What Can JC Penney Teach Us About Social Media Management?

There are two cardinal rules in Social Media Marketing – 1. It’s Social, use it as such; and 2. Give the audience what they want. Recent stories about department store JC Penney and their radical changes by CEO Ron Johnson are key learning points for the second cardinal rule. If you don’t give customers what they want, they will leave you.

To combat four years of declining sales, Ron Johnson was hired as CEO of JC Penney in November 2011. Ron was an innovative and risk-taking executive with great success at Target and Apple and was heralded to be the savior of JC Penney. The department store chain also hired Michael Francis to head up marketing for the newly revamped JC Penney image.

The overall mission of the revamp was to bring in more exclusive brands to the JC Penney stores, update their in-store style, introduce a new concept of a mini-mall within their stores, and remove sales. The new executive team believed that by no longer offering sales and coupons, customers would get great products at great prices everyday of the year.

Well, in the last year, disaster has ensued. Michael Francis left the company after only 8 months on the job and Ron Johnson took over marketing. Sales floundered and the company reported losses in repeated quarterly reports. Now the latest scandal has JC Penney, Martha Stewart, and Macy’s in a legal battle regarding exclusivity of Martha Stewart products.

So what does all of this teach us about Social Media management? A few things, actually.

Give the customer what they want

If the customer is used to sales and coupons, they want to use sales and coupons. When JC Penney took these away, they alienated their primary customer base.

Let’s look at a potential Social Media example. Let’s say you provide Tuesday Tips with relevant tips to your audience every Tuesday at 9am. These posts generate your highest engagement levels and you know your audience waits diligently for that Tuesday post. Why would you eliminate this service and post tips everyday? You may think, well if I can get this engagement on EVERY day, then I’m ahead of the game. But let’s look at how this fails. Now your tips are saturated across the week and your audience isn’t waiting anxiously for your posts. They skim over them in passing because they’re not expecting them. Your engagement levels go down because people aren’t seeing all of them. People want to feel like they’re getting something exclusive that they can’t anywhere else.

So give them what they want. If your customers are asking for something, find a way to give it to them. If your customers love what you are doing, don’t take it away.

Too much too soon

JC Penney tried to do something innovative and find a way to give the customers more. Sometimes, people don’t know what they want. I get that. And innovation often provides our customers with something that they didn’t necessarily realize they wanted but now they can’t live without out it. Innovation is important but overnight overhauls will cost you. The problem with the way JC Penney handled their changes is that they immediately implemented the changes in every store, immediately. There was no roll out across a select few stores. There was no roll out across certain departments within the stores. In fact there was little time between the announcement and the roll out. It was fast and furious. They never gave their customers a chance to like it.

If you want to change your Social Media content overnight – think again. Start slowly. Introduce a new topic or style of post and gauge the audience’s interest. If you want to remove a topic or regular feature, inform your audience of the changes and let them know when they can expect to see the changes. The best way to include your audience is to ASK THEM for their input. What new topics would they like to see? Is there a weekly feature they would like to see added? Give them a list of 3 to 5 topics you’re thinking of adding and ask which one they’d prefer. Now that they are a part of the process, they will advocate for the changes rather than running for the hills.

People don’t like change. So don’t smash them over the head with it. Give them the chance to adapt to it. Include them in the process so they feel like they contributed to the changes. Allow them to feel like these changes were their idea and ensure that the changes best suit your audience.

Don’t steal others’ material

Without going all legal on you, the Martha Stewart debacle will taint JC Penney’s reputation even more. They are in direct violation of an exclusivity clause with Macy’s and run the risk of not only financial implications, but also public pushback. You may not particularly care about this issue and maybe you’d like to see Martha Stewart in JC Penney stores, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is illegal.

If you’ve read enough blogs, you’ve seen this happen – it’s the deja vu moment when you swear you’ve read this blog somewhere else. And no, not just the topic. It’s a fraudulently copied blog from someone else, reposted to look like this company’s original content. While not only in violation of copyright laws and lending to infringement, it’s morally unacceptable and will cost these companies in more ways than one.

Do not steal content from other sources. Create your own content to appeal to your audience. It takes time to create great content but it’s worth it in so many ways. If you are going to repost or share something from another site, ALWAYS give acknowledgement and provide credit to the original source. When it comes to blog postings, ask the original source for permission – most of the time they are happy to have their content shared elsewhere so long as due credit is given.


Hopefully you have a successful Social Media strategy in place and if you want to make changes you will consider these situations before you change them. Take the time to implement changes properly and you will continue to be successful!

One thought on “What Can JC Penney Teach Us About Social Media Management?

  1. Pingback: What You Can Learn from JC Penney About Social Media Management. #SCRM #E20 #SocBiz | Dr. BNO of Nestivity

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