Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
How Whole Foods Uses Social Media
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New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) examined Whole Food’s packaging and found mislabeled weights. This case study examines Whole Foods social media presence; will we find mislabeled Pinterest pins and overpriced Facebook promotions? Let’s find out!

Whole Foods Market was founded in Texas in 1980. The company has gone from $400,000 in sales for their first year to $14.63B last year. Today, Whole Foods Market is known as a premium priced supermarket for healthy and organic food.

Their target customers care about healthy, nutritious organic food, and has the income to pay a premium price for it. They are between 25 to 40 years old, and mostly female. They care about sustainability and the environment, and prefer to shop at supermarkets in order to suit their busy lifestyles. If you live in a country where Whole Foods operate, chances are you know someone who seems to always be talking about them. Is it the work colleague who is always posting his or her running routes on Facebook? The friend who is always attending food festivals? Or maybe the hippie female friend who lifts weights?

The news about DCA’s findings adds to another media shock earlier this month. Organic farmers are claiming that Whole Foods new rating system for their suppliers, called the ‘Responsible Grown’ programme, has changed so that it now includes farms with low concern for organic, ethical food production. The consumer backlash on their main Facebook account is significant, with consumers also being frustrated by Whole Foods produce labelling scheme. The labelling scheme is another aspect of the ‘Responsibly Grown’ programme, and consumers feels it promotes chemically laden produce.

Whole Foods are currently facing a PR crisis, and their Facebook wall read a lot like Shell’s, whom are continuously pressured by environmental activists. Whole Foods are denying all accusations, claiming that the DCA is trying to blackmail them.

Now that we have some background information about what’s happening with Whole Foods, let’s take a look at their social media accounts. All data collected between June 25-30th, 2015.


Twitter is Whole Foods most popular social media channel, with 4.38M followers, equaling a 60.2% share of their total social media following. YouTube is their least popular network, with 32,500 followers, equaling a 0.4% share of their total social media audience.


This is Whole Foods’ most popular network, holding 60.2% of their total audience across all platforms (across official US/corporate wide accounts only). The organic food giant joined the micro blog platform in 2008, and have 4.38M followers on their main account, @WholeFoods. First of all – there are a lot of Whole Foods accounts on Twitter. An online article quotes Natanya Anderson, Global Director of Social Media at Whole Foods, saying there were about 600 social media accounts promoting the brand in 2012, with 2000 employees regularly contributing content. I counted around 70 Whole Foods accounts on Twitter in June 2015 – most of them regional. There’s also a couple of non-location based accounts, like their PR account.

The following data was collected on June 29th 2015, and is extracted from @WholeFoods timeline from June 1st to 14th, 2015:

In terms of content, almost 60% of Whole Foods tweets are recipes. The recipe tweets link either to their company blog or to their YouTube channel. I found that roughly 85% of their tweets contains images. Only 1 in 12 YouTube links contained an image.

The dilemma with YouTube links seems to be that the video will not be embedded if you include an image. But, if you choose to embed the video by not including an image, the tweet will appear plain and boring. Whole Foods opts to embed the YouTube video, at the expense of including visual clues.


They also occasionally tag on to social media trends. Here’s their contribution to the trending hashtag #CheeseFilms:

Whole Foods is extremely responsive, usually tweeting well above 100 replies every day, except for weekends.

They usually adapt their brand voice based on who they’re replying to, and they’re not afraid of making jokes:

People who complain about Whole Foods products or services are encouraged to get in touch with their local stores:


Facebook is Whole Foods second most popular network, with 1.7M followers, equaling 24% of their total social media audience. The content they post on Facebook is similar to the content they post on Twitter, but they prefer to upload videos directly to Facebook instead of embedding them from YouTube. Over 90% of the posts I checked contained an image – only 7% of the posts contained a video. Almost 90% of all posts contained a link to their blog/web pages; the remaining posts contained videos uploaded directly to Facebook.

Like on Twitter, the overwhelming majority of topics covered on Whole Foods Facebook page are recipes.

Below is an example of how Whole Foods cross-promotes content across Twitter and Facebook. Note that the bit.ly links are different. This is done so they can track how much traffic is generated from each platform.

cross promotion


Instagram is Whole Foods 3rd most popular network, having a 6% share (440.603) of their total audience. There’s total platform exclusivity of content, meaning that you won’t see any images you’ve already seen on Facebook and Twitter. The reason behind this is mainly due to where, and how, they get their photos. More than 50% of their photos are collected from food & lifestyle bloggers (based on their activity for June, 2015) and only 7.3% of all photos are original photos from @WholeFoods, or aren’t credited. Another huge contributor is one of Whole Foods Market’s senior social media managers, with 14.6%.

Here’s how Whole Foods Market responsibly sources user created content on Instagram…


It all starts by Whole Foods tracking the hashtags #wholefoods and #foods4thought. They promote the #foods4thought hashtag consistently both on Twitter and Instagram, but on Instagram they inform their followers that photos will be reposted. Note how Whole Foods Market uses #KaleYeah when asking for permission to repost content. It makes it much friendlier, on brand, and they can track the hashtag when looking for users who’ve granted them permission.

And again.


Whole Foods shows us that lifestyle brands don’t actually have to create content to have a great Instagram account; if their following loves the brand, it’s enough to encourage, and curate content. Whole Foods Market does it in a very social, consistent way, and it makes their Instagram feed feel fresh.


Whole Foods was one of the first brands to start using the platform, registering their account in 2011. The organic lifestyle brand has experienced steady audience growth on the network, accumulating to 260.500 followers by the end of June 2015. Now Global Social Media Director Natanya Anderson and her team won the ‘Best Brand on Pinterest’ for Whole Foods Pinterest account at the 2014’s Shorty Awards. They’ve also been applauded by Mashable for their use of the platform. In fact, Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp applauded Whole Foods’ marketing on the platform, and the global brand’s been chosen as a Pinterest partner on several occasions. Whole Foods Pinterest page helps drive traffic to their official website. Their Pinterest page lead to 1 million webpage views in 2013, and their Pinterest community has more than doubled since then.

Natanya Anderson, who recently won the ‘Corporate social media leader of the year award’ at The Inaugural Corporate Social Media Awards 2015, shared some insight on how Whole Foods approach social media, and Pinterest, upon receiving their Shorty Award:

“At Whole Foods Market we are always looking for new ways to reflect the immersive visual experiences of our retail spaces in an authentic and compelling way in our visual spaces. Pinterest provides us a unique opportunity to create a strong connection with our customers through visual story telling in a way that they want to collect and experience time and again – a unique value proposition of the digital world. We’re thrilled to receive the Shorty Award because it validates our main digital marketing approach of establishing online communities with our customers focused on shared values and passions.”

Immersive experiences, visual story telling and online communities – oh boy, no doubt that Whole Foods is on it. Lets take a look at what all of this looks like.

Whole Foods Market’s Pinterest page embraces the lifestyles of several customer groups, in addition to their seasonal boards. Their boards cover everything from technology, D-I-Y, and fitness to motherhood, cosmetics, and saving the bees. But, as shown below, the main focus is on food and seasons.

WHole Foods Whole pins


Whole Foods Market have a massive following, especially for a supermarket and food retailer. Whole Foods Market is currently growing their social media audience daily by an average of 10% despite facing several PR issues. Their Instagram account is growing by 2-3000 followers daily, and looks set to become a colossal brand page on Instagram in the future. Their Twitter and Pinterest pages are also seeing good growth, Facebook only marginal growth, while their Google plus account is losing followers daily. Whole Foods might want to reconsider how they use LinkedIn. While they are seeing some engagement, there’s no content exclusivity, which might add to the decline of their Google Plus community. They post the same content they post on Facebook and Twitter – recipes. What’s the value to Whole Foods Market’s audience by following them on Google Plus?

Whole Foods Market’s most frequently posted content on both Twitter and Facebook are recipes. The recipe posts contains unique bit.ly links, they use the same images and directs the reader to their company blog. Another thing to note is Whole Foods responsiveness – regularly replying to 150 twitter users every week day.

Whole Food’s Instagram account is excellent – it’s a collaboration platform where they can share content of, and engage with, loyal fans. They hardly post their own images, which is a good thing. It gives the platform exclusivity and helps keep it fresh, while also opening up for more 1-on-1 conversations and engagement with fans. They’ve found a way of sourcing, and asking for images that’s both sustainable and drives their community. The greatest take-away for other brands – this is how you use hashtags on Instagram. Note how #Foods4thought is used to group user-submitted photos, and #KaleYeah is used for granting permission to use photos.

When it comes to their Pinterest page, the key take-away is this: by understanding their customers lifestyles, brands can use Pinterest to share meaningful content with they customers that drives traffic to their websites. With 1 million web page visits gained from Pinterest in 2013, it’s clear that brands can help drive online revenues. This argument will be greatly strengthened when the ‘buy button’ gets introduced on their mobile and tablet platforms later this year.