Social Media And The C-Store

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the NACS Leadership Forum in Miami.  I think the Forum is one of the best programs that NACS puts on as it brings retail leaders from the c-store industry together with suppliers in an atmosphere of thought provoking conversations and presentations.  Last year I had the honor or moderating the conference.  While we had speakers on a variety of topics the sessions that stick with me the most were the ones dedicated to social media and its use in our industry.  There are several companies who are doing outstanding and innovative work in this area including Maverick, Wawa, Sheetz, and Kwik Trip.

What impressed me most was that these companies were not using social media just to push its messages to their customers but also to pull customers in.  What I mean by this is that the “traditional” social media method (if you can call something that has only been in existence for about five years “traditional”) was that social media is used to tell people about promotions, special events, information about the company.

The social media leaders I mentioned are doing that but also providing ways for the customer to become more involved with the media and the brand.  Competitions are put online where the winner gets something of value at the store.  Real customers are given the opportunity to tell their stories and how the chain had helped them in their everyday life.  Stores create a personality by highlighting their employees and allowing customers to identify not only with the brand but with an individual store.

All of these points of contact create “hooks” that cause the customer to stick to the brand.  The deeper the emotional attachment the greater the customer loyalty.  What is your hook?

At this year’s Forum Arco am/pm gave a presentation on its social media program.  They created online games that not only provided store based prizes but also encouraged players to return to the site repeatedly to win more prizes.  It is a very clever use of the gaming model to create customer loyalty.

But that was not all that Arco am/pm does.  They also monitor all of the major social media sites (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Foursquare) on almost a twenty four hours basis responding to any mention of am/pm with some type of follow up.  As the presenter said – they want people to know that am/pm is listening.

I know that not all of us have the resources, infrastructure, or store count to do what am/pm does and, frankly, I’m a bit of a social media doubter in regards to the convenience channel.  But what I do strongly believe is that if you are going to venture into the social media realm you need to do it right – fully and continuously – so that you create your own voice and identity and provide your customer with a hook to latch onto.

This will be a topic that we will continue to come back to over the upcoming months as we, as an industry, try to catch up with the technological prowess of our customers.