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Business - Written by on Wednesday, November 7, 2007 11:57 - 6 Comments

Poor Wal-Mart: a social networking nightmare scenario

I’m not going to delve into the subject of Wal-Mart and whether it is an evil corporation that mistreats its non-unionized workers, but I do have to say that I feel a bit sorry for them.

As several articles over the past few months (just Google Wal-Mart + facebook) have pointed out, Wal-Mart has (and now, as I’ll explain in this post – HAD) a sponsored facebook group that, you could argue, failed miserably. To give readers some context – Wal-Mart’s facebook group was called “Wal-Mart Roommate Style Match”. The purpose of this group was for college students heading back to school to figure out their respective ‘styles’ and to find cool back to school supplies at Wal-Mart. Instead of talking about which cool product they were going to get, members of the group started posting anti Wal-Mart content and entered into discussions on the evils of this American corporation. Even the pictures posted in the group were anti Wal-Mart in nature…


This was not Wal-Mart’s first foray into the social networking space. Their first attempt was a blog that was allegedly written by ‘two independent consumers’ – later it was found out that it was a PR initiative backed by Wal-Mart (haven’t they learn anything about transparency…?!). They then tried to create their own version of MySpace – ‘The Hub’ which was shut down after 10 weeks.

Now, facebook. First online in August 2007, the group was slow to pick up users, and even after a few months of being online, their member count was at a meager 1,239 members. This is compared to some of the largest sponsored groups like Apple with 421,000 members or Victoria’s Secret’s PINK group with 349,000 members.
So, why did I say that Wal-Mart HAD a sponsored facebook group… because on October 31, 2007 Wal-Mart shut down “Wal-Mart Roommate Style Match”. I found out about this due to some discussion on the wall, and with a bit of poking around, I found a post from a Wal-Mart employee – posted below, with the immediate response from one of the members (last names are removed).

Christina (Alaska Southeast) wrote
at 12:10am on October 19th, 2007
Wal-Mart creates thousands of jobs by taking away better paying jobs from other people. I do not shop at Wal-mart and can proudly say that. The woman below me is a good representative of the typical Wal-Mart employee, brainwashed and uneducated, with the written English skills of an average 12 year old.

Linda (Wal-Mart) wrote
at 5:58pm on October 18th, 2007
I’ve been keeping up with the posts. While we created the Roommate Match program hoping to generate conversation about cool Wal-mart merchandise, most people who took the time to comment wanted to talk about what Wal-Mart stands for and how the company operates. I am not at all surprised by this. There are hundreds of news stories about the company each day. My family and friends ask questions about what they read and hear. Here’s what I’m proud to tell them . . . the company creates thousands of jobs each year, three out of four store managers started their careers in hourly positions, almost all employees have health insurance. I have watched as things improved during my time with the company and expect us to continue to improve on the things we already do well and fix things we could still improve. Now that students are back at college, this program will wind down. We’ll close up shop October 31st. Until then, let’s keep talking.

Although a lot of companies these days are jumping on the facebook / social networking bandwagon, there are a few things they need to take into consideration. Speaking with Charles Hull, partner of branding firm Archrival (the company behind RedBull’s successful facebook group “Red Bull U”) he put it very nicely…. Not all companies are facebook / social networking friendly, just because it’s the “in” thing to do doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll fit. Also, before starting an endeavour like creating a facebook group, do a bit of research, and figure out what’s currently out there and what the market thinks about your company.

A quick search for Wal-Mart groups on facebook will return at least 4 Anti-Wal-Mart groups some with more members than their sponsored one. Some names are “People Against Wal-Mart” – 600 members; there are actually two “Boycott Wal-Mart” groups – 2,112 & 557 members; and “Anti Walmart” – 1,654 members… you get the idea.

If Wal-Mart had done a bit of research, perhaps they would have decided to approach the facebook group decision a bit differently (or not at all)… maybe “Roommate Style Match” wasn’t the best theme. Instead, this group became the stomping ground for “Wal-Mart haters” everywhere, and the vast majority of wall posts (since this group didn’t have a discussion board) were negative. And now after three short months (around 12 weeks), the group was taken down. At least this stint lasted a bit longer than their in-house social network experience. But still, poor Wal-Mart.


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The Writing On The Wal » Blog Archive » Wal-Mart sets the bar really, really low.
Nov 7, 2007 14:20

[...] thanks to Ming Kwan at Wikinomics for pointing out that Wal-Mart has pulled the plug on its Facebook site. [If you don’t know it, the backstory [...]

George Lamb
Nov 7, 2007 18:22

When you say ‘poor Wal-Mart’, are you talking about the people who are (mis)directing the company? The thousands of underpaid workers? Or the concrete behemoth-of-a-box that says “Wal-Mart” on it? I’m not sure who or what to feel sorry for.

Ming Kwan
Nov 8, 2007 11:01

Don’t get me wrong George, I am in no way condoning or sympathizing with or for Wal-Mart per se. I was just looking at this particular situation objectively, with all other factors aside – including what company this is. When there is a huge multinational business with alot of money to invest, you would think that they would be able to get something as simple as social networking right. Especially when much smaller / less well known companies are doing it much better than they are – and probably at a fraction of the cost (or at least in a way that isn’t detrimental to their business). In this particular case, the company that’s in this unfortunate situation just happens to be Wal-Mart.

Culture Shock » The Buzz Bin
Nov 12, 2007 6:12

[...] Astroturfing: Lying with fake social media efforts rarely makes it in the social media world (see Astroturfing on the Dark Side of the Moon).  In the case of Walmart, the company still hasn’t recovered. [...]

Second (and Third) Chances for Social Media and Corporations to Change » The Buzz Bin
Dec 12, 2007 10:29

[...] Wal-Mart may (or may not) have learned from their mistakes, they keep trying to prove their willingness to listen and engage their customers. Hopefully [...]

Wikinomics » Blog Archive » An unlikely social (networking) success story
May 8, 2008 14:21

[...] 8th, 2008, 02:21pm A while ago I wrote a blog post on Wal-Mart and its failed social networking endeavours. Many comments I’ve received regarding that post [...]

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