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August 09, 2007

Wal-Mart's Facebook presence targets students well

Wmfb1_2 Wal-Mart today launched a Facebook group targeting college students getting ready to going back to school. There are links to a supply checklist, as well as links that go back to walmart.com's music, green shopping area, and information about their new "site to store" service.

But the killer "app" on the site is their Roommate Style Match Quiz, which asks questions such as "your favorite way to study" and "if your life were a movie, what genre would it be." I took the quiz and it turns out I'm a Brain-Stormer - Wal-Mart really did a good job pegging me! What was wild was the picture of my "room" really does look like my room! Books strewn all over the desk and floor.

I think that Wal-Mart is doing several things really well here -- which is a nice change of pace given their previous forays into social computing (e.g. social networking site "The Hub" and blogging with Wal-Marting Across America).

Most importantly, they've understood the interactive, social nature of Facebook. The  Style Match Quiz not only allows me to take the quiz, but to also post it to my profile and send it to friends. Ideally, they would also allow me to plug in the profile of a friend automatically (I have to do this manually given the interface). I also noticed that I can't mix genders in the roommate matching - can't blame Wal-Mart for not wanting to go down that path!

I'm going to be watching the Wall comments very closely -- there will certainly be Wal-Mart fans who come and profess their fandom, as well as detractors. It's also an opportunity to see if students begin posting questions about dorm life -- will other students respond, or would Wal-Mart step forward and help address some of those questions?

Also to watch is how Wal-Mart evolves the group after the initial back-to-school rush, especially since the roommate matching quiz is set to run only through October. This is a relationship that Wal-Mart now needs to think about nurturing, not a campaign that can be turned "off" at a specific date.

Wal-Mart has the opportunity to build a community with these students, but has to resist the temptation of treating this group as yet another marketing channel. For example, the members of the Apple Students Group routinely receive promotion (spam) messages in the Facebook Inbox (the latest one I received has the subject line, "Buy a Mac. Get a FREE iPod nano").

Good luck to Wal-Mart as it navigates these waters!

(Shameless plug: I recently published a report "Marketing On Social Networking Sites" which contains several best practices on how to work with sites like Facebook and MySpace. It's available to Forrester clients and is also available for purchase).

Tags: Facebook, Wal-Mart, walmart, charleneli, ,

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Marianne Richmond

Agree....they have come a long way since the flubbed Hub. This time someone there seems to have spent some time trying to understand the target and the platform.

Lisa McNeill

Couldn't disagree more. Walmart is making another social media mistake. It's not that deciding to pair with Facebook is a bad idea- it is that the strategy is all wrong.

Social media is a conversation that Wal-Mart doesn't understand. While a roommate match is a "cute" idea, it is nothing more than blatant marketing.

If Walmart listened a little more, perhaps they would realize that effective social media isn't just another way to push products, but another way to listen to its customers and respond appropriately.

I've continued this discussion with this article

David Binkowski

Couldn't agree with Lisa more. What kid wants to own up to wearing Wal-Mart clothes? They certainly ain't no iPod.

Windows Hosting

The big bullies are always like this. This is not something new for us.

Teresa Valdez Klein

I concur with Lisa...sort of. I do see this as a step in the right direction for Wal-Mart. Any time that you can provide something that adds value -- even if it's just "cute" value -- you've kicked your marketing up a notch.

That said, I don't believe that Wal-Mart is really making any kind of effort to engage in the conversation. This is likely because they know their detractors -- both justified and special-interest funded -- will crawl out of the woodwork armed with talking points.

It can be hard to cut through the spin when both sides are armed to the teeth with it.

But as long as we're having a conversation here, I wonder if anyone else noticed just how much the Roommate Match game relied on tired old gender stereotypes. Just flip back and forth between the male and female versions of each roommate style for a real eye-opener.

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