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    ampm's Five Keys to Social Media Success

    The c-store chain rocketed from 3,700 Facebook fans to 200,000 fans in just 15 months.

    By Brian Berk, Convenience Store News

    LA PALMA, Calif. -- To be ultimately successful when creating a social media plan, businesses should narrow their focus to just five ideas, said Gary Schechner, advertising and marketing director for BP's ampm convenience stores.

    The first aspect a c-store owner must master is knowledge of the urban dictionary, he explained during a webcast hosted by Visible Techologies this afternoon entitled, "How ampm Convenience Stores (and Other Top Brands) Are Winning with Social Media Data."

    "On social media sites, we tend to see a younger audience where slang is often used," Schechner said. "We tend to use PG-rated language as much as possible on our sites to ensure we don't offend people. Our team speaks the urban dictionary."

    The second key ingredient to success is damage control. Once businesses enter the social media universe, they must be prepared to see negative consumer commentary appear more often than positive Facebook posts or Twitter tweets. According to Schechner, the best way to approach a negative situation is to respond immediately and attempt to turn the comments into a positive consumer experience.

    "Customers like acknowledgement of a bad experience," he said. "When a customer posts that they had a negative experience at any of our [approximately 1,100] locations, we respond by apologizing and often embedding a coupon for that product if they will try us again. If we can't provide a coupon for that particular product, we steer them toward something we do have a coupon for. The customer response to this has been excellent so far. It's a tremendously powerful tool for us."

    Third on the list of social media do's is a need to provide "instant gratification," Schechner advised. He referred to ampm's efforts to provide many smaller prizes for consumers, as opposed to only one grand prize during a contest. The convenience store chain has had several promotions where it doled out thousands of free Coca-Cola Co. or PepsiCo products to the social media community, for example. These promotions have received a much better response rate than its competitors that have offered only one grand prize to every 10,000th or 100,000th person to "Like" them on Facebook, he said.

    The fourth way for a business to improve its social media standing is by focusing on beverage coupons and promotions, Schechner maintained. That's because ampm research has found that consumers come into c-stores more often to purchase beverages than food items.

    However, ampm, a division of BP America Inc., also uses some tricks to convert its social media followers into customers at its c-stores. One such trick is allowing consumers to vote on what the next coupon promotion should be. Also, ampm offers a new coupon every two weeks.

    According to Schechner, the promotional plan has worked. "Our coupon retention has been fantastic," he shared.

    The fifth and final way to develop a successful social media presence is to not spend too much time focusing solely on your brand, he cautioned. "You can post something about a mundane topic. It could be a news story you comment on. For example, when an earthquake hit New Zealand, some people found out about it first from our post," he said. "Customers really appreciate that."

    The only caveat, the advertising and marketing director said, is to avoid posting comments about celebrities because it can offend a lot of people.

    Still, ampm uses celebrity power in another way. The c-store chain tries to get them to become brand ambassadors. When Alec Baldwin was recently admonished for his refusal to shut down his iPad on a plane flight, ampm responded to his social media commentary by offering the "30 Rock" star a free in-store product with the hope he'd become a brand ambassador, which carries tremendous leverage.

    All of ampm's social media efforts have worked. The c-store chain began its social media campaign in 2010, and it started 2011 with just 3,700 Facebook fans. ampm now has 200,000 fans, according to Schechner.

    "My advice: get in [to social media]," he said. "Get in now. Learn and listen to your consumers."

    Also presenting during today's Visible Techologies webcast was Jeff Zabin, researcher for Gleanster, a market research and advisory services firm. He agreed that companies definitely should get involved in social media efforts, even if their key clientele is not technological savvy. He noted that the most compelling reasons to create a social media plan are to protect a brand's reputation, improve marketing effectiveness and receive customer insights.

    By Brian Berk, Convenience Store News
    • About Brian Berk Brian Berk is managing editor of Stagnito Business Information's Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner, where he specializes in covering motor fuels, technology and financial news. He has served the magazine industry for 14 years and has also worked in the radio and newspaper fields. Berk holds a bachelor's degree in communications from the State University of New York at Cortland and a master's degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

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