CSD’s fourth annual review of the social media strategies used by convenience store chains across the industry and how retailers can capitalize on best practices in 2016.
By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
For the fourth year running, Convenience Store Decisions examined the Facebook (FB) and Twitter pages of more than 60 convenience store chains, recognizing the companies doing a superior job of connecting with customers through social media.
With each passing year, more social media avenues appear and what it takes to succeed evolves. CSD caught up with social media expert Crystal Washington, author of The Social Media Why, to find out what to expect in the year ahead.
MARCHING INTO 2016
One of the biggest trends to watch in 2016 is the way the Internet of Things (IoT) will begin to tie into social media. IoT refers to a network of devices containing sensors that enable objects to collect and exchange data, such as when a beacon recognizes a customer’s smartphone app and forwards a coupon to the app.
How it will connect to social remains to be seen, Washington said. Nonetheless, “it’s all coming together. It’s all part of the big data movement, and it’s something to just watch and be aware of,” Washington said.
This past year, the pay-to-play model, where social media pages needed to “boost” or pay to have their posts seen by a wider audience became a key component of social media success on FB especially, but also on Twitter and Pinterest.
“We’re not going to go back to everything being free. C-store operators can benefit by building their audience now, when it’s less expensive, because over time it will become more expensive,” Washington said.
The best practice of including four to five posts about what your fans are interested in to every one post promoting your brand continues to hold true. But reaching fans continues to grow more complicated. “We have to try even harder to determine what our consumers are interested in today because there’s so much competing for their mind space right now,” Washington said.
In order to grab attention on social media, post quality may need an upgrade for 2016. Creativity is key. “We really have to put thought into things we’re posting, if we want to grow a following,” she added.
Consider how the convenience chain ampm took a recent sandwich promotion to the next level. It could have just posted a photo of its new spicy BBQ Rib sandwich. Instead, on Nov. 23, 2015, it posted “saddle up and ride in for the new spicy BBQ Rib sandwich,” with a photo of stilt walking dogs carrying sandwiches on their backs through the desert. The amusing graphic garnered 2,146 likes and 149 shares.
Determining what will resonate with your audience is half the battle. For Maverik, which refers to itself as “Adventure’s First Stop,” adventure-related videos and posts gain fan approval. For example, on Nov. 23, a video of athlete Andrew Muse conquering waterfalls on a blow up mattress gained 1,300 views.
Not only is it crucial to determine what types of posts resonate most with your demographic, but also which social media platform. Finding 1-2 platforms that best connect with your base and focusing efforts there, is the best strategy to success. “You can’t be on everything and you shouldn’t be on everything,” Washington said.
Look professional. Make sure your FB cover photo and profile picture are either professionally designed or professional looking. The same goes for the other graphics or photos you are posting. Programs and tools exist that can help. “You’re competing for eyeballs and have to look very slick to do so,” Washington said.
- Be consistent. “C-store operators that want to have a social media presence need to have a consistent posting schedule,” Washington said. Due to FB’s algorithm, if you fail to post for three months, when you do start to post again, the number of people actually seeing your posts decreases due to fewer interactions. So for maximum views, post consistently.
- Look for Patterns. As for when to post, that will depend on when your specific audience is online. “In the beginning, it’s really just a matter of testing to see when you get the most traction,” Washington said. Many studies tout ‘the best time to post,’ but what works best for some might not be best for your chain’s following. Washington recommended posting at different times of day to determine when your posts get the most engagement.
- Hit Emotional Nerves. With FB, one key to inspiring shares and engagement is hitting an emotional nerve. Tie a post to a common memory or tie a promotion into something that makes people smile, and that should bring an uptick in engagement, Washington advised. As always, it comes down to knowing your fan base and what resonates with them.
Quality Dairy has 31 c-stores located throughout Lansing, Mich. When Michigan played the Michigan State Spartans this fall the chain took advantage of the local rivalry by posting a photo of doughnuts decorated with an S for Spartans or M for Michigan, with the post, “Want to win a $25 gift card? Just show your team spirit by liking, sharing and commenting below with what team you’ll be rooting for this weekend.” The post struck an emotional nerve to the tune of 1,584 likes, 1,450 shares and 1,495 comments.
Reach For Hashtag Success. On Twitter, learn how to use hashtags and how to tag other users. “If you understand those two things very well, especially the hashtag piece, you can really increase your following there,” Washington advised.
FAN-Based Growth Awards
Most overall growth on FB and Twitter combined. This award calculates the number of new FB fans and Twitter followers between Dec. 5, 2014 and Dec. 3, 2015.
Winner: Sheetz grew 9,226 new FB fans and 93,216 new Twitter followers in 2015 for a total reach of 102,442 new fans/followers.
Second Place: Corner Store grew 95,045 new FB fans this year, and 2,303 new Twitter followers for a total of 97,348 new fans/followers.
Third Place: Wawa grew 31,848 new FB fans and 42,000 Twitter followers for a total of 73,848 new fans/followers.
Sheetz’ huge Twitter growth didn’t happen by accident. “We have been consistently focused on both growth and engagement on Twitter over the past year,” said Ashley Sheetz, social media manager for Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz, which has more than 510 stores in six states. “As a brand, we strive to post original and relevant content that our fans can relate to. We focus on our ability to be responsive and relatable,” Sheetz added.
Most Facebook Fan Growth in 2015
This award recognizes the chain with the most fan percentage growth between Dec. 4, 2014 and Dec. 3, 2015. To be considered chains needed a minimum of 10,000 FB fans.
Winner: CST Brands’ Corner Store grew from 1,359 to 96,404 fans in just one year, a percentage growth of 6,994%.
Second Place: Maverik grew from 32,967 fans to 100,638, (205%).
Third Place: Seasons Corner Market grew from 3,900 fans to 10,447, (168%).
San Antonio-based CST Brands’ Corner Store followed a specific strategy to help it grow its fans in 2015.
“Our 2015 marketing plan included the development of a content calendar and social strategy with a focus on audience engagement and transaction-oriented messages,” said Jared Sturtevant, supervisor of digital marketing for CST Brands. “We incorporated successful tactics and techniques from Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, starting with foundational strategies and shifting our attention to audience growth mid-year.”
But that wasn’t all.
“We also leveraged partnerships with our vendors, charities and communities on FB, using reciprocal marketing opportunities and mutually-important storytelling to drive awareness of the Corner Store brand,” Sturtevant said.
Season’s Corner Market, in third place, also had impressive growth for a small c-store chain and a FB page that is barely over a year old. The chain ended 2015 with 13 stores in New England with several more planned for 2016.
“Over the past year our FB page grew significantly for several reasons,” said Michael Schiemer, digital marketing manager, Colbea / East Side Enterprises LLC. For one, customers act as “brand ambassadors” enthusiastically sharing positive shopping experiences.
“We also offer many local, specialty and exclusive products that our customers are passionate about and like to discuss on social media,” Schiemer said. Cross promotions involving vendors and charities and extensive philanthropic endeavors have also expanded the chain’s social reach.
Most Twitter Follower Growth In 2015
This award recognizes the chain with the most follower percentage growth between Dec. 5, 2014 and Dec. 3, 2015, among chains with a minimum of 5,000 followers on Twitter.
Winner: Stripes grew from 3,744 to 13,806 followers, a percentage growth of 269%.
Second Place: 7-Eleven grew from 54,000 to 95,534 followers, (77%).
Third Place: Wawa grew from 61,400 to 103,400 followers, (68%).
Emerging Facebook Users With The Most Growth
This award recognizes emerging FB users with the highest growth percentage of FB fans between Dec. 4, 2014 and Dec. 3, 2015. To be considered chains needed more than 20 and fewer than 5,000 fans on FB.
Winner: VERC Enterprises grew from 544 to 738 fans, a percentage growth of 36%.
Second Place: Jiffy Trip grew from 760 to 1,000 fans, (32%).
Third Place: Arrow Mart grew from 119 to 153 fans, (29%).
VERC Enterprises has grown its FB following using contests for the associates, such as a photo contest for best Halloween costume, where the employees encourage people to vote for them on FB.
“Along with the contests, I attribute our social media growth to all of the philanthropy work the company has done for our community,” said Erin Fitzpatrick, VERC’s marketing assistant and social media manager.
Emerging Twitter Users With The Most Growth
This award recognizes chains with the most Twitter follower growth percentage among chains with more than 20, but fewer than 1,000 followers. Results were tallied between Dec. 5, 2014 and Dec. 3, 2015.
Winner: Arrow Mart grew from 19 to 88 followers, a growth percentage of 363%.
Second Place: Daily’s grew from 272 to 899 followers, (231%).
Third Place: PS Food Marts grew from 36 to 82 followers, (128%).
Twitter Tweeter Award
This award recognizes the retailer with the highest number of Tweets overall. Numbers were compiled on Dec. 3, 2015.
Winner: Sheetz, 26,500
Second Place: Kum & Go, 23,700
Third Place: 7-Eleven, 23,221
Best Engagement With A Single Post or Promotion
Winner: QuikTrip (QT) for its videos of foodservice employees reading Twitter posts about QT breakfast pizza.
“During September and October our ad campaign was in support breakfast pizza with a combination of paid and organic posts,” said Brandon Thompson, manager of customer engagement for Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip, which has 700 stores in 11 states. An Oct. 24, 2015 video gained 265,000 views, 1,017 likes and 99 shares. A Sept. 26, 2015 video garnered 386,000 views, 1,791 likes and 251 shares.
The chain’s internal social media team had two goals with the promotion. “First we wanted to showcase our QT corporate chefs and food team, to show our followers and the world that we take food and our QT Kitchens seriously,” said Thompson. Secondly, the team was inspired by Jimmy Kimmel’s feature ‘mean tweets’ where celebrities read tweets about themselves.
After launching the Breakfast Pizza in April of 2015, the social media team collected tweets about the product: “the good, the bad and the bizarre.” The resulting three videos showcased the food team in the corporate kitchen reading “for the first time, with real reactions” some of the feedback. “I think the success is measured in that we were able to promote a good product that not many other places have and we let the world know QT takes food seriously, and we like to have a little fun too,” Thompson said.
Best Partnership In A Promotion
Winner: Chevron for its social partnership with Visa on the launch of a mobile payments program.
On Oct. 6, 2015, Chevron and Visa announced the launch of a mobile payments program at more than 20 Chevron branded stations, accepting any NFC (near-field communications) payment service.
The companies engaged social media and Visa’s relationship with soccer champion Carlie Lloyd, in posts on Oct. 6, and on Nov. 23, 2015 it announced the completion of the upgrades. On Oct. 6, Visa’s video gained 237,401 views. On Nov. 23, Visa’s video and gained 239,581 views. Chevron also shared the videos with its followers. Though the partnership on social, Chevron and Visa were able to more widely spread their joint message.
“Our overall intent with our various social posts was to help drive awareness, excitement and trial for the program,” said Doris Lee, head of loyalty at Chevron. “We were happy to work with Visa and soccer champion Carli Lloyd, to promote the program, and we’ve been pleased with the exposure we’ve received surrounding the program thus far.”
Best At Encouraging Fan Engagement Creatively & Consistently
Winner: Sheetz Inc.
The Sheetz FB game plan is one to be emulated. The chain has clearly determined how best to resonate with its fans, whom it refers to lovingly as “sheetzfreaks.” From its ‘Smoothie Smack Down’ contest where fans had to vote for their favorite of two beverages, to creative videos to memes featuring characters from popular TV shows and movies, Sheetz finds new and innovative ways to promote its brand without blatantly promoting.
“We’ve been in business for over 60 years and have always focused heavily on taking care of our customers. It’s important for us to be a resource and to understand what our fans/followers want and need,” Ashley Sheetz said. “For us, engaging with our fans through trending topics and relevant content has been proven to be wildly successful.”
Best OmniChannel Campaign
Winner: Corner Store for #shareahero campaign
The #shareahero sweepstakes that ran for 100 days beginning June 2, 2015 engaged customers using an omnichannel approach. It drove customers to the physical store to use their smartphone to post a selfie of themselves pointing to a Coke can on a Corner Store display to either a contest Website, Instagram or Twitter. The contest was also promoted on FB. One-hundred winners—one per day—received a $100 Corner Store gift card.
“Our goal with the #shareahero sweepstakes was to leverage consumer-created stories for engagement, and to make and strengthen consumer connections on social networks,” said CST Brands’ Sturtevant. “The multi-screen approach had many benefits; primarily bringing attention to the Corner Store brand and the launch of our presence on Twitter and Instagram. We also wanted to make entry as easy as possible for consumers by allowing them to enter on the major social network of their choice.”
Best Holiday Promotion
Winner: Stripes for 12 Days of Monkey
Stripe’s 12 Days of Monkey was back again this December, with cute photos and an array of gifts. ‘On the first day of Monkey,’ Stripe’s FB fans could comment with their favorite holiday song for a chance to win a free Beats pill. The post gained 907 likes, 127 shares and 1,500 comments.
On the second day, more than 1,000 fans commented for a chance at two Laredo Taco lunch plates and a $15 AMC Theatres gift card. The promotion hits that emotional nerve with a cute play on the 12 days of Christmas, while also informing customers about some of the chain’s offerings and requesting engagement. While many chains engage in 12 days of Christmas giveaways, the Stripe’s monkey is a unique, playful touch that obviously resonates with Stripe’s fan base given the number of responses, likes and shares.
Best Community Specific Engagement
Winner: It’s a tie: QuickChek and Seasons Corner Market
Both QuickChek and Seasons Corner Market met their fans with something that resonated deeply—local sports teams in the playoffs—and used it to drive engagement.
QuickChek, with 140 stores in New Jersey and New York, found a way to connect with fans over their love of a local sports team, encourage downloads of its mobile app and drive customers into the store—all with a single promotion.
When the Mets won their first game of the World Series, fans had the chance to download a coupon for a free Walking Taco at QuickChek. The FB post about free Walking Tacos on Oct. 21 gained 81 likes and 20 shares, but beyond that, it drove interest in QuickChek’s new app while alerting fans to its foodservice menu.
“Our average daily downloads for the duration of the program was four-times the normal. We redeemed over 1,000 coupons and all this was with the Mets only winning one game,” said Eric Rush, digital marketing manager & advertising coordinator for QuickChek.
Had the Mets continued winning, fans could have won a free small soup after the second win and a free Mac & Cheese bowl after the third.
Seasons Corner Market also appealed to its fans’ love for a sports team—the Patriots—with this Nov. 18 post: “Our Patriots are still Undefeated and we’re Giving Away an AUTOGRAPHED ROB GRONKOWSKI JERSEY courtesy of our friends at BODYARMOR SuperDrink!…” The post also encouraged fans to like, share and comment on “why you love Gronk, Seasons, & BODYARMOR, and your score prediction vs the Bills.”
The post gained 279 likes, 73 shares and 57 comments and reached more than 10,000 fans without a boost. Not bad for a FB page only slightly older than a year and with fewer than 10,000 fans at the time. “That is very tough to do these days with FB’s usual 1-2% organic reach algorithm, and for a small c-store chain,” said Colbea/East Side Enterprises’ Schiemer.
Seasons also engages the community all year through posts about its support for local charitable organizations and youth sports teams, in addition to cheering year round for its professional Boston / New England sports teams.
“We also utilize many pictures from our employees and grand opening events to add to the personal and local feel of our brand,” Schiemer said.
Regardless of strategy, all c-store chains need to consider a plan to use social media to engage their customers.