Whole Foods Market has 2.1 million followers on Twitter (@WholeFoods), and all tweets are written by one person. Seems like a lot of pressure, no?
Michael Bepko, Whole Foods' global online community manager and solo tweeter, recently told the Wall Street Journal that he spends about a third of his day on Twitter. The natural food giant's Twitter page states it answers customer questions Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.
However, Bepko admits that he checks the company's Twitter feed several times a day. "The online community doesn't recognize office hours—nor should they," he says. If a questioner has a request on Friday evening, "waiting until Monday is just not good enough."
I know what you're thinking: "I don't have that kind of time! Social media's not my main job. And do I really want to be married to it on the weekend?"
It all comes down to this: Whether you're an independent natural retailer with a staff of five or a natural products startup with a staff of one, if you don't make time for social media you'll reap none of its rewards.
The benefits of tweeting
The rewards can be huge. Google's new search algorithm is incorporating more social results than ever. The New York Times' Bits blog recently reported on Google's latest "freshness algorithm" that will incorporate more results from social sites such as Twitter and Facebook. This means you can expand your online reach not only by posting content to your website, but also increasing views to that content by tweeting and updating your Facebook status.
Americans use Google for two-thirds of their Internet searches. If you're at all interested in getting the word out about your store or product, tweeting's a great first step. Just take it from Whole Foods' Twitter account, which has been around since 2008 and has amassed the kind of following most natural businesses dream about.
Twitter strategies to try from Whole Foods
Interaction is key.
What matters most is not how large your company or brand is, or even how many followers you have. Besides, no one gathers 2.1 million followers overnight, unless you're Charlie Sheen. It's all about how you project yourself via social media and if you interact with those who tweet to you.
Bepko is very responsive to consumers on the @WholeFoods Twitter account, in addition to posting food tips and recipes. What content matters to your followers? Find out, then tweet it! but most of all, don't ignore them. Customers are showing up online and expecting the same service they'd get if they called you on the phone or visited your customer service desk. They want to be helped, but more importantly, they want to be heard.
Whole Foods' tweets have personality. It's not always about correct punctuation or spelling (though I would encourage both). Twitter gives you a license to abbreviate, simply for the fact that you only have 140 characters to communicate. So while u probably don't want 2 type like this all the time, your followers are much more understanding—and they even crave that personal, human touch. In other words, don't be afraid to be you, even if that means addressing someone who isn't quite fond of you.
Divvy up social responsibilities.
Whole Foods is smart in that it has one main Twitter account, but gives each store control of its own social media accounts. In the same way, you could have several of your employees maintain their own accounts; or, have several employees pitch in on one account. This can get tricky if employees aren't in close communication with one another. But on the other hand, each tweet has such a brief shelf life that any mistake quickly will be glossed over. And when it comes to accumulating a loyal following, the more tweets, the better.