The Social Equalizer

Embracing social media fosters a culture of openness

In the annals of marketing innovation, few large retailers stand out. Highly structured, large retail operations may be tentatively taking up new communication tools such as social media, but it’s almost always for traditional marketing purposes. Rarely do the big-box behemoths go beyond using it as more than just another way of broadcasting that people should “buy my stuff.” However, one B.C.-based national retailer has actively encouraged openness and dialogue as part of its everyday culture. And this kind of innovation starts at the top.

The Problem
Last year the Best Buy electronics retail operation, which includes several brands such as Future Shop and Geek Squad, instituted a continent-wide initiative called Twelpforce to allow customers to use social media, more specifically Twitter, to speak directly with Best Buy workers regarding their questions and problems. Best Buy Canada president and COO Mike Pratt wanted to take that a step further. But how does a leader of any organization institute an innovative ­culture of openness?

The Solution
He does it by example. Pratt took the “we is greater than me” concept behind community building to another level. He concluded that the best way to build that community is to actually do it himself. 

Innovation isn’t a one-time thing; it’s continuous and organic. So Pratt recognized that the Twelpforce concept, while a good start, could be taken even further. He saw that while Twelpforce may be directed toward customers, it is also an excellent way for leadership to communicate with staff and show them that the organization appreciates their efforts and encourages innovative ways of looking at the operation – no matter where they come from.

He also reasoned that saying you have an open culture is one thing but proving it is another. Therefore, today among the 2,300 Best Buy staff in Twelpforce is @bbycanadamike, the president and COO of Best Buy Canada, who personally contributes to the more than 20,000 Twitter questions answered to date. And by doing so, Pratt has been lifted into some exalted company on a Twitter site called ExecTweets, which features the likes of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Richard Branson of Virgin fame.

Pratt, who came up through the Future Shop organization, is the first to admit that he is not a big techie and not a social-media evangelist. But he did recognize the medium’s ability to create community and hold honest discussion. It was just a matter of finding the tools that would allow him to use it. 

He also found tools that would allow him to avoid the biggest complaint among leaders: that social media take up too much of their valuable time. He set up a special email for himself and each day sorts through messages for those to which he’d personally like to respond. Then Pratt videotapes a short response for later tweeting. 

Is there direct ROI in Pratt’s tweeting? Who knows? But Pratt firmly believes that his being in the same place as his customers and staff has a value beyond traditional measurement. 


• Innovation is an atmosphere. You have to do more than just talk the talk to foster an innovative culture. By being part of it, you tell everyone that innovative thinking is not only accepted but desired.

• Innovation is continuous, contagious and leads to further innovations. Best Buy recognized that it’s a constant journey, not a destination.

• Keep the human element. Technology may provide the tools, but communities are fundamentally about human beings interacting. n