How Walmart Builds a Social Media Strategy to Support Reputation Management

Read the original post on iCrossing’s Great Finds blog, published April 24, 2013.

Without data to analyze and drive your social strategy, you’re just talking to a wall. That’s the main lesson from a keynote delivered on April 23 by Walmart’s Director of Social Media, Umang Shah, at the Social Media Strategies Summit in Chicago.

I was intrigued by Shah’s keynote the moment I saw its title, Building a Social Media Strategy to Support Reputation Management. I know Walmart has a lot of friends but also critics. So I was curious to see how Walmart’s social media strategy addressed its online brand reputation issues. However, rather than focusing on the nitty-gritty of managing negative sentiment for the brand, Shah discussed how he built a strong social media strategy for Walmart that helps provide information and engage with customers in real time.

Shah discussed how, when coming into the company to manage its social media department, he wanted to help spread the word around the “Live Better” part of Walmart’s slogan. Walmart, while being perceived as an “evil empire” (in his words) by some, does a lot of good for its communities and the world, for example providing 2,450 truckloads of supplies to Hurricane Katrina victims and donating more than $2 billion to end world hunger. Shah felt that the company should share its good works and tout its achievements.


Umang Shah

The brand’s desire to share stories to engage customers, along with shifting perceptions of social media strategies internally at Walmart, drove Shah to develop and rollout a successful social media strategy with a team of specialists. This strategy is to share corporate news and build public goodwill by sharing information about how Walmart is helping society. As part of the strategy, Walmart has created multiple Twitter handles, each targeting a different audience with the information and messages that pertain to them. That way, each audience receives more relevant information and isn’t turned off by irrelevant messages. Shah also implemented a way to monitor social media conversations almost around the clock so that questions and issues addressed in social media are addressed as soon as possible.

But before Walmart implemented its strategy, Walmart analyzed data. Data is the foundation for a successful social media campaign as it helps identify influencers, determine how and where to engage with them, and what types of content will be best received. For example, if the data shows that the environmental audience responds well to case studies, Walmart’s environmental awareness Twitter handle can share real-world examples of how the brand has, and will be, aiding in environmental conservation. Shah shared how his team utilizes Social Flow, among other tools, to help determine the best times of the day or week to share content, but also how to craft the messaging around that content to get the biggest bang for its social media buck. Consequently, while some messages Walmart creates may not be received well, its overall social messaging and content will improve with the learnings received through this data.

The implementation of Walmart’s social media strategy succeeded across the board. The team saw increases in engagement (defined as more clicks, favorites, likes, mentions and retweets) and audience growth for all of its Twitter handles. Walmart also saw a decrease in social media response time, dropping to just a matter of hours at the most in all instances. Additionally, Shah mentioned that, during the initial creation and sharing of content through its social channels, Walmart did not pay for any promotions. He stated that all companies can buy engagement online, but the true value of your content and the way you engage with your audience is told by how much succeed without paying for it.

Those tips, and the detail in the strategy Shah implemented at Walmart, can be carried over to nearly every other company as well. If you rely on data to build your influencers and share content with your audiences when and where they’ll find it valuable, your content and social presence will succeed.

Follow me on Twitter for more tweets and updates from the conference @DanaNotman!

Dana Notman is a senior natural search strategist at iCrossing

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