Whole Foods Twitters on the Cheap

Last Updated Jul 15, 2009 7:40 PM EDT

One thing retailers have to love about social network marketing is how cheap promotions can be and how much interesting feedback they can generate.

Take contests for example. At the same time a traditional contest promoter, Burger King, has been offering a million dollar grand prize in its Transformers marketing campaign, Whole Foods its running a Twitter based effort that is driven by grain and much more modest dollar gain.

The Whole Foods promotion revolves around the company's reaching one million Twitter followers. Rather than giving away a million bucks in promotion, it gave away a million grains of quinoa, which is a way of being cute about things, as the total weight comes to a scant five pounds. But that wasn't all. The millionth follower also won a $50 Whole Foods gift card, meaning that the food retailer wound up laying out a lot less in prizes than the restaurant chain, in fact more than $999,000 less, rounded off.

The contest-related expenses will come to a little more than the price of the millionth-follower gift certificate and the grain, however. Whole Foods dug deep into its pockets to come up with 10 more $50 gift cards -- and 50 more pounds of quinoa â€" as rewards for Twitter pals who could came up with clever five-word summaries of their food philosophies. The additional awards will be parceled out through the end of the contest period, which is Friday, but the first of the "micro-philosophies" winning a gift cards was: "Can you pronounce those ingredients?"

Others entries that the company highlighted include "Peanut butter goes with everything." And, "Just say yes to chocolate."

Whole Foods says that it's friends on the network tweet the company everything from recipe ideas and special diet suggestions to feedback regarding in-store promotions and specialty items, which can translate into better customer knowledge at a lesser cost than conventional market research. They also maintain discussions on food and related issues the company can monitor to get a sense of the direction its socially conscious customers are taking on any particular development.

In addition to the corporate account, which is where the contest is operating, over 100 local Whole Foods stores have their own Twitter identities to communicate with customers in the communities they serve, the company noted. The corporate Twitter location includes a link to a list of the locals.

And Whole Foods isn't alone. Fresh & Easy, among others, has been developing a Twitter strategy after discovering how convenient the social network is as a portal to reach its customers and get their feedback on operations.