By Sarah Hamaker
How do you get a customer to sing for his supper? Post on Facebook that the first person to come into the store and sing "On Top of Spaghetti" will win a free lunch of â€" you guessed it â€" spaghetti and meatballs.
"When posting [on Facebook] about the dayâ€™s special I had that silly Girl Scout song about the meatball rolling out the door on my mind, so then I said the first person to sing that song to me would get free lunch," said Kelly GraÂham, owner of Snuffyâ€™s General Store in Blacksburg, Virginia. "Sure enough, it didnâ€™t take long before someone was in here singing."
As Snuffyâ€™s has found, Facebook provides an inexpensive yet extremely successful way for convenience stores to connect with customers. Whatâ€™s even more important for the small, inÂdependent retailer, Facebook also can be a cost-effective and highly profitÂable marketing tool.
"Weâ€™re a small store and itâ€™s hard for us to do advertising. Facebook helps us get our name out to people," said Jeff Wise, manager of Wise Choice Convenience Store in Rockville, VirÂginia. The Wise Choice Facebook page, launched about 18 months ago, has around 260 "likes."
Wise keeps track of its customer comments by checking Facebook at least twice a week. "Sometimes they will post feedback about a good or bad experience," he said. "For the most part, weâ€™ve had positive feedback."
Wise responds to each comment by thanking the writer for the input and addressing any concerns. Customer enÂdorsements can build goodwill for the store, especially ones like this one left on the Wise Choice page from an EngÂlish tourist: "That was the best fried chicken EVER. Better than anything in the U.K. and the states to date!!"
The social media site also gives retailÂers a forum to develop customer loyalty by allowing a back-and-forth dialogue. Said Graham: "We get customer comÂments about our food, such as lunch special requests, or suggestions, such as asking us to produce t-shirts, which weâ€™re working on." Snuffyâ€™s has built up its page to about 325 "likes" so far.
Having an open discussion also means supervising customer comments on a regular basis. "We monitor customer comments and try to respond in a posiÂtive way to each one," said Graham. "We really havenâ€™t had any complaints but I know thereâ€™s good to be had [by proÂviding] public apology and a way to fix a problem so that everyone sees youâ€™re sincere and wanting to give the best cusÂtomer service possible."
To garner more customer interaction online, Snuffyâ€™s and Wise Choice have signs in the store advertising their Facebook presence, and both say employees are instructed to direct customers to the storeâ€™s Facebook page when appropriate.
Not knowing what to post and how ofÂten to post might be one reason some convenience stores are reluctant to start a Facebook page. But these retailÂers advise starting with posting your daily or weekly specials for things like milk, food and gas prices.
"Typically, we just post our lunch speÂcials," said Wise. "In the winter, when our area had a big snow, we posted that we would be open. After a hurricane last summer when the area had a shortage of ice, we let people know we had ice."
The Broadmoor Convenience Store in Caledonia, Michigan, focuses its Facebook postings on food specials. For example, one recent post featured photographs of an employee making pizza, one of the storeâ€™s specialties. "We use Facebook to make people aware of what we have available in the way of food," said Kristin Harrington, who updates the storeâ€™s page.
Snuffyâ€™s uses Facebook to advertise its daily food offerings. "If we have extra dessert after a food special ran, and we need to sell it or give it away to create some excitement, weâ€™ll post it on Facebook and that helps us create awareness very quickly."
Posting photos generates interÂest, too. Graham said she often snaps pictures to put on Facebook of whatâ€™s going on at the store, from lunch speÂcials to a crowd of customers enjoy the warm weather on the storeâ€™s porch. "For instance, over Super Bowl weekÂend, we had a completely imprompÂtu jam session with customers who brought their instruments to the store and sat around playing," said Graham. "I immediately grabbed my camera, took photos and updated our page."
Being on Facebook means making sure that the page is updated frequently to ensure customers will visit and revisit the page â€" and your store. But these retailers all acknowledge that the time commitment, while minimal, can be hard to maintain.
"I think itâ€™s expected now for retailÂers to have a Facebook page," said GraÂham. She encourages retailers to just do it. "Itâ€™s simple and easy to do, and it can be a benefit almost immediately," she said. "Why wouldnâ€™t you do it?"
"I think Facebook could be a real asset for a convenience store," added Wise. "Some convenience store pages are more elaborate than what we have, but itâ€™s an easy way to let people know about your store. Especially for a small business that doesnâ€™t have the adverÂtising budget, Facebook is a cost-effecÂtive way to get your name out there."
Sarah Hamaker is a NACS Magazine and NACS Daily contributing writer. Visit her online at sarahhamaker.com.
Bring cohesion to your messaging. What role does your business play in the lives of the people who have "liked" you on Facebook? Itâ€™s probÂably more than their daily dose of jokes. Donâ€™t drop those entirely but do post content that connects what you do to human-interest topics, such as local weather, suggestions on the best weekend things to do or even the occasional discount offer. Think about how your audiÂence might relate to your business in their personal lives and you will find content-worthy points of intersection.Â
Post more rich media â€" it gets the highest engagement and itâ€™s more likely to be shared. Rich media (photos and video) can be expensive to produce, but there are cost-effecÂtive alternatives. Share content from other websites that would be of interest to your consumers. Look for someone within your company who possesses a decent camera and an eye to match, or ask your consumers to get involved.
Post more content during non-business hours. Part of content strategy involves understanding what mindset people are in when they read your content. And someone sitting around on a Sunday afternoon might be in just the right frame of mind.
Social media has made it easier to gauge whatâ€™s of interest to your customers. And the more you know about what interests them, the more likely you are to create conÂtent that tightens the relationship they have with your brand.