Walmart : Paying enough attention

Response to critical headlines shows a mature cross-channel strategy at work.

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The feature

Walmart, the US’s largest supermarket group, has produced a measured response across its web channels to an unfavourable news story.

Walmart maintains separate retail and corporate sites but includes standing links to the primary corporate sections from the universal rich footer on its dotcom (retail) site. The News & Views link launches the media section landing page, which carries a mix of featured stories and Recent News headlines. As of today (21 November) none refers to a major news story that broke in the US two days ago, about a charity food drive at the Walmart store in Canton, Ohio, that aimed to help the store’s associates (staff). Within the Media Library, however, the Videos sub-section is led by a one-minute film featuring two Canton store employees talking positively about the charity drive and clearly in the context of the news story.

The video, titled Canton Walmart Associates Support Each Other, has also been posted to Walmart’s YouTube channel. On Twitter, the Newsroom tweeted a link to the video on 19 November and to sympathetic coverage in the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper, followed later in the day by a retweet of a FoxNews report in which the reporter was given access to the store. The main company feed (Walmarthub) retweeted the newspaper story. There are no related company posts on its Facebook page, but critical contributions are included in the extended comments on postings.

The takeaway

Walmart is no stranger to criticism from media and public opinion alike about its employment practices, so its low-key approach to a story widely read as showing its employees are barely paid a ‘living wage’ likely bears the mark of experience. The response has been quick, measured, well coordinated and unflustered. No petrol has been thrown on the blaze while the company has put down its own defence for those interested.

One thing immediately worth noting is that while the company has not gone out of its way to point to its response (deliberately, without doubt) it hasn’t ignored the story or sought to stifle comment. Indeed, it was quick off the mark in getting out its own side of the story, most evidently with the one-minute associates video, which is powerful in its vox-pop style immediacy and intimacy. It is also evident, though, that the video is one element of a coordinated cross-channel response that includes off-line initiatives – the inviting of FoxNews to report from within the store – as well as supportive use of Walmart’s presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Forewarned as it doubtless has been by previous flare-ups, Walmart is now clearly forearmed for the next one.
First published 26 November, 2013
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