Walmart was recently ranked the largest public corporation in the world by Fortune Magazine. With its worldwide recognition and overall success, it's hard to imagine that the enterprise's digital communication initiatives are anything but seamless and flawless. However, Walmart, like other companies both small and large, has had its share of challenges in adapting to changes in online technology - specifically in the digital marketing and communications space, according to Chad Mitchell, Senior Director of Digital Communications. Mitchell leads a team that's tasked with delivering tailored messages to highly segmented audiences - on the right channels at the right time.
One of Walmart's most difficult adjustments was learning to freely communicate its personal stories, Chad shared while giving a rare insider's look into how Walmart has approached various digital communication challenges.
The Digital Learning Curve
Walmart can attribute much of its success and culture to the vision of its founder, Sam Walton, who was determined to help customers and communities save money and live better. While definitely a positive approach, this leadership and vision helped create a very humble culture that wasn't accustomed to telling its own story, Chad says.
"As we grew, (like all businesses) we attracted not only more customers, but more media attention and more critics and we were slow to engage," he says.
Walmart eventually adapted, using the explosion of digital channels to its advantage. Its communications teams became more active in telling the company's own story - especially through the experiences of its 1.4 million associate throughout the United States. "Our associates, our customers, our suppliers and other groups we work with have been eager to see us be more vocal," Chad says. "We've heard them and I think you've probably seen that manifest itself in the media and across the internet."
As the team navigated the digital landscape, it learned to overcome communication challenges by studying and adopting social strategy, mobile adoption, better storytelling, audience and influencer identification and other tactics. "I think it's fair to say that while other brands probably established digital footprints first, our teams (across the company) are now positioned to not only keep pace with, but are evolving every day to meet and exceed the ever growing demands of customers, media, influencers and critics alike," Chad says.
Walmart's Digital Communications team applies what it has learned to future efforts and works every day to engage with those who have questions and comments in the most transparent way possible, Chad says.
The Overall Mission
From a broader perspective, Walmart's Digital Communications team has two primary responsibilities. First, it is tasked with supporting the business by ensuring that customers and potential customers understand that the discount store has the lowest prices in the industry and that Walmart's mission is to help them save money so they can live better lives, Chad says. The second objective is to protect, defend and enhance Walmart's reputation.
To ensure that they accomplish those two primary missions, Chad and his team use Twitter as a major channel. They have seven total Twitter handles with @WalmartHub being the "parent" handle that only retweets the best performing content from the other handles to its largest following, Chad explains. The other accounts feature the following topics:
- @WalmartNewsroom - Press releases and other announcements
- @WalmartVeterans - Hiring initiatives and other efforts involving veterans
- @WalmartGreen - Sustainability-related news
- @WalmartGiving - Philanthropic efforts
- @WalmartAction - Public policy issues
- @WalmartHealthy - Fresh and healthy foods
Of owned, paid and earned media, Walmart, to date, has been using earned and owned as the primary channels of its digital efforts. Chad and his team work closely with Walmart's Media team, which he describes as "relentless" in its media outreach. They use Twitter to broadcast the resulting media that's earned through the Media team's PR efforts.
In total, the Digital Communications team manages approximately 60,000 mentions of significance on Twitter per day. These mentions are specific to Walmart's reputation or major initiatives -tweets related to its two primary missions. Chad describes this monitoring, analysis and communication as "taking a lot of work, especially for a small team." As a result, they're always looking for ways to "engage in the most meaningful way," he says.
What's Happening in 2014?
In the coming year, Chad says, the Walmart Digital Communications team will use paid media, such as sponsored content, as a priority. This tactic will be part of a more robust content marketing strategy to create more engaging and compelling content, he adds. The focus will be on better storytelling through the inclusion of more conversational tools, social sharing and possibly a blog. Look for Chad's team to increasingly share Walmart's stories on popular culture sites where conversations are already happening.
Chad's team delivers a valuable lesson that can benefit both large and small businesses. By closely aligning Walmart's digital communications strategy with its overall corporate mission, they're able to solidify Walmart's brand and the values its founder established more than 50 years ago.
As the digital voice of the brand, it's extremely important that this alignment be in place. Not just for Walmart, but for all brands. They've also successfully eliminated any silo walls between the Media and Digital Communications teams who work to support each other. These are valuable lessons for digital marketers and PR professionals alike.