For the 11th consecutive year, CStore Decisions is celebrating convenience store chains standing out on social media for their creativity and engagement across platforms. The winners of the 2023 social media awards are brands that present a clear voice across social media platforms, understand their audience, have a clear strategy and know how to engage fans through unique and entertaining content.
For the third consecutive year, CStore Decisions has partnered with RivalIQ to determine the c-store chains that are best succeeding with their social media strategy. Seattle-based RivalIQ is a social media analytics software company that helps brands measure their social media engagement and benchmark their performance against their competition and their broader industry. In December 2021, RivalIQ was acquired by NetBase Quid, a global provider of consumer and marketing intelligence.
RivalIQ analyzed the performance of about 70 convenience store chains across Facebook (FB), Twitter, Instagram (IG) and TikTok from November 2021 to November 2022.
“We examined each channel individually and weighted scores across channels, both using engagement and engagement rates to determine our final rankings on each channel and for an overall winner,” noted Seth Bridges, founder of RivalIQ.
New this year, TikTok was added to the analysis. Some 50% of the brands included in the study were active on TikTok in some way in 2022, a huge increase from 2021 when only a handful of brands were active on the platform.
Best Overall Performance
For the third year in a row, Kwik Trip (KT) took first place in the overall category, which looks at performance across FB, Twitter, IG and TikTok.
“KT has been really consistent in their general approach. They continue to show that they understand their audience. They know success for them really means providing entertainment to their audience and to their fans,” Bridges said.
KT entertained fans with memes, self-deprecating Midwest jokes and battling other brands with witty comments. Bridges noted that KT’s Social Media Supervisor Paige Forde and the rest of the team are standing out by being the stars of their own KT-themed entertainment. KT is also upping its content game, publishing more TikToks and more Reels, particularly on IG, than the previous year.
“Just a tremendous performance from this team,” Bridges said. “They get social media. They understand the platforms, and they do understand what gets the laughs, what gets the engagement, what gets the comments, and they push on that.”
“We put engagement above all else when it comes to organic social content,” said David Jackson, digital marketing and loyalty manager for Kwik Trip Inc., which operates 850 locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Illinois. “At face value this sounds straightforward, but I think the execution of that takes a lot more strategy and effort. It means catering our messaging, tone and creative to the channel we’re on, while also ensuring it resonates with our fan base.”
That can mean intentionally using content that isn’t as polished, and less selling or promoting.
“That takes some trust (and freedom) across our entire organization to step out of our comfort zone when it comes to our social presence and takes a solid understanding that social channels are built to award reach with engagement,” Jackson said. “If you aren’t creating engaging content, you aren’t reaching your audience and the minuscule reach you do get is going to be tough to make an impact.”
Jackson’s favorite social media post of the year was an April Fools post that KT put out in partnership with Leinenkugel’s, introducing KT’s “beer in a bag,” which mimicked the chain’s existing (and real) milk in a bag. The post on Facebook amused fans. The post received 16,000 likes, 10,000 shares and 4,600 comments.
Jackson’s advice to other c-store chains is to constantly measure what they’re doing across all of their social media channels and to be honest about what’s working and what’s not. “Once you have a baseline, do less of what’s not performing and more of what is,” he said.
Runner-up Stewart’s Shops, headquartered in Ballston Spa, N.Y., took second place in the overall category, delivering a strong performance on all channels, scoring within the Top 6 across FB, TikTok and Instagram, and with a strong performance on Twitter as well.
“Being consistent across all your channels really, for me, indicates that you’re not just this flash in the pan success on one channel, but that your team again truly understands what it is you’re trying to achieve and then executing well across all these channels,” Bridges said.
Stewart’s Shops is well known for its Stewart’s ice cream, and many of its top posts were ice cream related across platforms.
TikTok is a relatively new addition for Stewart’s Shops, which it began this past summer, but it is already using popular trends and sounds and making them its own, Bridges noted.
“The team that’s doing the creation on TikTok clearly gets it, but also they feature ice cream on their TikTok content as well. So Stewart’s Shops knows what the people like, and clearly the team understands how to carry that through on the various social platforms,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean ice cream posts will be successful for all brands. “You have to find your unique strength and play to it,” Bridges advised. “And if that is something that gives your brand an advantage in your local market and it’s something people love, lean on it. You’ve got to lean on your uniqueness.”
Best Facebook Performance
Pilot Co., which operates more than 800 locations in 44 states and five Canadian provinces, took first place in the FB category. Bridges pointed out that Pilot found success by boosting specific posts to gain more reach.
“These days, not every brand, not every page is going to get a lot of organic reach on FB. In fact, most brands, unless you’ve been killing it on social media for a long time, are not going to get a lot of organic reach. But it doesn’t mean that your fans aren’t there. And it doesn’t mean that they won’t like your content, if they get a chance to see it. You just might need to pay a little bit to get it to them, and Pilot clearly gets that.” Bridges pointed out the chain appears to boost only about a quarter of posts that they know will resonate. “Kudos to Pilot for a nice strategy there,” he said.
Pilot earned a lot of engagement on posts around veterans and military appreciation. Pilot also celebrates the customers who come to its stores, such as professional drivers that drive trucks, rigs and ambulances, as well as first responders.
“A lot of content celebrating the work of these folks in the communities bubbled to the top,” Bridges said. The posts received thousands of shares, tons of comments and tons of engagement. “You don’t see people sharing content if they don’t believe in it,” he said.
Other posts that resonated with fans included Pilot’s announcements about partnering with General Motors on a network for fast chargers, and posts for social media holidays such as National Road Trip Day and National Coffee Day, with a promotion on the side.
“The team at Pilot did really well with all of these things,” Bridges said.
Pilot sees its Pilot Flying J social media channels, particularly FB, as a chance to connect with customers in an authentic way.
“Whether it be through content creation or community management, establishing touchpoints with our guests is always our goal,” said Lindsey Mingie, social media supervisor for Pilot Co. “We want to be a brand that people continue engaging with and, in turn, become a part of our community.”
Pilot’s “National Road Trip Day” campaign and giveaway asked followers where they were headed for their summer travels. “We had them comment back with a picture of their travels to enter for a chance to win $50,000 in prizes. We had an incredible response from guests, who loved sharing their experiences from across the country,” Mingie said.
Pilot strives to incorporate “real, authentic content that strikes meaningful conversation with followers.“
“We’ve seen a trend towards relatable stories, images and videos that are organic and often off-the-cuff vs. shot perfectly in a studio atmosphere,” Mingie said.
Each year, Pilot recognizes a professional driver on FB for its annual Pilot Flying J Road Warrior Contest, a competition recognizing drivers who stand out in the industry.
“This past September, we surprised David, a 50-year veteran driver with 5 million accident-free miles, with a $15,000 grand prize,” Mingie said. “I love reading the nominations and seeing well-deserving drivers like David be recognized for the impact they’ve made in their community and the trucking industry at large.”
FB runner-up KT doesn’t appear to be using the boosted post strategy.
“Part of the reason they’re able to do that and be successful is because they have been killing it on Facebook for a very long time,” Bridges said.
Their content on FB is similar to other channels — picking on Midwest brands and screenshotting posts or user posts from other channels and sharing to FB.
“One key thing that they’re doing is leveraging Reels and TikToks that perform well and using them on FB,” he said.
KT sees a lot of engagement in their comments, earning 137,000 comments on FB in 2022. “That’s like two times more than the next closest brands from a comment perspective,” Bridges said. “People love their KT and they’re in the comments, and that earns them more reach. But also what an incredible source of intelligence about what’s happening with your user base.”
Best Twitter Performance
For the third year running, Kum & Go, with more than 400 stores in 12 states, has claimed the top spot in the Twitter category. Bridges credits Kum & Go’s former Social Media Manager Ariel Rubin for growing that follower base and developing a brand voice on Twitter that leaned into the innuendo, into the name and into the clap backs that’s still benefiting the chain.
“This is like the Wendy’s of c-stores on Twitter,” Bridges said, noting the chain is salty, funny and on brand.
“Whoever took over the account really did a good job of keeping the main brand voice strong on Twitter,” Bridges noted. The brand resonated with fans with self-deprecating jokes and popular tweets about Gay Rights and other causes the brand owners are passionate about. They also pick battles with other brands.
Matt Riezman, director of brand marketing for Kum & Go, said the chain is continuously testing and learning when it comes to its engagement-first strategy.
“This year was no different — we learned a lot and uncovered lots of new areas where our fans want to engage with us,” Riezman said. “We dipped our toe into NIL (Name Image Likeness) deals with college athletes and had a lot of fun engaging with our fans on Twitter, who are also fans (or NOT fans) of certain teams and players.”
Kum & Go released its “Kum & Gay Rights” shirts that raised money for the Transgender Law Center due to overwhelming demand from fans, Riezman noted. “This work provided an outstanding opportunity for us to engage with our fans on Twitter, and beyond, on an issue that is important to our company values,” he said.
Runner-up Weigel’s, based in Powell, Tenn., started 2022 with only about 500 Twitter followers. The company started tweeting 10 times a week and replying to other accounts, and grew its following times 10 to 5,000 followers.
While 5,000 followers may not be huge in respect to some other large chains, Bridges pointed to the difficulty in growing a Twitter following from virtually nothing.
“I think that’s a tremendous accomplishment, and I’m sure they will continue to grow,” Bridges said. He added that Weigel’s saw a dynamic quadruple-digit growth in engagement in 2022 as well.
“I don’t know the team, but I’m saying that team sat in a strategy meeting at some point and said, ‘We’re going to commit to doing Twitter this year,’ and then they did it, and here’s the numbers (to show) they did it,” Bridges said.
Best Instagram Performance
Lake Jackson, Texas-based Buc-ees had the best performance on IG in 2022. Buc-ee’s doesn’t post often on IG, but still grew by 80% and ended the report with 185,000 followers. “On a percentage basis, that’s more than any other brand,” Bridges said.
Posts on new locations drove the most engagement, and Buc-ee’s earned more engagement per IG post than most other brands in the study.
Runner-up 7-Eleven, based in Irving, Texas, saw big growth on IG. “Now, they have a much larger account than Buc-ee’s. They grew more than 50%, and it brought them to almost 900,000 followers by the end of October. These huge audience growth numbers are not the norm for brands. We’re talking about single-digit percent follower growth for most brands. And that goes even beyond talking about c-stores,” Bridges said.
7-Eleven’s “Cars of 7-Eleven” campaign, a huge driver of its success, featured user-generated content of people’s cars parked in front of 7-Eleven.
“7-Eleven is doing these carousel posts where they are featuring the cars at 7-Eleven and they’re tagging all the owners or the folks who contributed the content,” Bridges said. “They had a post that just blew up in November (of 2021), and they went with it. So now, they’re doing about six posts a month in this campaign, and they did (about 75) in the whole year.”
The 75 car posts earned about 3.7 million likes and comments. “Their other 130 some odd posts together did about 2 million. This team saw that at some point,” Bridges said. “They found the community, they found the niche, and the comments are hilarious.”
Best TikTok Performance
KT won for the TikTok category, and Kum & Go took second place as runner-up.
“Both of these brands have relatively large followings in this group. They’re both in that about 150,000-170,000 followers (range) and they both grew their audience,” Bridges said.
Both brands publish frequently, had about a 35% increase in posts and post a video about every other day.
For KT, more fans and increased posting brought about 70% more engagement, Bridges said. KT received about 1.4 million likes, comments and shares in this past year. Consistent video output of 15-20 videos a month, as well as viral content, gave KT the edge.
Kum & Go saw success with a campaign interviewing people while they filled their tanks, offering free gas if they answered heartfelt questions such as “What do you really love about yourself?”
“Those were all their top TikToks for the year. They really are what was driving a lot of the huge view and engagement numbers for Kum & Go,” Bridges said. The videos gained 6,000-10,000 views each, but some videos gained upwards of 100,000 views.
“We joined TikTok back in 2020, and I’d say our strategy isn’t any different than our other channels, but the execution and content creation is at an entirely different level,” KT’s Jackson said. “Moving from content that was mostly static with an occasional video to a platform looking for 100% video content was a huge leap that we went all in with. We were able to do this thanks to our amazing team. …”
Jackson noted that TikTok is much more demanding for social media teams compared to other platforms. “This isn’t like joining Twitter or IG; it’s an entirely different structure and process that can’t be propped up by repurposing content across your other channels,” Jackson said.
Chains not only have the challenge of creating compelling video content, but they also need to feature an individual on camera.
“Those of us brands who have made it to TikTok need to be giving their social media team members some major praise because it takes some talented individuals to be willing to jump in front of that camera and even more talent to do it in a way that connects with a passionate fanbase,” Jackson said.
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