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    Riding the Social Media Wave

    C-store industry targets consumers by implementing social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare into their marketing agenda.

    By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News

    In just a few short years updating your Facebook status has become a pastime bordering on obsession. And Twitter has given all new meaning to the word tweet. But social media is not just for getting in touch with long-lost friends or following someone’s every move. It is becoming a must-use tool in a business’s marketing campaign.
     

    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.
     

    Ricker’s embarked on a training mission, with Bausman personally meeting with a representative from each of its 50 locations. Those sessions entailed stressing how the social media initiative -- which includes Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and mobile apps -- 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. “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’s has had a Facebook presence for a while, but it was not a very pro-active use, said Will Alexander, vice president of IS and special projects. However, the company began aggressively using social media about eight months ago, Passarell added. “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.”
     

    For example, RaceTrac used Facebook to track the success of its Freefill campaign. “This summer, for $6.99 you could buy a refill cup and fill it for free anytime,” he explained. “As part of the campaign, our agency posted different recipes on Facebook for guests to try at our stores. This put a little more energy behind out campaign.” One such recipe is a Kamikaze: 50% lemonade, 25% Melon Mango and 25% Sunkist Orange.
     

    The key to using mobile marketing and social media, as many businesses are learning, is preparation. “There was lot of preparation the first time around and a lot more this time,” Bausman said. As of mid-October, Bausman had tested the mobile coupons in 32 stores and hoped to reach the remaining 18 by the end of the month.  To test, Bausman disguised himself as a customer, went into a store and tried to use a coupon on his phone. If the employees did not know how to ring up the coupon he introduced himself and showed them the steps. To aid the employees, Ricker’s developed a process map which lists, step by step, how to handle the coupons, he added.
    “Walking through the process with them is extremely critical,” Bausman said, “or else you end up with a frustrated employee and a frustrated customer. That’s a lose-lose [situation].”
     

    While he did not reveal specifics, Bausman said Ricker’s has pulled in “very impressive numbers” via mobile marketing, Facebook and Twitter. He added that the company had an advantage setting up a presence on Facebook because some groups had already started fan pages. Twitter, he explained, “is a bit of a different beast as a media outlet.”
     

    One successful Twitter campaign was Ricker’s Tweetup Fillup, which took place over one week in the beginning of October. First, the company generated buzz through a YouTube video. Then everyday at 5 p.m. Ricker’s would tweet a location; the first five customers to show up at that location and mention Ricker’s Tweetup Fillup received a full tank of gas. “In total we spent $364.03 in fuel. The media value was $9,657.07 and the publicity value was $29,699.07,” Bausman explained, adding that the campaign led to a circulation/impression count of 124,749.
     

    RaceTrac has also reached out to the Twitter audience, using tweets to promote in-store activities, Passarell said. “We work with professional athletes who will tweet when they are at a certain store. Customers will go to that store, meet the athletes and maybe get an autograph.” But more important than the autographs, the tweets bring customers inside.
     

    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. “For example, us using Digg [a social news site] as a social media platform doesn’t make a lot of sense. It makes sense to me to be on Facebook because it is the Cadillac, and it makes sense to me to use mobile marketing.”
     

    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. “We are a convenience store. Convenience to many customers means to go in and get what they need,” he said. “Keeping customers in our stores is a challenge. How do I use these tools to create habits for our customers?”
    To rise up and meet the challenge of getting pay at the pumpers into the store, Ricker’s turned to Foursquare. With every $12 fill up at the pumps and a Foursquare check-in, the customer is awarded with either a Ricker’s Pop or a coffee, Bausman explained. “It empowers our customers to market for us,” he said. “The latest numbers I have seen indicate 87% of customers believe positive word of mouth; 17% of customers believe company advertising.”
     

    In addition, the Foursquare promotion brings pay-at-the-pump customers into the store where employees have the opportunity to bundle and up sell, he added. And just as importantly, Ricker’s is targeting customer behavior. “We are changing the behavior of someone who would normally just fill up, pay at the pump and go. Now they come into the store every time,” Bausman said.
     

    RaceTrac has just started embracing Foursquare as a marketing tool, testing the platform in Atlanta and Dallas. If customers in those markets use their mobile phones to check in on the location-based social network, they will get a bounced-back coupon for a featured item. In addition, customers can become “a mayor” of a store by logging in the most, Passarell explained.  With this distinction, the customer gets special discounts and coupons. “It gives people an incentive to return to a location,” he added.
     

    “We are at the front edge of this,” Passarell said. “We have only tested Foursquare in Atlanta and Dallas. I think we are going to do a full rollout shortly because we had a great response in both markets.”
    RaceTrac has not stepped into the mobile apps arena yet, putting its focus on Facebook and Twitter for right now. “We have been working to develop a brand personality and as a result of Facebook and Twitter feedback we know we are on the right track,” Passarell explained. For example, its Freefill campaign generated so much chatter that RaceTrac extended the program by a month, he added.
     

    From here, he said, the company will be looking at better ways to measure the results of its promotions. “It is great getting a lot of buzz but we want to make sure it is leading somewhere,” Passarell said.
    Ricker’s and RaceTrac are two industry companies which have turned to social media as a marketing tool, but they are by no means the only ones. A search of Facebook reveals pages for Sheetz, Wawa and Quick Chek, to name a few.
     

    According to John Schaninger, vice president of sales and merchandising for Quick Chek, the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company has been using social media since Spring 2009. By reviewing the number of Facebook fans (more than 65,000 at the end of October), Internet viral messaging and Facebook coupon redemption, Quick Chek is getting the results it expected, he added.
     

    Quick Chek is not currently active on Twitter or Foursquare and it does not have mobile apps. It does have a new, growing Mobile Fresh List which is a mobile text offer campaign, in addition to its website Fresh List, and is eyeing a mobile website launch in the near future, Schaninger explained.
     

    “[Social media] is great way for us to interact, one on one, with our customers and drive new customers via viral Internet and word of mouth,” he said, adding that the company is planning an expansion of its use of social media.

     

    By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News
    • About Melissa Kress Melissa Kress joined EnsembleIQ's Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner in November 2010. Her primary beats include alcoholic beverages and tobacco. Kress has been a professional journalist since 1995. A graduate of West Virginia University, she began her career in community journalism before moving to business-to-business publishing in 2000, covering commercial real estate.

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