Engage NYC 2013: Sam Wilson, Woolworths


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Sam heads up the Social Media and Digital Content team at Woolworths, South Africa's premier lifestyle retail destination. She joined Woolworths in 2012 to build and manage consolidated content and social media strategy for the business.

At Engage NYC 2013 she talked about evolution of customer care and the challenges that brands encounter from real-time communication with the customer.

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  • Named after, but no relation to your Woolworths 5and dime store. (Apparently legal to just copy the name in the 1930s)
    Close ties with Marks & Spencers in UK, families married.. But now only a tech agreement in place, M&S don’t own shares any more.
    So we’re an upscale retailer selling fashion, homeware and food, with a big stress on sustainability
  • Mandolin slices of my life: from buying houses, getting jobs, throwing parties, having babies… very mundane stuff.
    Worst bit? Having to ‘complete’ each 800 word column with an all’s well that ends well. Moved online in 2005 – so great to have to write just 400 words and then ask: ‘and you?’ in those days, readers used to answer via email, forum or blog post – but I became hooked. So much more interesting that just talking about me!
  • As woolworths, we have a dedicated social media team, we run the following channels and keep them up to date, mostly with daily posts… we try to respond to every appropriate comment (within 15 min during work hours), we’ve created an online content destination, rich in recipes, trend articles, expert advice, make-up videos… so now what? What happens now that we’re actually HAVING the conversation?
  • It’s only boring to us. Sounds so obvious, but we all see it all the time. Spend so much time trying to work out how to be a multi-platformed Lewis Carroll, we forget that to have a conversation, you can’t just tell an amazing story by yourself.
    RT if you’re a butternut soup person. 5th most retweeted SA tweet last SA social stats round up; jeered at by digital agencies. Sure, it’s mundane. But it opened the door to talking about favourite soups, giving away soup… even tweeted in the presentation. We stirred that soup pot til it was empty.
  • First major campaign to start from a twitter idea out. Aim? To start and own a #fashionconvo around summer 13/14 fashion.
    Angst: do we need to add a ww to our hashtag? Not exactly Nike.
    Out hastag in store windows, billboards, TV ads, clothing tages, print and online ads. Then took a trend a week, and used a set holding format. Ask: yes or no? at the beginning of the week? How to wear the trend pieces on our website, blogger: who wore it best competitions? Round up articles…
  • Eudia Roets of touchee feelee; posted on 18 October at around 3 pm, that we had stolen her hummingbird design, then spread links through social media. I was actually interviewing a social media manager: got 15 IMs in like a 2 minute period: my team saying COME HERE and my friends saying ‘Uh oh’ and someone saying ‘So, we’re cancelling our dinner plans then?’ Went to Cecile, googled hummingbird, got crisis comms team together: across PR, customer care, homeware MD, marketing director… poor chick who had met with the angry designer. Got a statement up in within the hour. MD on radio by 6.30 pm. CEO on Monday morning.
  • Should we release the hummingbird into creative commons? I think so. Durban designers? Not so happy. Does everyone involved really understand creative commons? Left that stringing hanging and it dnagled loudly for the rest of the week… couldn’t get the lawyers to take it seriously.
  • September 2012, Justin Harrison links to a job ad on our site saying Black applicants preferred. Everyone else phrases it ‘Preference will be given to BEE candidates’ or something a little less stark. Within hours: Wooworths is racist. Woolworths doesn’t hire whites. Boycott Woolworths. I was new to SM at Woolworths – and I tweeted: ‘wait a minute, guys, I’m white and I’ve just been hired?’ Mistake – was picked up in a lot of the articles. Discredited as a social media guru by local news sites, fake followers, since closed down his social media presence. But it went completely viral; petitions, boycotts, Noworths FB pages. Celebrities weighed in. Ferial and Steve. Mostly? A tidal wave of vitriol, a lot of which was racist hate speech. Not just a black vs white issue: many blacks oppose affirmative action, while whites embrace it – but for the most part, very ugly.
  • Steve tweeting ‘It’s going to be hard, but by bye Woolies. Ferila: ‘without affirmative action, I would not have been able to change class.’
    Every radio station, every newspaper, TV news, political cartoonists.. It was constant.
  • Love how no only does storytelling never finish, but we’re all bringing different expertise to this new real-time collaborative discipline. And it’s fascinating. But enough about what I have to say. I’m dying to hear what YOU have to say later this evening.
  • Engage NYC 2013: Sam Wilson, Woolworths

    1. 1. Social 2.0 Real-time, Collective Storytelling The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Sam Wilson Digital Editor: Woolworths SA @SamWilson1 @Woolworths_SA
    2. 2. My background Magazine columnist, paid to chat to readers Online Lifestyle Editor-in-Chief: recruited into retail My role? To champion real-time, collective storytelling My surprises? • GOOD: People are so much more interesting than you think • BAD: ‘Storytelling’ often becomes ‘mudslinging’ • UGLY: Trolls suck at your soul
    3. 3. Our Social Channels 300 000 fans 1 000 followers 90 000 followers 8 000 followers 3 000 followers 4 000 followers
    4. 4. Social Insights MYTH: Breakfast is boring •Commonality breeds community •You’re a brand, not Lewis Carroll •Follow the rabbit, with agility
    5. 5. The Good Story Tale of a Rogue #fashionconvo Current 360 Summer 13/14 campaign (14 weeks) • Monochrome Mayhem • Trainers & Fashion Joggers? What? • Crop Tops vs Muffin Tops
    6. 6. Insights: #fashionconvo •You don’t own a conversation just because you started it •Don’t be precious •Plan as thoroughly as possible beforehand, so you can be as spontaneous as possible during the conversation •Don’t stop talking once they’ve responded •Follow the conversation down the rabbit holes
    7. 7. The Bad Story The Tale of an Angry Designer, a Defensive Retailer… And a Very Busy Hummingbird •Top: RW Scott photograph •Right: painting by Ms Roets •Left: design on WW cushion cover
    8. 8. Insights: hummingbird •Speed of information gathering; one main point •One release; then bite-sized chunks •Using your influencer network •Division between social media team and Woolworths itself •Need for Exco presence on Twitter •Getting a corporate retailer to believe in ‘graceful transparency’ •Not losing your cool; seeing both sides •Being thorough
    9. 9. The Ugly Story The Tale of the Well-Worded Job Ad •Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 •Affirmative Action = positive discrimination to redress imbalances of the past
    10. 10. Insights: Job ad crisis •Nothing like a crisis to get management behind social media •Crisis this big? Turns into an industry effort •Deleting hate speech all day and all night is soul-destroying •What’s App group was essential •Sometimes, you just have to say: ‘not in our house’
    11. 11. Last thought… “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
    12. 12. Thank You Sam Wilson @SamWilson1, @Woolworths_SA