Whole Foods Backlash on Facebook Grows to 26,000

Whole Foods, until recent weeks, has embodied a true social media success story. The grocer has a dominant presence on popular social media Web sites, Twitter and Facebook, boasting an impressive 1.2 million followers on Twitter and more that 100,000 fans on Facebook. However, recent controversy has catapulted Whole Foods into a cross-fire of severe backlash in which a user-generated Boycott Whole Foods movement has been launched.

Recent comments made by the company's chief executive, John Mackey, in an opinion piece about Obama's health-care reform initiatives published in the Wall Street Journal have created a consumer-driven Boycott Whole Foods group to launch shortly after. To date, the group has attracted more than 26,000 Facebook supporters. The group has a blog and a Web site, and even a picketing event scheduled. The group is advocating that consumers should spend their money elsewhere. The group also gives members a place to band to together, provides resources for buying elsewhere, and opportunities to reach out to Whole Foods.

Although the consumer-driven boycott has driven a public response from Whole Foods, that was shared last week via a Facebook note, it may be too little, too late since Facebook group members are growing daily by the thousands.

These recent rumblings are a warning to all retailers that there is ultimately an adverse side to social media. The true question is: could this all have been prevented if the retailer had a more comprehensive social media strategy? The recent controversy to hit Whole Foods is a telling indication that it is critical for retailers to create their own social media departments to handle these types of issues, in addition to developing plans that both satisfy customers and increase sales.

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