By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
Today’s customers are more connected into the digital world than ever and to communicate with them effectively, convenience store operators must have a visible presence on social media sites.
Savvy convenience store chains are now using social media to better connect with customers by focusing on actual customer engagement instead of just blasting out marketing updates, which offer no real value for busy customers.
Sally Falkow, digital media strategist for Meritus Media, recommends following the 80/20 rule: posting about your chain 20% of the time, and using the other 80% to connect with your fans interests, be it the latest football scores, versions of popular memes or cat photos that might garner reshares and likes, leading more Facebook users to like your page. It’s also vital to engage fans in conversation, listen to their feedback and show them you are listening through prompt responses.
Rewarding customers is also an important piece in keeping your fans interested and even driving them from your social media pages into the store.
Sac N Pac, with 47 convenience stores is Texas, is one convenience store chain heavily focused on capturing fans and holding their interest through social media engagement.
This summer, the chain has captivated customers on social media with ongoing news and updates about its summer trip giveaways through “The Great Summer Splash.”
“Throughout the summer we have been doing small fun contests that have giveaways through vendor sponsorship. We are also promoting which stores we are at while giving away free samples,” said Megan Sutfin, the social media administrator at Sac N Pac Stores. The latter helps with a major c-store social media goal—driving customers from Facebook into the stores.
In 2011, Sac N Pac introduced its consumer loyalty program, and since then it has provided three summer trips or ‘stay-cations’ each summer to reward its loyal customers.
“We have always used our social media channels as a marketing tool to promote our loyalty program, but this year, I wanted to take a different approach. I felt we needed to engage more with our consumers and not just talk at them,” Sutfin said. “I wanted to hear what they wanted to win and not decide for them.”
To get customers involved in the conversation, Sac N Pac added a survey to its Website for customers to fill out. On that survey one of the questions is, “If you could win a trip anywhere in Texas, where would you like to go?”
“After reviewing these answers it seemed there was a consistent theme with the places that our customers wanted to go. So I decided to create a contest out of it,” Sutfin said.
To market the contest opportunity, Sac N Pac sent emails to its loyalty customers informing them of the contest and then followed up with Facebook and Twitter posts the next day. An album featuring the top 11 places customers said they wanted to visit went up on Facebook where fans had the chance to vote for which of the 11 would become the top three summer giveaway sites.
“There was also an incentive for our fans to vote in the contest. One random winner received a Dr. Pepper acoustic guitar just for taking time to participate in the contest,” Sutfin said. “This is real engagement.”
Sac N Pac also uses social media to get the word out about its Happy Hour promotions, and to spread the word about its community involvement, which is a large focus for the chain. Currently, Sac N Pac is working to grow its social media following, as well as increasing its presence across multiple social channels.
Conversation Is Key
“Being successful online isn’t just about how many fans or followers you have, but that is a good first step,” Sutfin said. “We are also using social media to increase customer service and to hear what our customers are saying. We want to take the information we hear online and use it to either fix issues at the store level, reward employees for doing such a great job and thank customers for being loyal to our brand.”
Sutfin recommends that other c-store chains working to improve their social media skills take the time to have “an actual real human conversation with your fans. “We have to remember that there is an actual person on the other side of that computer screen, so we cannot provide an automated answer to everything that is posted,” she said. “If someone makes a comment, asks you a question on your page or sends you a private message, be sure to respond quickly. Create content that will bring some excitement to the page and have fun with it.”
Speak Their Language
Drew Piland, digital marketing director for The Pantry Inc., said that it’s also vital to communicate in a way that resonates with fans. “The best way to engage with an audience is to speak in a language that they are already using and understand. Memes are one such example. RooCup (Kangaroo Express’ collectible, refillable cup) fans already use memes to talk about their RooCup summer experiences, so it is a natural fit for Kangaroo Express to connect with its fans the same way.”
With more than 1,600 stores, The Pantry has an enormous pool of customers that could be talking about its brands. Engagement helps keep the chatter positive. In this way, finding what fans are already talking about and joining them in a fun, light-hearted way will help you grow your fan base and take control of a conversation already happening about your chain.
In all your interactions, Falkow recommended being cognizant of the image you wish to portray for your chain, be it fun and hip, or community conscious, etc., and then being careful to ensure you are continuing to portray that in all of your interactions.
This summer, the Pantry’s Kangaroo Express convenience store chain leveraged social media to promote its RooCup and Salute Our Troops campaign—which raises money for military members and their families—both of which Piland noted lend themselves to organic interactions with fans, and which customers can “rally around and make their own.”
The 2013 RooCup has maintained a strong presence across Kangaroo Express’ social media platforms so far this year. RooCup is a collectible cup that retails for $6.99 and is refillable with any fountain or frozen beverage for only 25 cents through Labor Day at any of the more than 1,600 Kangaroo Express locations throughout the Southeast.
“Kangaroo Express’ social media efforts around the RooCup embrace those experiences and have led to increased engagement across all social platforms, including significant increases in total ‘Likes’ on Facebook and followers on Twitter,” Piland said.
Fans can also engage with the summer RooCup experience on its first-ever microsite, www.roocup.com.
The company also promotes Kangaroo Express’ new mobile app over social media. “With the launch of the mobile app, we have been able to interact with Kangaroo Express guests in a completely new way,” Piland said. “The app provides guests RooCup discounts and fans can also use the app to locate the Salute Our Troops tour stop locations that have been going on all summer. But we are also leveraging Facebook’s targeted post features in an effort to more efficiently reach each post’s targeted audience. That’s what helps deliver real results.”