According to Bill Tolany of Whole Foods Market, responses to customer comments make up 85% of all the Tweets the company sends out. 10% of the Tweets are content-based and 5% are promotional. Mr. Tolany, in remarks made at the Corporate Social Media Summit in New York in June, indicated customer interaction is the core of the company’s social media efforts and a key to improving Whole Foods’ bottom line.

Tolany said customers who are more knowledgeable about food are more likely to be Whole Foods customers. So, the company makes efforts to help people learn more about ingredients, locate recipes and pick up health tips. Notice, this information serves to benefit customers not, blatantly advertise for the company. Whole Foods created Twitter accounts that focus on wine and cheese, and another that answers recipe related questions.

Not all Whole Foods customers are series foodies. Tolany notes that many of their customers treat Whole Foods as a supplemental grocery store – where they pick up special items or a pre-made meal. The company works hard to use social media to give these occasional shoppers more reasons to connect, like announcing flash sales on seasonal items that will only be in effect for a day or so. Social media is also the only way Whole Foods promotes its gift boxes.

Whole Foods makes itself more approachable by encouraging customers to interact with them through social channels. They host contests and have been known to play April Fool’s jokes and pass along videos that may not seem entirely flattering. “Customers will fill in the blank if you let them,” Tolany said.

The company is known for its culture of local empowerment. This is evidenced, in part, by the fact that individual locations often have their own Twitter and/or Facebook pages. What better way to answer customers’ location specific questions?

Whole Foods is a great example of a company taking advantage of the power of social media to grow the bottom line. Maybe Domino’s Pizza is trying to follow the Whole Foods example. Until August 23rd, Domino’s is running an electronic ticker in Times Square displaying in real-time what consumers really think of the brand. We’ll be watching to see how that works for them.

Do you have examples of innovative ways companies are using social media to grow their business? Let us know in the comments below.

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