By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
Convenience Store Decisions examined the results of nearly 60 c-store chains active on social media, specifically examining Facebook and Twitter to compile its 3rd annual Social Media awards.
Reviewing a range of categories, from fan and follower percentage growth rate for 2014 on Facebook and Twitter, to shout outs for chains using innovative ways to engage their social media base, we examine what’s effective for some social conscious retailers.
Welcome to 2015. Most major chains and businesses have been active in the social media landscape for sometime now. Savvy chains are developing social media goals, identifying their target audience and the platforms they frequent, and determining their own unique benchmarks for what social media success looks like for them.
With so many businesses now on social networks, customers are being inundated with posts like never before. “If you are going to leverage social media in 2015, you have to add value. Just having a presence there is no longer helpful,” said Crystal Washington, social media strategist, speaker and author of The Social Media Why, which is designed to help busy business owners learn how to use social media strategically.
Perhaps the biggest change ahead for 2015 is that larger social networks are now heavily leaning on a pay to play model. “Facebook is almost completely dismantling a page’s ability to really grow a solid following without having to pay on some level to get the post sponsored,” Washington said. And you can expect other sites to follow in Facebook’s footsteps.
“Social media has always been about making money. If you’re spending all this money on Twitter and Facebook and the money isn’t there—why bother? So your job is to do better. Get your audience to engage for you. It’s not hard because most industries treat their customers very poorly,” said Peter Shankman, author of Zombie Loyalists, a book coming out in January about how outstanding customer service will lead customers to do your social media work
“In the past, social media has been used as a response mechanism. The customer says, ‘My problem is this.’ Then you reach out to them, and say let me fix your problem,” Shankman said. In 2015 we’re going to shift to companies understanding that customer service, when done well, eliminates the need to constantly respond to mistakes via social media.”
Over the next year, Shankman believes, the majority of interaction between brands and consumers is going to come from the consumers so excited about the service they receive, “that they will go out of their way on social media to say how great that store is,” he said.
In other words, a new strategy to consider in 2015, is that the more you can provide a positive experience in person the more your customers will come to social media to talk about it, and that will resonate with the rest of your base. Instead of thinking about using social media to drive customers into your stores, consider using superior service at your stores to drive positive feedback on social media.
“If I say, ‘We’re awesome,’ no one is going to believe that whether it’s paid for or not. But if your best friend says, ‘Hey, this brand is awesome,’ you might like to shop there,” Shankman said.
Best practices for engagement, however, continue to remain tried and true. Listing 4-5 posts about something your fans are interested in for every one post promoting your c-stores is still advised. “Think about it as if your stores have a personality. And imagine you are talking to friends in your living room. That’s what people want to engage with now online,” Washington said. Incorporating photos, short videos and information on community events and news is a great way to show your c-stores are part of the community.
According to Pew Research Center’s 2013 Internet & American Life Project, 56% of adults have a smartphone. This means many of your customers are now viewing your Website and social media platforms via cell phone.
“Google is now adding tags onto mobile-friendly Websites, which means Google now recognizes when a site has a mobile-friendly version, which is easy to navigate on a phone. So if your Website is mobile friendly, it moves higher in Internet searches. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly version, your search results can go down,” Washington warned.
Likewise, when posting on social media, consider that most of your fans and followers are seeing your posts on their phone, so plan your campaigns for a mobile platform.
DEVELOPING A STRATEGY
Going into 2015, a social media strategy is crucial. To begin, you need to know your target audience and your overall goal—how you measure success.
“Social networks are a lot like kitchen appliances. When people ask me, ‘What is the best social network for me to be on,’ that’s like someone asking, ‘What is the best kitchen appliance for me to have.’ It depends on what you are trying to make. If you’re trying to make a smoothie that toaster isn’t going to help you,” said Washington. “You need to know what your goals are. Do you want to get ratings, or increase traffic to the stores or increase gas sales?”
“Know your audience. Know what they do, what they like, what makes them a fan of your business and why they are there. They are there because they like something. Give that to them,” Shankman said.
You also need to know where your audience is on social media. “The way to find that out is to ask them. Ask them when they come into the store. They’ll have their phone out. Say, ‘Oh, what do you use the most Facebook or Twitter?’ You’ll know in a week where your audience is,” Shankman advised.
Once you know your goals and your target market, choose 1-2 social networks that can help you accomplish those goals, because social media platforms don’t all do the same thing, advised Washington.
If you’re targeting Millennials, for example, Instagram is a huge social network with a large Millennial following. “Instagram users are more engaged than any other social media user. On average they check their accounts six times per day. It’s extremely important to understand that the function of Instagram isn’t just posting photos, but visual story telling. So if you are able to tell a story visually then you should use it,” Washington said.
That doesn’t mean posting a photo of milk with a sales tag. However, if your chain has recently engaged with a community event—an image from that event could be used to tell a visual story.
Many c-stores can see results from using Twitter. But if your core demographic is retirees and baby boomers, Twitter won’t be helpful, Washington said. Facebook would be a better platform to target baby boomers, Washington said.
“The media can make it sound like younger people are running away from Facebook, but that’s not happening. More baby boomers are signing up for it—that’s true. And you don’t have as many younger people signing up for it,” Washington said. “Those who signed up for it 5-6 years ago aren’t leaving—they’re aging—and as everyone ages, the median age of the social network then trends older too.”
Knowing your audience and their social platform can help you from wasting time and energy in the wrong places. “When everyone is shouting, ‘You should be here,’ you can say, ‘That doesn’t have a practical application for my particular business,’ and then confidently move on in the direction you need to go,” Washington said.
1 Tag Posts. Tagging other businesses and people in posts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook is crucial. “As you are mentioning other businesses and giving them the spotlight, they will start to return the favor,” Washington said. “It’s a way of showing you’re in the community, and saying look at what our neighbors are doing. And then your neighbors start doing that back.”
2 Do not be overly promotional. “Realize social media is a relationship, and not strict advertising,” said Washington. “We always want to be engaging and fun and not take ourselves too seriously. It’s great when we have social media contests to get people engaged. Studies have shown that pictures of cats and babies on Facebook get more attention than other posts,” Washington said. If your c-store donates to an animal rescue, for example, share photos of those animals.
While contests might win you comments and shares, Shankman warned, “contests don’t tend to attract people who buy, they attract people who want to win free (stuff).” Consider contests that drive followers into the store.
3 Get the basics right. “Be transparent. When you make a mistake, own it and move on,” Shankman said. Avoid spelling errors, and consider appropriateness and political correctness before posting.
Now let’s take a look at the best use of social media by convenience store companies in 2014.
Fan–Based Growth Awards
1 Most Overall Growth on Facebook and Twitter Combined
This award recognizes the chain that experienced the largest increase in both Facebook fans and Twitter followers in 2014. Results were tallied on Dec. 4 (Facebook) and Dec. 5 (Twitter) and compared to last year’s tally collected on Dec. 11 (Facebook) and 12 (Twitter).
Winner: 7-Eleven gained 211,497 new fans/followers on Facebook and Twitter combined in 2014. It grew 16,368 new followers on Twitter, and 195,129 new fans on Facebook.
Runner Up: Sheetz added 73,368 new fans on Facebook and gained 132,945 Twitter followers, for a combined increased social media reach of 206,313 new fans and followers in 2014.
Special Mention: Wawa grew 126,010 new Facebook fans in 2014 and 34,637 new Twitter fans for an increased reach of 160,647 new fans and followers in 2014.
2 Most Facebook Fan Growth Generated in 2014
This award recognizes the chain with the most fan growth percentage between Dec. 11, 2013 and Dec. 4, 2014. To be considered, chains must have a minimum of 10,000 Facebook fans.
Winner: RaceTrac: RaceTrac grew its Facebook base to 61,729 Facebook fans in 2014 from 26,261 Facebook fans in 2013, a 135% jump.
RaceTrac is a prime example of how a social media strategy can make a big difference. “Before this year we hadn’t really had a strategy for social media. It was more seeing what worked and what didn’t. 2014 was the first year we put some goals up about what we wanted engagement and growth to look like. And we worked with our agency partner to do some promoted social around our big campaigns—Sodapalooza and Free Coffee Week—which I think really helped with that growth and engagement as well,” said Ashleigh Womack, communications manager for RaceTrac.
Runner Up: NOCO Express, which changed its main Facebook URL from /NOCOExpress to /Likenoco grew to 19,577 in 2014 fans from 9,241 fans in 2013, a 112% leap.
“The change in URL names happened because up until this year NOCO had two Facebook pages. One for NOCO Express (the convenience store) and one for just NOCO (all of the company’s other divisions.) NOCO decided it was in its best interest to merge those pages and create one page that encompasses all the services and products NOCO provides,” said Mallory Haas, digital marketing manager for NOCO.
“That being said NOCO essentially kept its NOCOExpress Facebook page because that was the one with more likes, and asked fans over on the other page to like the “new” page, which was then changed to www.Facebook.com/LikeNOCO to keep things all encompassing.”
Special Mention: Maverik grew 99% to 32,967 fans in 2014 from 16,567 fans in 2013.
3 Most Twitter Follower Growth in 2014
This award recognizes the chain with the most follower growth percentage between Dec. 12, 2013 and Dec. 5, 2014. To be considered, a chain must have a minimum of 5,000 followers on Twitter.
Winner: Sheetz grew its Twitter followers a whopping 531% to 158,000 in 2014 from 25,055 in 2013.
Runner Up: QuikTrip grew its Twitter followers to 11,000 in 2014 from 3,649 in 2013, or 201%.
Special Mention: Wawa grew its Twitter followers to 61,400 in 2014 from 26,763 in 2013, or 129%.
4 Emerging Facebook Users With The Most Growth
This award recognizes emerging Facebook users with the highest growth percentage of Facebook fans in 2014.
For chains to be considered, they must have between 10 and 5,000 fans on Facebook. Results were tracked between Dec. 11, 2013 and Dec. 4, 2014.
Winner: Bolla Market grew to 3,276 fans in 2014 from 772 Facebook fans in 2013, or 324%.
Runner Up: Daily’s grew 245% to 4,798 fans in 2014 from 1,399 fans in 2013.
Special Mention: MotoMart grew to 3,441 fans in 2014 from 1,277 fans in 2013, or 169%.
5Emerging Twitter Users With The Most Growth
This award recognizes chains that have the most Twitter follower growth percentage among chains with more than 10 but fewer than 1,000 followers. Results compare Dec. 12, 2013 numbers to Dec. 5, 2014 numbers.
Winner: Daily’s grew to 272 followers in 2014 from 76 Twitter followers in 2013, or 258%
Runner Up: Rotten Robbies grew 157% to 247 in 2014 from 96 Twitter followers in 2013.
Special Mention: Bolla Market grew to 153 in 2014 from 80 followers in 2013, or 91%.
6 Customer Engagement On Twitter
This award recognizes the retailer with the highest number of Tweets overall, not just 2014. Numbers were compiled on Dec. 5, 2014.
Winner: Kum & Go, 20,700 tweets.
Runner Up: 7-Eleven, 15,200 tweets.
Special Mention: Wawa, 14,100 tweets.
Building fans and followers is important, but engaging with that audience is key. These awards point to specific things chains are doing well, looking at posts between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 5, 2014.
Most Engagement With A Single
Facebook Post or Promotion
Winner: Nice N Easy for its Word Puzzle
On July 28, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes posted a word puzzle on its Facebook page that got an overwhelming response. The graphic featured a game of hangman, i.e. a word with letters missing, and fans had to fill in the blank. The puzzle was ”_RET_ELS.” The post read, “Can you solve this puzzle? One random correct answer will win two tickets to Enchanted Forest Water Safari & two tickets to Calypso Cove. One random incorrect answer will win a $10 Nice N Easy Gift Card! Guess by 7/29/14 at 2 p.m.”
The post reached 103,488 viewers, even though Nice N Easy had fewer than 40,000 Facebook page likes at the time. What’s more, it received a whopping 4,130 comments, 530 likes on the post, an additional 234 likes on shares, 14,468 post clicks and 85 shares.
“This post surpassed 1,000 comments in less than an hour; and we haven’t reached 1,000 comments ever prior to that. I don’t think that many in the industry have seen 1,000 comments on a post; not since Facebook went public anyway and probably not in 60 minutes,” said Jared Sturtevant, supervisor of marketing communications for CST Brands Inc., which recently acquired Nice N Easy. “It was successful because it was simple, fun, engaging and encouraged people to answer, even intentionally incorrect. There was not a wrong answer and that led to some entertaining comments.”
Runner Up: Wawa. Wawa is a prime example of Shankman’s best practices advice to treat your customers so well they do your social media marketing for you.
On June 9, for example, Wawa posted a photo of Wawa strawberry & yogurt parfait and got 3,848 likes and 75 comments, plus 79 shares. And the chain frequently posts photos of its sandwiches, which quickly gain thousands of likes.
But this runner up mention goes to Wawa specifically for its Latte’s & More 101.
Wawa knows its fans love its coffee, and as Shankman advised us all, find out why your fans like you and give them more of that. On Oct. 15, Wawa shared a post on Facebook, giving fans an inside look at what makes Wawa specialty beverages so delicious with “Latte’s & More 101.” The post gained 3,122 likes, 59 comments and 83 shares. Fans didn’t merely comment—they sang Wawa’s praises. “Love my pumpkin spice latte,” wrote one fan. “Can’t go wrong with Wawa,” wrote another. “I love my Wawa regular coffees,” responded another.
Best At Encouraging Fan Engagement Creatively & Consistently
RaceTrac uses creativity and variety when interacting with fans, encouraging customer response instead of just posting at them. In October, RaceTrac began using Shout Outs to showcase the positive feedback it receives. “We’ve seen so much great feedback from our guests and we wanted an avenue to use that feedback and give our guests an opportunity to be featured on our Facebook page,” said Tamekia Massaline, associate manager of communications at RaceTrac Petroleum. “Our creative team does a great job visually displaying that feedback in word bubbles. Whenever we post a shout out we get great comments.”
RaceTrac also gains numerous likes, shares and comments from its weekly Breakfast Pack Monday giveaway. During the chain’s annual Sodapalooza campaign, it featured a snack pack giveaway on Facebook. It was so successful that during Free Coffee Week, Oct. 12-18, it added a breakfast pack giveaway to fit with coffee, to continue through the end of the year. The company also promoted its free coffee week this year with a countdown in-store and on social media. The Facebook post “Free Coffee Week Is Here” got 459 likes, 368 shares, and 41 comments from fans expressing their appreciation and tagging friends.
Runner Up: Parker’s
Parker’s is another chain that isn’t afraid to get creative on Facebook. Creative promotions include “Mystery Store Time,” where for a chance to win a Parker’s card, fans have to name the Parker’s location featured in a 10 second video.The posts have drawn hundreds of responses.
Once again Parker’s elf on the shelf Chewy is busy dangling around the c-store this holiday season, reminding guests of all the offerings Parker’s provides. Its “Tues-DAZE” promotion entices fans who love puzzles with a blurry product image—customers have to guess what it is. Parker’s also makes excellent use of videos, from a Parker’s gift card promotion video to a short video featuring favorite moments from a local community picnic that gained over 300 views. Even CEO Greg Parker and mascot Chewy Ice got in on the fun by taking the ALS ice bucket challenge that was captured in a Facebook video.
Cutest Holiday Promotion
Cute photos are sure to get likes and shares. Some chains are injecting that cuteness factor into winter promotions.
Winner: Rotten Robbies for its Bear Hug/Mystery Store promotion. “Bear No. 1 has his rain gear on as he prepares to leave soon for a short trip to a mystery station in #SanJose. First one to find the right station and say, ‘I want a bear hug!’ wins. Next location hint coming at 10:15 a.m. on Instagram,” read one such post.
The chain’s bear promotion is effective. Not only does it have the “cute” factor, it also engages fans with an interactive puzzle and it drives them into the store. The retailer also encourages Facebook fans to like it on other social platforms by posting the next clue on Instagram.
Runner Up: Stripes: 12 Days of Monkey
There are many c-store chains engaging fans with 12 Days of Christmas giveaways, but Stripes ups the cuteness factor with its 12 Days of Monkey, featuring a blue Monkey mascot.
Best Community-Specific Engagement
Winner: NOCO Express
When a winter storm hit Buffalo, N.Y. in November, NOCO took to Facebook to let fans know it felt their pain—posting photos of snow laden stations, and also let them know it was open to meet their needs.
In addition, NOCO uses its Facebook page to let fans know it’s part of the community, from local donations it makes to local news it shares. NOCO also teamed with Coca-Cola Buffalo to offer a local scavenger hunt, posting location clues on its Facebook page.