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Social media is the "new marketing," particularly for convenience store retailers. It holds special appeal to retail outlets serving the quick needs of people around the globe who want to get some gasoline, an energy drink or chewing gum. As society speeds up, social media tools are unique in their ability to adapt to changes, anticipate them and provide convenience stores with options to rapidly respond to customers.
C-store operators approaching this relatively new terrain need to first decide how they want to promote themselves. C-stores have used traditional channels throughout the years, from coupons in newspapers to radio spots and billboards. Social media augments those tools, reinforcing messages while at the same time delivering a new way to connect with your customers and keep them coming back through your doors.
That’s one of the important outcomes for this industry: Profits are determined by regular repeat customers who want rapid service in a way that fits their lifestyle. A customer may be heading to work in the morning and believe a c-store is the best place to get an inexpensive cup of coffee. After lunch, someone may stop in to grab a chocolate bar.
Regardless of the reason, as a c-store operator, you want to find ways to repeatedly connect with your customer. They are on the go and willing to pay a bit more to get what they want quickly. How do you keep your name in front of them? How do you stay fresh in your approach? That’s where social media comes in.
There are a tremendous number of tools under the “social media” umbrella. What knits all of them together is their immediacy and ability to be responsive. In other words, you can respond right away to an issue from a consumer, and these tools give you greater connectivity with the people coming in your doors to buy the products you offer.
Establishing a social media program requires that you have a point person familiar with the terrain and empowered to act for your business. Due to the nature of the feedback received through social media outlets, it’s critical that this person understand your business, have access to high-level management, and professional experience in communications. He or she will need to be able to write quickly and effectively, present your positions clearly, and listen to insights -- good and bad -- to provide appropriate answers to customer inquiries.
Your end goal, whether it is more store traffic, higher in-store purchases or customer retention, should determine which tools make the most sense. Take it one step at a time. Find out the most appropriate option for c-stores, research how it is used and then begin adopting it. Retailers should allow their team to gain experience and capture data from this initial step before building a more complex program.
Given the nature of the convenience store industry, Twitter is the quickest tool to get messages out to your customers and explore what they are saying about you. It can be used to deliver coupons or specials to your “followers.” It’s easy to set up an account, which can be done in minutes, but make sure you meet your company’s profile and review it for professionalism, branding and how it is worded.
Twitter serves the needs of our on-the-go culture, keeping messages short (140 character maximum per transmission). It is easy for people to find you, follow you and "forward you" (resending your message or “retweeting”).
Two big issues, though, must be addressed:
1. Finding your current and prospective customers, and
2. Getting them to notice and follow you.
The ultimate goal of social media is to seek positive exposure. The first step toward accomplishing that goal is to establish a database so that people visit you on Twitter. To do this, retailers need to message them. That means finding a way to get customers’ e-mails or smartphone numbers to let them know about your new Twitter service.
A social media program needs to then establish a regular communication to these lists to let consumers know a retailer's Twitter address. The Twitter address also should be placed on the c-store retailer's website, in addition to any other publication or communication the business sends out.
Once up and running, c-stores should continuously monitor their Twitter feed and design novel messages. Remember, social media is not a one-way street. Though direct responses to your tweets are rare, there is the ability to receive either happy or irate messages from customers. Those issues should be quickly addressed.
Retailers can't "tweet" back every transmission, but Twitter can be used to follow those comments and decide --- based on business policy -- which warrant a reply, whether it’s faster and shorter on Twitter or a more lengthy direct letter to the individual is necessary.
Twitter serves the convenience store industry well in other ways. It’s well-suited to offering coupons and special savings instantaneously to customers on their smartphones, so they can access a retailer's information as it comes in and make an immediate purchasing decision.
Using Twitter is but one step. A solid social media program will also include platforms for LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and a blog. Once you jump into the pool, you will find that full immersion makes a lot of sense to help find news customers, retain them and publicize your brand.
Dave Simon is marketing communications manager for Brink’s Inc., a provider of U.S. and global security services. He runs the company’s social media program and has 25-plus years of corporate communications experience in the public and private sectors. He can be reached at [email protected].
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.