Riding The Social Media Wave


The key to using mobile marketing and social media, as many businesses are learning, is preparation

The cover story of the February 2010 issue of Convenience Store News focused on the relatively new age of digital marketing. As Facebook and Twitter became the rage, c-store companies were adding them to their arsenal of marketing tools, along with traditional billboard and radio advertisements.

The article highlighted a survey by global research firm Synovate that found Americans were among the most likely to own at least two cell phones. Furthermore, more than one-fourth of the U.S. respondents said they used their phones for e-mailing, and a nearly equal number use them to surf the Internet. Additionally, 15 percent noted they access social media through their cell phones.

It seems retailers took notice, and a year later, the c-store industry is taking great strides toward this new frontier. Over the past few months more industry insiders have taken the steps to reach existing, and potential customers by new avenues. For Ricker's, the rollout has been slow and that has been intentional, according to Jon Bausman, director of Media and Brand Development for the Anderson, Ind.-based company.

“We have been using mobile marketing for a few months,” he explained. “We rolled it out, then realized there was a breakdown in the communication process. So we stopped, pulled back and reworked it.” One problem: some customer service reps did not know how to roll out the platform — especially Ricker's mobile coupons.

The company embarked on a training mission, with Bausman personally meeting a representative from each of its 50 locations. Those sessions entailed stressing how the social media initiative could bring value to a store; how it can be a great tool to bring in business; and how not to hurt the store in the process.

“There were a lot of challenges, communicating with 50 different stores in 50 different locations,” he said. A generation gap also posed a challenge. “We have some managers in their 50s,” Bausman added. “Mobile marketing and social media are Greek to them.”

Atlanta-based RaceTrac has also found that training store employees is a key ingredient to using these platforms successfully. “There is a training component to using social media,” explained Chris Passarell, director of marketing at the chain. “Going out to store managers and helping them truly understand social media is important to the brand, important to getting guests into the store.”

RaceTrac has had a Facebook presence for a while, but was not pro-active in its use, said Will Alexander, vice president of IS and special projects. However, the company began aggressively using social media in early 2010. “We are using it as an opportunity to take a really good pulse of what promotions are working and what aren't,” Passarell said. “We are taking the pulse to see how well we are getting our brand message across.”

While he did not reveal specifics, Bausman said Ricker's has pulled in “very impressive numbers” via mobile marketing, Facebook and Twitter. RaceTrac has also reached out to the Twitter audience, using tweets to promote in-store activities.

But the industry should not necessarily embrace all social media opportunities. “There are some parts of social media that make sense for the industry and some that don't,” Bausman explained.

Overall, using mobile marketing and social media just for the sake of using them is not productive. According to Bausman, the tools are successful if it leads to customers not only coming into a store, but spending time in the store.

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