When I talk to my clients about social, I tend to throw around the concept of “21st Century Community”. The idea here is that between working more and longer hours, the two-career family, and over-scheduled children, tools like Facebook have evolved to fill a need that’s been usurped (time-wise) by our busy lives. We no longer have the time to build the direct relationships with our pharmacists, our grocers, and the other members of our physical communities with whom we would have interacted on a daily basis 40, 30, or even 20 years ago. 80% of commerce is conducted within 15 miles of the home, but it’s done in a largely nameless, faceless manner. Now that communication and interaction can exist – Facebook allows interaction and participation within your community (for both citizens and businesses), though on a time-shifted schedule, or on-demand, schedule.
Wal Mart wants to lead that charge – at least at the brand level. It has recently announced that it is building a Facebook page for each US location – quite interestingly – in partnership with Facebook. Says Stephen Quinn, EVP of Wal Mart’s US division, “This allows us to make our stores relevant on a local level,” during a media conference call late Monday. “This addresses our `next-generation’ customers who are using a lot of social media. A national message is often not as relevant.” The ultimate goal is to provide tailored offers for each Facebook visitor (based on the products they “like”) and, due to the direct relationship between Facebook and Wal Mart, could foreshadow what’s to come for the social network cum portal. For Wal Mart, it offers a personal connection, without the humanity. You’re still not going to get to know your pharmacist, but an algorithm will be able to tell you that cough medicine is two for one, and flu season is around the corner. For Facebook, it provides another disruptive influence on the status quo – it integrates itself into rural and suburban communities (the main consumers of Wal Mart) in a commercial manner and becomes the medium of the message.
This is a strong social approach – establishing a local presence to interact with your local customers and develop relationships – it’s proof that (as we advocate) even the largest, most faceless retail presence in America has local faces. It takes discipline, training and tools to do it right. It’s large but completely manageable with the right plan – and the strategy of accessing your customers at the local level is the right one (trust me – I care about the place making my food, not it’s corporate parent tweeting from above…) But there’s definitely irony in that Wal Mart, the force that revolutionized rural and suburban America by shoving the original retail mecca – Main Street – into decline, is now recasting itself as your local, hometown “friend”.