Wal-Mart Uses Blogs to Gather Employee Ideas

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On Friday I wrote a post titled Help for Those Who Don't Know Where to Start with Social Media, geared toward CIOs who might be interested in using social technologies but not certain which technologies might benefit their companies. I included several fine suggestions from CIO Dashboard blogger Chris Curran, a partner and CTO at Diamond Management & Technology Consultants. One I especially liked was to start an internal blog or podcast to illustrate how IT projects help achieve broader business objectives and to discuss emerging technologies that could benefit your company.


Thanks to the fact that they've been around for more than a decade (the term "weblog" dates back to 1997), which is an eternity in social media years, blogs no longer command the buzz that goes to newer social channels like Facebook and Twitter. They also didn't fare too well in a McKinsey survey from late 2009, in which significant numbers of companies using blogs reported deriving no measurable benefits from them.


But that doesn't mean blogs don't create value. Curran's suggestion could go a long way in helping improve relations between IT departments and business units. And Forrester Research's Nigel Fenwick, writing on his blog about a panel he attended during which CIOs discussed their companies' approaches to innovation, mentioned Wal-Mart's use of internal blogs to tap its employees for ideas. Via the blogs, more than 5,000 employees contributed ideas on how the company could save energy and costs.


One idea, said Wal-Mart CIO Rollin Ford during the panel, was to unscrew light bulbs in vending machines throughout stores. The simple suggestion, not the kind of idea that would likely be suggested by a consultant or someone else hired to assess the company's energy spending, when implemented across the global Wal-Mart chain saved the company $1 million. Though most companies focus on customer or partner-facing blogs to build their brands and disseminate news, internal blogs can be a good way to build connections among dispersed employees. It's not clear from Fenwick's short post if that's been Wal-Mart's intent or experience, but I would assume that's been one result of the blogs.