Walmart’s Local Facebook Fiasco

Written by Evan Schuman
September 20th, 2012

When Walmart unveiled its local-store Facebook program almost a year ago, it touted a page for some 3,500 neighborhood stores, with content based on that community’s interests and local comments and complaints answered by local store management. Since that time, the Facebook strategy of Walmart corporate (not the stores) has performed brilliantly, increasing its FB fans from 9 million to 19.5 million in less than a year. And even with those types of numbers, Walmart corporate has proven unusually responsive to comments, directly answering more than 22 percent of all queries.

But the social program of its stores, during the same timeframe, has gone nowhere, according to a report slated to be released Thursday (Sept. 20) by The reason? Just about nothing that corporate is doing right—dedicated social resources, rules about the number and frequency of posts, people dedicated to responding to shopper comments—has been replicated at the store level. According to the report, the stores have been left to do whatever they can fit in, which seems to be pretty much nothing.

Walmart on Wednesday (Sept. 19) didn’t dispute the report’s findings, but said that the local store efforts were very young and needed time to grow. “Our Local Walmart pages are still in their early stages,” said a Walmart statement. “Next month will mark their one-year anniversary, and we’re proud to be the only retailer to have launched this kind of innovative social media effort.”

It’s a very legitimate point that Walmart is the only major retail chain to have even tried to have thousands of store-level Facebook pages. In effect, the chain is saying, “cut us some slack. At least we’re trying.” That’s fair, but it might be that other chains calculated such a move would fail unless huge additional resources were dedicated to it. As such, it may be too early to award Walmart brownie points for trying.

As for this effort only being 11 months old, in the world of social trials, that’s positively senior citizen-like.

The bigger issue, though, is what will drive better numbers unless the core issues—the lack of local content and responses to the local comments that are posted—are addressed.

Walmart declined to discuss what resources it has put behind this local Facebook effort, nor what its social media marching orders have been to store managers. The only related comment Walmart issued was, “we’ve encouraged our store managers to post to their local store pages.” And that may be the issue right there. Unless posting is tied into financial incentives—such as store managers whose sites were not updated at a certain frequency or whose comments were not replied to at a certain level faced bonus reductions and possibly even termination—it’s unclear why overworked store managers would make the time.

Todd Michaud, StorefrontBacktalk‘s retail columnist and a social media advocate, said he wasn’t surprised by the weak Walmart store results.

“They are typically designed to be run by the local people at the store or restaurant,” Michaud said. “Although they all clamor that they want their own FB/Twitter/Google presence, because they think they can do a better job than corporate, that quickly fades when they realize it is a lot of work. They quickly realize they are going to have to hire someone to do the work, which is typically a non-starter at a cash-strapped retailer.”

Michaud also said that when it does work—a little—the timing screws things up.


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