When Walmart held a shareholders meeting in June, Chief Executive Doug McMillon addressed an arena full of shareholders in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Walmart associates packed most of the 16,000 seats. The audience, however, represented but a tiny fraction of Walmart’s 2.3 million associates worldwide.
How to reach the rest of them? That’s where Facebook Live comes in. McMillon’s Facebook page live-cast a call-out to staffers, allowing him virtually to unite his workforce in one moment.
“I’ve got some of your fellow associates here that want to say hello,” he told the internet audience. “Turn that camera towards them.”
A boom-mounted camera swung out over the audience as it erupted in cheers.
Walmart is one of many organizations that is embracing Facebook Live—as well YouTube, Twitter and others—as a channel for executive communications. Senior leaders from hospital groups, telecoms, technology companies and a host of other organizations are experimenting with the immediacy of the platform to reach internal and external audiences.
Executive live-casts run the gamut of technical quality: wobbly hand-held videos, tripod-anchored speeches from podiums and boom-mounted productions such as Walmart’s. What unites them is a recognition that live video carries an unscripted authenticity that’s often missing in a heavily edited corporate productions.
Connecting leaders and their workforce
Marketing departments of many companies are also exploring Facebook Live as holiday shopping kicks into high gear. In Walmart’s executive suites, however, the goal isn’t pushing product, but connecting internally, says E. Blake Jackson, director of corporate communications.
“The point of it all is not the Walmart brand or Walmart positioning in the marketing sense,” Jackson says. “But rather the point … is to reach out and touch our people and to recognize them for the work that they do and honor the service they provide.”
McMillon’s first Facebook Live video was an interview with actress Geena Davis from Walmart’s Fayetteville headquarters in May. In part, the chat promoted her Bentonville Film Festival, an annual event championing women and diversity in the “entertainment media.”
The live-cast gave Davis a plug and allowed Walmart—which has a highly diverse workforce—to showcase its sponsorship of the festival. The medium has staying power as the video lives on after the live-cast, earning more than 228,000 views so far.
Davis launched the festival after she had kids and began noticing the inequity of male and female roles in children’s movies, she says in the video. The festival’s goals dovetail those of Walmart, McMillon says.
“We have had a number of women’s empowerment economic initiatives, and just got challenged to play a role in that,” he tells Davis.
Allowing questions online
One of medium’s strengths is that it allows for interaction, both during the broadcast and afterward. Given Davis’ fame as a star, comments still pop up every few seconds on her video. “What can we do as parents to help encourage diversity and inclusion?” writes one commenter. Others, however, offer off-topic complaints. “Open more registers,” one states.
Recently, McMillon went live from Philadelphia before giving a keynote speech at a conference for MBA students and professionals seeking to become effective agents of change. He used the occasion to lay out the company’s major goals for sustainability and economic mobility for its associates, Jackson says. Beforehand, McMillon spoke in a two-minute Facebook Live broadcast in which he interviewed a former Walmart intern who was there.
While the speech was for targeted audience, the live-cast offered an informal introduction to the topic and event for employees.
“It was a really cool moment of giving people a window into this event and what he was going to say,” Jackson says. “What makes Facebook live such a powerful tool for leaders is that it allows them to give people access in a way that they’ve never had access before, in a way that frankly doesn’t come off as overproduced.”
At Sam’s Club, a retail chain owned by Walmart, CEO Rosalind Brewer used Facebook Live to offer customers a sneak peak into popular holiday items just before Thanksgiving. In a Nov. 22 video, she read aloud a customer’s question and recommended an app that would let them pay and skip the line in the store.
“That offered her an opportunity to sort of be a merchant,” Jackson says. “And at the end of the day, if you’re in retail, you’re merchant.”
(Walmart’s marketing team is also using Facebook Live.)
Hurtling toward video
From a strategic communications perspective, the world appears to be hurtling toward video as the main medium, whether through Facebook Live, Snapchat or Periscope another platform, Jackson says.
He explains: “It certainly appears that video and in particular live video is here to stay and is going increasingly to be a part of how people choose to interact with each other, both people out in the world, or brands and people in more informal interaction.”