Social media participants give Wal-Mart their 5-cents

It's a Wal-Mart world

I’ve said for a while now that ’social media’ (or all types of platforms) may not be right for your company without serious planning and effort. That doesn’t mean it may not be right for your customers, it is what they want it to be, but for some brands it doesn’t make sense to jump in and experiment. Wal-Mart for example.

People claim that Wal-Mart has a horrible record for labour practices and predatory pricing. Is it any wonder then that their journey into social media via Facebook was met with exactly the kind of conversation the company can’t afford? The kind of conversation that is now morphing into adding pictures like the one featured above to Wal-Mart’s group and veering into turning their marketing initiative into an activist group against them.

Of course Wal-Mart went into PR mode and released this statement:

“We recognize that we are facilitating a live conversation, and we know that in any conversation, especially one happening online, there will be both supporters and detractors,” she wrote. “We’re happy that so many of our customers are talking on Facebook about why they like Wal-Mart. Most of all, we’re glad that soon-to-be roommates are using our site to come together and make choices about their dorm rooms.”

Unfortunately the only thing missing from this statement is an acknowledgment that they should be participating in a live conversation, not just facilitating. They aren’t Facebook, they are using Facebook. And of course, most of the over 150 comments at this point are not talking about how much they like Wal-Mart.

‘Analysts’ may praise the endeavour and claim it will most likely increase sales. Perhaps. More likely is that customers, or potential customers, will find out more about Wal-Mart than they would like them to… and tell their friends. They’ll increase the activism against them in the long-term even if sales spike softly in the short-term. That’s the power of word of mouth, for good and for ill.

Personally, if I was parodied on The Simpsons for exactly these issues I’d probably stick to traditional broadcast media if I didn’t plan on changing my business model without a fight or actually listening and engaging with the public.

Does the three strikes rule apply in Web 2.0?

H/T – Kevin for the point to the Slashdot story

[photo credit: Dave Haack on Facebook - Wal-Mart Roommate Style Match group]

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