Whole Foods Social Media Program – Customer Engagement Game Changer

cregan    February 9, 2015

Organization Name:   Whole Foods Market Image Whole Foods Market

Name of contact: Natanya Anderson, Director of Social Media and Digital Marketing

Web References:  Whole Foods Market

Description on how Social Media is used for business Performance:

Social Media is creating a paradigm shift in the way companies are engaging with their customers.

Prior to Social Media, companies controlled their customer interaction through channels such as Web Sites, call centres or physical locations commonly called customer relationship management (CRM). The goal of CRM was to increase a company’s share of a customer’s wallet by building loyalty, retention and brand support. This traditional CRM approach is based upon one way promotional communications with companies controlling their message and customer interactions. With the growth of Social Media and the dynamics of communities, this new communications channel is shifting control to the customer. This new disruptive approach is troublesome yet it provides companies with an opportunity to listen and have conversations with customers about their insights and habits.

With the explosion of Social Media, Carol Heller Baird and Gautam Parasnis of IBM’s Institute for Business Value conducted a study “From social media to Social CRM” to understand what customers want and are companies providing what customers want from a social media platform. This two part study is available from the IBM site by clicking “From social media to Social CRM“.

Social Media Users:
The first part of the study looked at whether business understood who their customers are and why they use Social Media. What he authors discovered was 70% of the participants primarily use of Social Media was to connect with friends and family. While only 23% used Social Media to interact with brands (companies). Of those who interact with companies, 66% feel a company needs to communicate honestly and transparently before they will engage with the company.

Consumer vs Company Gap:
The study wanted to know if businesses understood why people interact with them through Social Media. The resulting chart clearly highlights a perception gap between the two different groups.

perception gap

This is not surprising since each party looks at their Social Media conversation from their own perspective and what they wanted from this channel. Even with this difference in viewpoint, companies should be encouraged by consumers wishing to connect with them through Social Media. However, these Social Media conversation will only take place if the consumer feels that they will benefit and they can trust the company. Companies have an opportunity to use Social Media and create a seamless customer experience across all their customer interacting channels but it will require thinking differently as John Ellett, CEO nFusion indicates in his conversation “Companies Focused on Pushing Products Vs. Engaging the Customer Will Struggle with Social Media”

Companies today are approaching Social Media from a departmental view creating multiple independent projects/initiatives with no common goal. For example; Marketing may use Facebook or twitter to communicate a customer contest. While at the same time, Customer Service might be using forums to answer customers’ questions and Employees enthusiastically blogging and tweeting about topics and ideas they find interesting.

Reasons for Social MediaCompanies are using Social Media to engage their customers a variety of reasons. The chart clearly indicates companies are not fully using Social Media for customer insights into their habits, perspectives and desire regarding the company’s products and services.


In the video “From social media to Social CRM” , the authors highlight points companies who are considering or using Social Media must:

  1. Think like a customer (start by listening and understanding what customers want);
  2. Build your Social Media Strategy with a focus on what customers want; and
  3. Have your Social Media strategy consider the value to the company, risk management and the governance of Social Media across the enterprise.

Whole Foods Market:

We can learn a lot about Social Media from other’s success such as Whole Foods Market who has been involved with Social Media for over 5 years with several Social Media platforms and achieving their social media success through their communities. The Slideshare  “Whole Foods Social Media Marketing”  describes Whole Foods Market, what Social Media is and outlines specific aspects of Whole Foods’ social and digital marketing strategy. Whole Foods Social Media program has been a success due to:

  • The focus on what is relevant to the customer (education, recipes, and events);
  • Its global and local strategic components that are linked together;
  • Each social media platform having a goal;
  • Participation is encouraged; and lastly
  • Whole Foods consistently and actively contributes to their Social Media program.

As indication of Whole Foods Social Media success, they won the Shortly Award for the best brand on Pinterest. Whole Foods uses this platform to create a strong emotional connection with people around shared interests and passions. Whole Foods role with this social media platform is to encourage strong involved groups participating in the different Pinterest boards, bring interesting and in-demand content for followers, and encouraging these followers. Inside Social Media had a conversation with Natanya Anderson, Director Social and Digital Marketing. During the conversation, Natanya outlined:

  • The difference between Whole Foods’ global and local social media strategies and how they are integrated;
  • How she explains why social media is important to decision makers and what they should do; and
  • How companies can adopt the Whole Foods’ award winning Pinterest strategies for their benefit.

Whole Foods has achieved success with their Social Media strategy as the number of followers on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter increase.

Whole Foods has achieved a lot because they understand their customer and what the customers want from the different Social Media platforms. A company developing or implementing a Social Media strategy must:

  1. Listen to your customers and understand what they want;
  2. Understand which Social Media platform(s) best match your business and customers participation;
  3. Focus on what the customer wants and courage their participation, comments and following;
  4. Understand how to loosely control multiple concurrent Social Media initiatives;
  5. Be prepared to experiment and adjust based upon your customers’ response and your perception of the associated risks; and lastly
  6. Be transparent and consistently contribute to their Social Media platforms.

Submitted by: Charlie Regan
To Contact the author of this entry please email at: charlie.regan@leadershipcg.ca

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Programme Director, Social Media for Business Performance.