“Whole Foods: Fresh Fruit. Rotten PR?”

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Whole Foods’ board has prohibited top company executive from online forums. Check it out:

The new code bars top executives and directors from posting messages about Whole Foods, its competitors or vendors on Internet forums that aren’t sponsored by the natural-foods chain.

Apparently, this is a response to all the messes (read un-ethical practices) that got Whole Foods in to trouble this summer. (Check out Paull Young’s Twitter “Fake John Mackey” profile)

The move comes amid an informal Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry into anonymous postings by Chief Executive John Mackey on Yahoo Finance stock-market forums from 1999 through 2006. Mr. Mackey touted Whole Foods shares, blasted rivals and sparred with other users in more than 1,000 messages.

To me, Whole Foods could have taken different steps to ensure the board, share-holders and consumers that they were changing their image and increasing transparency. They already have a few corporate blogs, a podcast, and video–it doesn’t seem like social media is new to them.

First off, have Mr Mackey write a personal apology on the corporate blog in a post that outlines Whole Foods commitment to ethics. He already has a blog. The last post is from July 18 saying that, due to investigation, the blog is on hold. That’s what people see when they explore the Whole Foods’ blog–not pretty. The post before that is an apology statement from July 17th in quotes with PR contact info and in traditional apology statement form. Once again, not a good thing for consumers to see. Wouldn’t it be great to hear something real? That’s what the blog is there for!

A blog shouldn’t be a feeder for corporate messaging, but HEY, if you can incorporate some messages appropriately, then do it. Some core values from Whole Foods’ site: Extraordinary Customer Service; Education; Self-Responsibility; and Open and Timely Information. All of these can be crafted in to a pro-active post on WF’s new, transparent ethics practices. This can also lead to an announcement of a community launch.

Yes, community launch. The social media features currently on the site are informative and pretty cool, but ultimately they seem one sided. As a consumer, I’m not engaged in an open exchange of ideas, I’m getting marketed to. WF should take a page from Dell and really get the consumer discussing things Whole Foods thinks is important.

(There are great videos of Mr Mackey speaking about World Farming, but what about forums? Anyway, I digress, I have tons of other ideas to help Whole Foods spruce up their site, but they are not “Crisis Management” related.)

For me, transparency is important with food. I want to know how my food gets to my table. I think Whole Foods would agree in the importance of that. Banning your top execs from online sites is a bold step–but a step towards silence and stifling. Take a big leap and open up your corporate side. It will increase trust in the whole business.

What do you guys think? Could WF have handled things differently? Am I completely off target?

(Hat tip to Mike Keliher for his Tweet linking to the original article.)

[I am emailing Whole Foods’ spokesperson for comment. Stay tuned!]

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Filed under It's A Conversation, New Media, New Media Masters., Public Relations 2.0, Rants, WTF?

5 responses to ““Whole Foods: Fresh Fruit. Rotten PR?”

  1. Pingback: Public Relations Nightmares » Blog Archive » “Whole Foods: Fresh Fruit. Rotten PR?”

  2. Chris,

    I agree with your premise and suggestions wholeheartedly. This was an utterly ridiculous move for Whole Foods to make. When they need to be communicating directly with fans and advocates more than ever (you know, *real conversatin*), Whole Foods shut themselves off to the world.

    In one sense, I do applaud them for taking the step of updating their ethics code. Heck, even having one is a great first step.

    But here’s an even better idea: Train your employees to participate the right way. Dell did it. Nobody talks about “Dell Hell” anymore because they reached out and engaged with their audiences on their own blogs and in the blogosphere.

    Memo to Whole Foods: Call Dell, ask to speak with John Pope, Richard Binhammer, or Lionel Menchaca. Take notes.

    More suggestions here:

    Disclaimer: I work for the post’s author. But I would have posted this here anyway. It’s that good.

  3. Hey Mike:

    Thanks for the comments. I think you are 100% correct. Whole Foods and Dell are both headquartered in Austin. It would be easy to get a list of tips over coffee.

    Thanks for the post. I’ll take a look at it!



  4. Pingback: 3sday’s 3Q’s in 3 Min: Mario Sundar, LinkedIn « socialTNT

  5. It’s simply amazing to me that, in this day and age, *banning Internet activity* is seen as a reasonable, effective, enforceable solution. Seriously?

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