Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is Using Social Media Enough?

Home Depot "Listens" to Their Customers

Home Depot's Nick Ayres, Interactive Marketing Manager, says that, for Home Depot, using social media has been an "easier sell" because they have "long been in a business that focuses on helping people solve their home improvement problems." Now, he says, they use a "digital orange apron." Home Depot's Nick Ayres and Sarah Molinari, Corporate Communications Manager, discuss at Blogwell, a conference where big businesses share their successes and failures with social media, how Home Depot started using social media, and what they've learned.

Ratings and Reviews
Home Depot's first step into communicating with their customers was by having them rate their products and write reviews on their website. This one way communication was so successful they decided to take it a step further. Home Depot decided to try Twitter and see what kind of response they got there.

When Home Depot started using Twitter in 2008, they tweeted about upcoming sales. Their customers let them know that they weren't interested in hearing about sales which they could read about in their flyers; they wanted to get to know the company. Hurricane season in Florida gave Home Depot the opportunity to take their customers' advice.

Home Depot tweeted warnings about the weather, gave advice on weather-proofing their homes, let customers know which stores were receiving extra shipments of needed items, and which stores were staying open all night to accommodate their needs. By using Twitter for getting their message out, customers received the information more quickly, and they got to know the company the way they had asked. Home Depot began to build the loyal customer base they were looking for.

Sarah Molinari's advice about Twitter is for businesses not to chase followers but to build relationships with those who choose to follow. Home Depot took this victory and moved on to You Tube.

Home Depot began to use YouTube by creating videos to show customers how to do things such as home improvement products, decorate for the holidays, and work on your landscape. Their employees have used YouTube to create comedic videos about working there, and others have used YouTube to make fun of Home Depot or as a platform to express their displeasure with Home Depot. The company ignores all of the bantering in other videos and does their best to get a positive message out there.

Facebook isn't mentioned in the video from Blogwell, but Home Depot has several Facebook pages they also use in their social media campaign. Their retail page has 25,484 fans, the most fans of all their pages. This page mostly has positive comments about working at Home Depot from their employees with a smattering of positive comments from customers. A few negative posts were in there but were far outweighed by the positive ones.

Home Depot also seems to have created a Facebook App that has only four fans and no reviews. It's a DIY Quiz that looks pretty lame and doesn't seem to be very popular. I don't think we have to worry about it overtaking Farmville.

Finally, Facebook gives information about Home Depot's foundation, and employees post about their charitable efforts in the community and with Haiti. Although there is a link on the website to The Home Depot Foundation, the posts on Facebook are interesting and inspiring and made me want to visit the foundation's website while the mention on the Home Depot website barely caught my attention. The foundation's website has a blog that provides information about what they are doing, but the blog lacks the personal touch of the posts on Facebook.
Social Media Message
Nick and Sarah are very convincing in their video about how social media is improving the company's communication with customers. They talk about their desire to meet customer's needs and said that companies need to be prepared to hear what the customers have to say and know what they're going to do with the information. They said it's important to have someone monitoring the posts in order to "triage" the information - analyze it and decide what needs to be done. Companies need to be in social media for the long haul and have a champion to converse with customers.

The question is - are they using their own advice? I found a blogger, David Dobrin, who would say they aren't. He wrote about a poor experience he had at Home Depot where the cashier pretended to speak poor English in order to get him to inadvertently purchase a warranty. Once the warranty was purchased, the cashier wished him well on his way out the door in perfect, unaccented English. David used Twitter to reach Home Depot about his complaint, and, although they responded quickly with a "How may we help you," it was all lip service. There was no satisfactory resolution for David.

Are they really hearing their customers? And will their efforts be enough to sustain this 30 year young company whose business boomed in the '80s and '90s but saw a 6.9% decline in third quarter of 2009 and opens 2010 with laying off 1,000 employees? They seem to understand how to use social media; I'm not sure that's going to be all Home Depot needs to succeed.

1 comment:

  1. I think Home Depot suffers from the same malady as many other large companies. Specifically, the left hand doesn't know or particularly care what the right hand is doing. Thus the department in charge of the social media initiative can do a good job (and it appears in this case that they are), but this excellent effort could be news to the rest of the organization.

    I used to work for a Fortune 500 company. The members of upper management in that corporation believed with all of their black hearts that the company was managed from the bottom up. They believed that the hourly employees were empowered to make change, that they all had something to contribute, and that they had ownership of the process.

    The hourly workforce could not have possibly cared any less about all of that. They wanted their paychecks each week and to be left alone in the meantime. If asked, they would tell you that members of management got paid to manage and members of the workforce didn't.

    The larger a company becomes, the more likely it becomes that a communication disconnect occurs.