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With its 820,900 followers, Whole Foods Market (WFM) has more people listening to its tweets than to those of Tony Robbins, “Good Morning America” and Martha Stewart; and it ranks No. 36 overall in number of followers as of June 7, according to Twitter tracker Twitterholic (http://www.twitterholic.com). No other food retailer even makes the top 500.

 For those of you not familiar with Twitter (though it’s highly unlikely, following the Ashton Kutcher/CNN Twitter follower contest), it’s a microblogging service that allows users to send and receive brief messages (140 characters or less) in real time over multiple networks and devices.

The reason for the massive following undoubtedly is the fact that Whole Foods delivers value in its tweets, and promotes them strongly on its blog.

In fact, Whole Foods has dozens of Twitter accounts that address specific topics. Its main account, the one with all the followers, contains messages from Whole Foods headquarters in Austin, Texas. Its WholeRecipes account is an automated recipe feed. There are also accounts for each category of product it sells, as well as accounts for individual stores.

Whole Foods uses CoTweet, https://cotweet.com/ a version of Twitter designed for businesses. It’s a comprehensive Twitter business platform that supports both proactive marketing communication and response-driven customer support that allows multiple people to communicate through corporate Twitter accounts, and stay in sync while doing so.
To help followers find their local store’s twitter account, the grocer provides the link to a list of stores tr.im/wfmtwitter on its Twitter page. It also gives users the chance to suggest a new store location: tr.im/suggeststore

 Most of Whole Foods’ tweets are really teasers that drive viewers to its blog, where it provides more detailed information on the topic. Called The Whole Story, it was developed, according to Whole Foods, as a “place where customers come together to learn about and express their points of view on organic and natural food, value tips, and other topics central to the company’s core values:

Selling the highest-quality natural and organic products available
Satisfying and delighting our customers
Supporting team member happiness and excellence
Creating wealth through profits & growth
Caring about our communities & our environment
Creating ongoing win-win partnerships with our suppliers.

Whole Foods use the blog to alert customers to topical issues like food recalls, as well as to give users a heads-up on new products coming to market and tell the stories of the people who make them. In addition, the company uses it as a platform for its shoppers — on the blog, they can contribute their opinions and directly interact with Whole Foods team members. And with videos, photos and audio podcasts, it’s entertaining as well.

The blog also contains a section specifically for customers to share tips about smart shopping, called The Whole Deal. http://www2.wholefoodsmarket.com/blogs/wholedeal/. Once a week, it chooses the best of the customer tips from all of the comments to feature on Whole Story — and rewards those customers with a $25 gift card.  Whole Foods isn’t a slacker on Facebook, either; with 76,936 fans, it uses the Wall function to share interesting/entertaining features, such as a recent video of how food gets from farm to fork, as well as updates on the company — especially its corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Here is where the grocer has tremendous interactivity with its customers. Each post by Whole Foods typically receives dozens of responses from viewers; some get more than 50.

Here’s a recent post:
“Whole Foods Market’s Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP) provides up to $10 million in low-interest loans to small, local producers. Why? Because we believe in supporting local farmers and producers. We want to make it easier for them to grow their businesses and bring more local products to market. That’s good for us and it’s good for you. (Link to details: http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=110259375010&h=21gSa&u=PrecP)”

Whole Foods uses Facebook’s Favorites pages function to provide links to individual store pages, and it encourages viewers — if their local WFM has no Facebook page — to ask them to open one. New store additions are then promoted on the main Whole Foods page.

The Facebook page also includes educational and informative videos, links back to the company’s blog and other social sites and RSS feeds of the WFM blog, its food podcasts, Whole Planet Foundation news, and Whole Body podcasts.

Whole Foods’ online cross-promotions go beyond this, to include viral promotions from customers themselves. The company designed dozens of badges — widgets that promote groups often using the text, “I’m a member of …” — that its Facebook fans can post on their profiles. Contacts viewing these profiles can visit the Whole Foods page by clicking the badge.

Whole Tube
Unlike many retailers that use YouTube purely as a free video hosting service so they can embed the videos onto their own sites without paying for the storage and bandwidth, Whole Foods turned its YouTube channel into a destination, with playlists targeted to specific audiences. The Whole Earth Generation consists of user-generated content from environmentally conscious teenagers. The Secret Ingredient features a weekly cooking instruction video; and the Producer Profiles playlist features videos from some of Whole Foods’ suppliers designed to educate consumers on where the grocer’s food comes from, or how it’s grown.

Similarly, Whole Foods uses its Flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/whole_foods/) to highlight corporate and local events, such as its recent Earth Day celebration, new store openings, and for profiles of some of the farmers who supply them.

What Whole Foods does particularly well is integrate each of these social media into an integrated communications platform that reaches its shoppers in a variety of ways, each linking to the other — a tweet links to its blog, which links to related videos on YouTube, and photos on Flickr.

Perhaps it should add another item to its mission of Whole Food, Whole People, Whole Planet.

Whole Internet.