Wal-Mart Isn't Cool on Facebook. And That's Okay

Blogging can be a powerful marketing tool for businesses with interesting stories to tell. I believe this is especially true in businesses where building a personal relationship with propsects or showcasing one’s expertise has the potential to translate into sales.

A few industries where this has proven to be particularly effective include:

1. Real estate – builds personal relationships between agents and prospects. Rain City Guide and St. Paul Real Estate Blog are two examples.

2. Software – Microsoft has been able to build closer relationships between Microsoft’s software developers and the developers who user Microsoft products to build applications. I’ve seen less success with Microsoft using blogging to communicate with consumer end-users of products like operating systems and Office software.

3. Authors – Blogging has proven to be a great way to build an audience for a book, keep the conversation going with readers, and drive pre-sales of future books. Speaking engagements come out of this as well. Seth Godin and the guys behind Freakonomics stand out here.

I haven’t seen much success with direct to consumer companies that aren’t known for personal relationships. For example, while Wal-Mart interacts with millions and millions of people a day in their stores and on their website, it’s a rather impersonal relationship. People shop their stores based on price and the convenience of finding everything from Kleenex to tropical fish and guns under one roof.

Of course, this doesn’t stop companies like Wal-Mart from testing the waters with things like blogging or Facebook sponsorships. For the cost of trying things like this, they’d be stupid not to.

Jeremiah Owyang from PodTech.net has taken a look at this subject in recent posts on his blog including one where he compares his blog’s Facebook group audience with Wal-Mart’s:

I’m checking up on the group, and have noticed that the group size is very low, in fact only 934 members. The Web Strategy Group that I promote is at 1500 members in just a few weeks longer, and it’s certainly a much smaller ‘brand’ than Wal-Mart.

Personally, I don’t think Wal-Mart’s marketing success can be measured by its Facebook group membership. Neither can the web success of other large consumer serving companies like Mobil or Xcel Energy. These are companies that easily ignore Facebook’s existance.

Adding someone as a friend or joining a group on Facebook is an act close to an endorsement of that person or business. Wal-Mart, and companies like it are basically utilities in the eyes of typical Facebook users. You use them because you need them, not because you love them.

What Wal-Mart will probably learn from their Facebook experiment is that they’re not cool; just like friending your parents isn’t cool. However, it’s not bad to be not cool as long as you’re respected and deliver on promises. In the case of Wal-Mart, the promise they should be pushing is, “we have cheap crap for your dorm room, from school supplies to aquariums.”

On the blogging front, Wal-Mart should NOT open up to the world. Can you imagine purchasing people from Wal-Mart blogging?

“Hi, I’m the guy who demanded such low prices on [insert product here] that your town’s main company packed up and moved production to China. Now you know why your dad can’t help pay for college.”

Bad idea.

As we’ve seen, Wal-Mart’s PR firm has struggled with this in the past by going as far as creating fake blogs supposedly written by customers about how much they love parking their RVs in Wal-Mart’s lots. Just face the facts: if you have to fake it, it’s probably not a good fit.

In summary: Understanding your customer’s relationship with you – rather than your relationship with your customers – is key to successful marketing.

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