without providing some reason to be loyal.

So what can a marketer looking to go social learn from Zappos? Sifting through 169 Tweets over the last three months (March 1st – May 25th), a few things stand out:

Tweet Frequency: Keep it Steady, but Don’t Overwhelm

  • Tony averages just under 2 tweets per day
  • Over the 86 days, he Tweeted on all but five days (and two of those were well-deserved Easter and Memorial Day holidays)
  • Only 9% of the time did Tony Tweet more than three times during a day and his max number of tweets in any one day was five (which he hasn’t repeated since March)

Tweet Content: Keep True to the Brand and Stay Away from the Hard-Sell

  • 54% of the Tweets were humorous, often reflections on the absurdities of travel and/or meetings
  • 10% of the Tweets offered inspirational quotes, more often funny than not
  • 25% of the Tweets were about interaction with the brand, either soliciting feedback, sharing insider info
  • 11% were random things that Tony shared, whether viewing a movie, a book, an article or a picture
  • 0% of the Tweets were about a specific product
  • 0% of the Tweets were about sales

In addition to humor, much of the insider information is really showing the extension of the Zappos culture, whether it be their rap video about the Zappos golf cart, a video to solicit Ellen DeGeneres to visit their office, or pictures of the Zappos team getting their heads shaved (an annual event). The posts humanize the company as being made up of individuals; the Tweets aren’t being out-sourced to a PR agency, just like Zappos makes it a point of strength that they don’t out-source customer support (it’s the foundation of their brand).

Engaging Customers: Planting the Seed, Subtly

While the ROI hungry may bemoan the lack of the phrases “on sale” or “buy now” in the Zappos Tweets, the company is actually subtly leveraging the Twitter followers to further engage in the brand (75% of sales come from repeat buyers) in a multitude of ways:

  • Cross-promoting a sister site: “Excited about the relaunch/redesign of 6pm.com (our sister web site, lots of discounts)! – http://www.6pm.com
  • Getting users to check out their extension into selling clothes in addition to shoes: “Fill blanks & tweet out by 11:27 AM Pacific “My favorite CLOTHING brand @Zappos sells is _ because _.” I’ll pick 3 winners ($150 Zappos GC)!”
  • Getting users to explore and give feedback on a site seach/buy redesign: “Headed to a meeting to discuss the future of fun experimental web site http://explore.zappos.com
  • Sharing with users what’s selling in real-time: “Cool… See what people are buying from Zappos in real-time! (Warning: may induce hypnosis) – http://bit.ly/zapposmap
  • Cross-promoting Zappos on Celebrity Apprentice: “At Celebrity Apprentice viewing upstairs at Hot Rod Grille in Henderson. Stop by if you’re around, it’s a @Zappos task episode! NBC 9-11 PM”
  • Showing web/tech stars like Guy Kawasaki opening up Zappos boxes and getting non-shoe items at SXSW: “Thx @magnify @briansolis @StephAgresta for putting together the Zappos BoxBreak vids (thought Shira’s was funny)! – http://bit.ly/zboxbreak
  • And providing various ways to meet up directly: Tweetups, registering for the local Las-Vegas area marathon and even the company picnic.

In the end, the Zappos story is not necessarily that they are great at using Twitter, but that Zappos has a unique brand philosophy of driving loyalty that is augmented by Tweets that are true to that message. For them, the ability to spark loyalty amongst their customers (through sending users to competitive sites if they don’t have something in stock, a 365 day return policy and yes, engaging Tweets from a brand with personality) will turn into happy customers that will shop with them again and again. It’s not a short-term return, but a long-term relationship that drives Zappos, which comes through loud and clear in nearly every Tweet.

As marketers, we have to continue to push our organizations toward the long-term view and invest in social media not as a short-term ROI project, but as a long-term commitment to improving customer lifetime value.

Update: Being a numbers guy, couldn’t help explore the click through rates though: After the Tweet: Exploring Twitter Click Through Rate Benchmarking to Measure Engagement