Walmart Turns the Corner with “Energizing”

A few months ago my colleague Josh Bernoff visited Walmart HQ and wrote how he believes the company is going to understand social –I was skeptical. Last night I had dinner with some of the Wal-Mart digital team invited by John Andrews, Emerging Media Sr. Manager at Wal-Mart Stores, along with other colleagues and some other vendors.

If you’re not aware of their checkered past, Walmart is a case study for doing social media wrong. They created the myspace clone community called “Hub” and shut it down after a mere 10 weeks, then they were caught “astroturfing” (fake blogging) along with their PR agency Edelman. They’ve launched the “Checkout Blog” which I give mixed ratings, while it’s certainly an authentic piece from Walmart buyers, there’s only a mere 6 comments on the 10 most recent posts. If conversation rate is a measure of success –they’re borderline.

[Rather than forcing the message with their own branded community, fake blogs, and corporate blogs, Walmart gets it right by creating a platform for customers and pundits to tell their story]

But what gets me thinking that Walmart may become a case study of success? They’re allowing for customer opinions by using Bazaarvoice for the last few years, this give customers the chance to rate –and rank the products they think are good. Secondly they’ve created a platform for the 11 moms bloggers (now beyond 20, with men too) that allow bloggers to discuss their opinions about products, Walmart and lifestyle. The difference between the Walmart blogging program and Kmart Izea deployment? The Walmart bloggers are not paid, and not-sponsored, and can write anything they want, with the caveat it’s non-disparaging (rather than saying “Walmart sucks” they should discuss what could be improved and why. I’ve spoken with a few of them, such as Lucretia Pruitt, (aka Geekmommy on twitter, follow her) who can share insight to why the program is working.

So why is this a change for Walmart? It’s pretty simple. Rather than Walmart trying to tell the story themselves with a community, and blogs. They’ve now figured out how to let their customers tell the story on their behalf –and that’s the difference. At Forrester, we call this ‘energizing’ which is commonly known as word of mouth, rather than “talking” which is the company speaking directly with the market, learn more about the five objectives. Given that corporate blogs aren’t trusted –and people that you know are –this is the way to go for Walmart.

Sometimes, the companies that have the roughest start (like Dell) with social end up being the case studies of success, I have a suspicion Walmart could fall into that category.