By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
Social media wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen in 1990, but today it has become a vital tool in reaching customers and communicating promotions as well as new product launches.
It’s challenging to remember a world without the Internet we rely on so much today. Social media can trace its roots back to 1969, when CompuServe came onto the scene as a business-oriented mainframe computer communication solution, allowing members to share files and access news and events. It later expanded to the public domain in the late 1980s becoming the first major commercial Internet service provider nationwide via a technology known then as dial-up.
That’s long ago, well before c-stores took their place in the growing social media landscape, which has mushroomed.
In 2013, Facebook had climbed to 1.11 billion users, and Twitter had 500 million registered users, with more than 200 million active users. LinkedIn accounted for 225 million users, while MySpace had 25 million users.
Social media intelligence provider newBrandAnalytics hit the nail on the head when it announced earlier this year, “Any business that still thinks it can ignore online feedback will have to think again in 2014.”
Today, a good c-store strategy includes a strong social media component. The key to managing your social media image is crafting your image as you respond to feedback from your fan and follower bases.
In the Beginning
In 1971 the first email was delivered, according to “A Brief History of Social Media,” 2013 by Anthony Curtis, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Then in 1978, BBS (Bulletin Board System), or online meeting places that were “independently-produced hunks of code that allowed users to communicate with a central system where they could download files or games (many times including pirated software) and post messages to other users” came about, according to Digitaltrends.com
The American Online (AOL) service appeared in 1985 as an online hub, but the Internet as we know it was born in 1993 when the European Organization for Nuclear Research) gave the WWW technology to the world.
Web pages as we know them today came about thanks to students at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who displayed the first graphical browser, Mosaic.
By 1997, the Web had one million sites and blogging began. The Website sixdegrees.com allowed users to create profiles and list friends, while AOL Instant Messenger presented a chance for people to “chat” via their computers.
Social networking began to pick up steam in 2002 when Friendster, a social networking Website, opened to the U.S. public and soared to three million users in three months.
By 2003, Friendster was overshadowed by MySpace, which burst onto the scene allowing users to share music and profiles.
LinkedIn also made its debut in 2003 as a business-oriented social networking site for professionals. By now, some three billion Web pages existed. In 2004, Facebook was started for students at Harvard College, and at the time was referred as a college version of Friendster.
In 2006, MySpace was the most popular social networking site in the U.S., and Twitter hit the scene, differentiating itself as a social networking and microblogging site, where members could “tweet.” Also that year, Facebook opened its membership to anyone over age 13, and by 2008, based on monthly unique visitors, it had already surpassed MySpace as the most popular social media network.
Most businesses know by now that responding to negative feedback on social media is crucial in staying on top of your brand image, but Susan Ganeshan, chief marketing officer for newBrand Analytics told CSD that many businesses don’t realize that it’s just as effective to engage with fans posting positive reviews as it is to respond to negative comments.
Travis Moore, marketing director at Zarco USA, with eight locations in Kansas, agreed. “When we at Zarco USA receive feedback through social media, we make sure to show that we value that person as a customer. Whether it’s positive or negative feedback, we respond positively and energetically, thanking them for coming in and telling them we appreciate them reaching out to us,” Moore said.
Rewards to show appreciation can also go a long way. “We will often provide them with a free car wash or free sandwich coupon just for contacting us directly. This gets them excited and shows that we value them,” Moore said.
Damage Control 101
Customers posting on your page, especially those with negative comments, expect an immediate response.
“Engaging with comments is a must. You have to find the right art—and it varies according to platform, so the way you apologize on Facebook is different than on Twitter,” Ganeshan said.
The formula to dealing with negative feedback starts with taking ownership of the problem.
“There’s an art to first acknowledging there is something more that could be done,” Ganeshan said.
The next step is to give the customer a way to contact you in the comments, or let them know you are messaging them to further address the issue with them personally. Be careful of telling your Twitter followers to direct message you, because unless you are also following them, they aren’t able to do that, noted Ganeshan, who recommended giving them a customer support email address. Avoiding such missteps can help reduce unnecessary customer frustration.
Responding publicly to the negative comment before moving it off-line for further review lets your other fans know you’re on top of the situation and it is being addressed.
Winning With Responses
Likewise, if someone responds positively about one of your offerings, reply to that and thank them for sharing their experience and letting their friends know, and tell them you look forward to them coming back to the store again, noted Ganeshan.
C-stores can also put an ROI on their social media by taking the feedback and actually filtering it down to store level to grow sales.
Let the general managers know—based on social media feedback—what areas need their focus. If you have store-specific information from customers, this can be valuable information used to improve your business. And as you make changes, let your social media fans know.
Pushing the Competition
One of the latest trends in social media is direct marketing—combining social media conversations with geo-fencing data, according to newBrand Analytics. This is useful in locating people in your store radius who are in immediate need of your goods and services.
This sort of response to feedback can gain you business in the moment. You might even find it helpful to respond to feedback meant for your competitors to give your business a leg up. For example, if Bubba tweets that the line at the local QSR is taking too long and he really wanted a meatball sandwich, your c-store can perhaps respond: “Hey, @Bubba,
MenuMart has meatball subs for under $5 right down the street and we’re open now—no line, no waiting!” You might even add that if they show the tweet at checkout they’ll get 10% off. This particular strategy can be used for anything from gasoline prices to general merchandise.
“Every customer matters, and every interaction with the brand should be a positive one—whether that’s at the store or on social media,” said Moore of Zarco USA. “We want to provide a fun environment, where people feel comfortable and happy to interact with us. That’s what social media is all about.”