Eighteen months ago, Walmart was at a crossroads that many businesses new to social media find themselves: It was aware that a presence on social media was important for its brand, but it was lacking a clear, defined strategy.
"We knew we had to have a Twitter page and knew we should be on Facebook, but what about Instagram and Flickr?" says Umang Shah, director of social strategy at Walmart. "We had individual presences but we didn't really have a strategy about why we were there and what we were trying to accomplish."
A successful social media strategy is a growing necessity in the world of branding. According to a recent report from Forrester Research, 32 percent of consumers find brands' official webpages by way of popular social media sites such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. And this number has only been increasing: In 2010, for example, only 18 percent of consumers found these channels through social media.
In the first nine months of its new social strategy, Walmart's Twitter engagement increased by a whopping 1,200 percent. Here's a look at five keys that Shah says have been integral to Walmart's success and are ones that every company can follow.
1. Determine What Your Value Is
"Every business needs to know what its value is," Shah says. "Most people and most companies look at, 'What value can I get out of social?' But it doesn't work that way."
Shah says that it's easy for brands to think about social media as a tool rather than as a way to deliver value. Walmart was guilty of that in the beginning, Shah says, but it took steps to get the brand on track and inline with the values it wanted to communicate-for example its sustainability efforts.
"Most brands consolidate multiple [Twitter] accounts into one, but we didn't want to do that," Shah says. "The best way for us to talk about something like sustainability was to attract an audience on social media and invite them somewhere where talking about it wasn't just OK, it was expected."
In addition to its Twitter account @WalmartGreen, the company added a number of other Twitter accounts to create communities centered around interests: @WalmartHealthy, @WalmartGiving and @WalmartAction, among others.
2. Understand Your Audience
After developing a number of new Twitter communities, Shah and his team worked to better understand the people who were joining them by using the social media marketing tool SocialFlow.
"We wanted to find out who was there talking about what and whether people cared about certain topics," Shah says. "You might have had a hard time convincing me that people wanted to talk about sustainability and corporate responsibility, but they did. We tried to understand and profile them: What do they talk about? How active are they?"
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