Suraya Bliss is Senior Director of Digital Strategy and Communication at Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas, and recently chaired the final judging committee for the Creative categories in The 2011 American Business Awards. Here she shares knowledge gained from the creation of one of the largest employee websites in the United States.
Every week, in every state in America, 1.4 million associates head to work at Walmart. That’s a lot of people—in fact, nearly 22 percent of the U.S. population knows someone that works at our company. So you can imagine what a challenge it is to connect all these associates with news, information—and even with each other.
In March 2009, Walmart launched mywalmart.com, a password-protected social-media site for our U.S. associates to access from their home computers. mywalmart.com is the result of careful planning, research, collaboration, and constant content refreshment. Through its development we have learned a great deal about what makes an internal social-media site successful, and I’m happy to share some of our experiences to help other communicators connect more deeply with their own employees.
Let me start by telling tell you about mywalmart.com. Then I’ll share a few points about how we got to where we are today.
Initially developed as a website to provide information to associates, mywalmart.com has evolved to become much more. Today we use the site to communicate new initiatives; involve associates in company programs and events; gather feedback about operations, marketing, and advocacy; and function as a change-management tool. At its core, mywalmart.com strives to:
serve as a single destination for associates to get information about the company and access key applications such as work schedules, discounts, benefits enrollment, educational opportunities, and jobs;
- educate associates on issues that impact the company, local stores, and one another (for associates who want to engage in issues, the site provides tools that help them get involved);
- provide insight into opinions and ideas of associates that help the business create and drive more effective initiatives and communication;
- Reduce costs and increase efficiency.
How did our team develop a site that went from zero to over 1.3 million users in 24 months? Following are some of the key principles.
Start with the End Users’ Wants and Needs
In 2007, we conducted research to find out how best to reach associates using the most effective messages and channels.
Our research identified three themes that best build pride and engagement with associates: family, community, and opportunity. These three pillars are woven throughout mywalmart.com, and have been used to develop an associate communications framework in channels ranging from the company’s magazine, Walmart World, to corporate memos.
We also asked associates questions about what channels they trusted, and what new communications tools they were interested in using. We were pleasantly surprised with the results:
- 81% of associates wanted information about the company when not at work, but did not want another corporate information site written from the home office’s perspective;
- 78% were interested in connecting with other associates;
- 79% said they would use social networking tools if they were available.
In the study, associates told us that they wanted to join the conversation and contribute to matters that affected them and the company. These results led us to develop a digital strategy with heavy emphasis on social-networking functionality.
We knew that it would be a challenge to create a website for associates that would only be available off the clock but that would engage associates enough to keep them coming back.
To accomplish our goals for the site, the team remained strongly focused on user experience. The key organizing principles for the site were crisp, intuitive design; user-centric content (giving users what they wanted to receive, not just what we wanted to publish); active content (giving users a lot to do), and prominent placement of associate-generated content.
We continue to ask associates what they want on the site through on-site polls, blogs, and discussion topics.
Think Big (But Be Willing to Start Small)
When we launched in March 2009, mywalmart.com was a modest site with little social-networking functionality. We had basic content, profile creation, and chats. Although we knew we wanted to do more, we were concerned that taking an all-or-nothing approach would leave us with nothing. As the comfort level grew with social networking and user-generated content, however, so did the associates’ use of mywalmart.com.
Once the site was proven it was time to get bigger. To grow we needed traffic, and to get traffic we needed a hook. Fortunately we had a strong partnership with our benefits team, who were looking to update their website. We gained traffic, they gained new functionality, and our associates were one step closer to a single source for content.
We worked with the benefits team to add popular applications such as online pay stub and special discounts to the mywalmart site. Together we increased our traffic from 100,000 to 600,000 users. Within weeks we had requests from other business units to integrate into mywalmart.com. SparkShop.com, the associate apparel shop; associate volunteer and charitable-giving programs; sustainability programs; and other initiatives are all now integrated into the site.
More recently, in partnership with our operations team, we rolled out online schedules for our associates. Operations needed a channel with high traffic—and with over 900,000 associates by that time visiting our site every two weeks, mywalmart.com fit the bill. Once again, partnership proved to be a win-win situation. Since we started displaying schedules on mywalmart.com, our repeat traffic has grown from 78% of the user base visiting the site every two weeks to 85% returning every week. Currently there are 1,330,215 registered users.
Whoever Aggregates Best Wins
We understand how precious time is for our associates. We didn’t want them to have to choose between mywalmart.com and other social sites; so, rather than considering Facebook and Twitter competition, we looked at them as an opportunity.
Recently, we developed a widget that brings content from our company’s Facebook and Twitter pages right onto mywalmart.com. Associates can now comment and share stories on these other sites without ever leaving mywalmart.com.
We continue to identify content and sites that are relevant to associates and present them on mywalmart.com. With each such addition, mywalmart.com becomes more and more of a true “one-stop shop.”
Make It Easy to Contribute
A lean corporate team oversees all aspects of mywalmart.com. As the site has evolved and more users visit the site more frequently, the demand for fresh content has grown and we increasingly rely on business units to provide material.
Rather than developing and publishing everything ourselves, we have created a content-management system that allows approved users to create and publish their own content. To help coordinate our communications efforts, every two weeks we meet with key stakeholders—including corporate communications, marketing, global associate communications, and others—to develop a publication calendar.
This structure provides coordinated content for mywalmart.com as well as for other corporate communication channels.
Keep it Relevant
Keeping content and functionality relevant and customized to associates’ needs is key. Our communications strategy is grounded in presenting user-generated content first, then providing context with company facts and information for support and reference. This approach is apparent from the very first view of our homepage. Associate-authored blogs, forums, and videos send a clear message that the site is first and foremost about the associate.
Throughout the site we continue to provide significant space for associates to focus on their perspectives about the company’s culture and activities and to share their stories. Once we address associates’ interests and concerns with content, we are then able to effectively ladder the messages up, moving the content focus from local to national to global.
As mywalmart.com continues to evolve, we are working to position content so that it resonates even more with associates. We’ve started customizing content based on geography and job codes as appropriate.
We are also creating communities on the site that cater to different interests and demographics, such as communities for volunteers, military families, diversity groups, and others.
Looking to the Future
mywalmart.com recently celebrated its second anniversary and is helping connect associates from New Hampshire to Hawaii.
The site continues to evolve and we are looking to bring mywalmart.com to our international associates in the near future. In the meantime, we learn more each day: what motivates our associates, what they need from our company, and what else we can do to engage them.
About Suraya Bliss
Suraya Bliss followed an unusual path to her role as Senior Director of Digital Strategy and Communication for the world’s leading retailer, Walmart. After graduating from the College of Charleston, South Carolina, with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Bliss worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, helping subsistence farmers and their families improve their living conditions. She also earned certification as a Wilderness Education Association Leader on an expedition through the Grand Teton Mountains, and volunteered for the Colorado Forest Service maintaining the Poudre River Trail.
In her first position with Walmart as Director of Internal Communications, Bliss built a new department responsible for strategic internal communications. In partnership with several departments, Suraya worked to develop the company’s global purpose statement: “Saving people money so they can live better.”
In her current position, Bliss plays a key role in shaping Walmart’s corporate strategy for a presence in the digital world, building community and creating efficiencies through the development of new tools and platforms. Bliss spearheaded the first use of social media for employees through a website—mywalmart.com—that enables 1.8 million Walmart U.S. associates to connect with the company and each other. The site has won several awards, including a Neilson Norman Best Intranets 2010 and a Stevie Award for Best Design and Interface. She is currently working to extend the reach of social media to connect employees globally. Bliss has also been a leader in bringing together multiple external digital properties under one platform, significantly improving user experience.
Before joining WalMart, Bliss worked for DaimlerChrysler for six years. Her responsibilities included media relations and strategy development supporting marketing efforts. She managed safety programs and led the team that created and launched “SeatCheck,” an innovative and effective child-safety communications initiative that won a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Silver Anvil Award; and “Fit for a Kid,” which received a PRSA Award of Excellence.
Bliss’s diverse experience also includes work with Carlson Marketing Group, where she was responsible for on-site event logistics and execution for a diverse client base; The Jewish Community Center (JCC), where she served as a Fitness Director and Program Developer; and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), where she was an examiner and trainer
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) serves customers and members more than 200 million times per week at 9,029 retail units under 60 different banners in 15 countries. With fiscal year 2011 sales of $419 billion, Walmart employs more than 2 million associates worldwide. Walmart strives to be a leader in sustainability, corporate philanthropy, and employment opportunity. Additional information about Walmart can be found by visiting www.walmartstores.com.