The 2014 Social Media Awards

Convenience Store Decisions’ second annual look at the convenience store chains doing a superior job of connecting with their customers through social media.

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor

Convenience Store Decisions, with help from Wildfire by Google, examined the nearly 60 convenience store and petroleum chains that are most active on social media, specifically examining Facebook and Twitter to compile the second annual Social Media awards.

CSD is recognizing c-stores in a range of categories this year using best practice bench markers as identified by newBrandAnalytics, a global provider of social media intelligence. The statistics we tracked range from fan and follower growth rate percentage in 2013 on Facebook and Twitter, to acknowledging chains that are using innovative methods to engage their social media base.

Ahead in 2014
socialmediaAs data analysis becomes increasingly sophisticated, retailers are becoming savvy to the fact that they need to do more than just monitor their social media pages. “Any business that still thinks it can ignore online feedback will have to think again in 2014,” said Susan Ganeshan, chief marketing officer for newBrandAnalytics. In 2014, look for social media tools offering the store-level customer relationship management (CRM) it takes to gain and keep loyal customers.

Simply looking at volume and impressions isn’t going to be enough anymore in the new year. “What consumers have switched to is providing highly constructive feedback, which needs to be operationalized,” Ganeshan said.

Already some of the best brands are using data from social media and applying that data to improve their operations. “They are doing an operations analysis down to what action they can take based on the feedback they are receiving from social media engagement, and then distributing the data to the people who can actually do something with it—getting information to the management team, the people who deal with marketing/promotion/placement of products,” Ganeshan said. “This is about getting data to the general managers of each store location and providing them with insights that tell them what they need to focus on to best meet the needs of their customers right now.”

And when you consider how many people are using social media, you can appreciate just how big your opportunity is to connect with your customers. For example, Facebook reported in October that it had 1.19 billion active monthly users. In December, Twitter reported it had one billion registered users, about one-quarter of which are active users.

Before chains can leverage feedback, it’s crucial to build your social media base. CSD is therefore recognizing chains that have succeeded in boosting their fan and follower numbers in 2013.

FAN-BASED GROWTH AWARDS

Most Overall Growth on Facebook and Twitter Combined
This award recognizes the chain that gained the biggest increase in both Facebook (FB) fans and Twitter followers in 2013. Results were tallied on Dec. 11 (FB) and Dec. 12 (Twitter) and compared to last year’s numbers compiled on Dec. 5, 2012.

SHEETZWinner: Sheetz
• Grew 566,059 new Facebook (FB) page fans, and 13,793 Twitter followers in 2013 for an increased social media reach of 579,852 fans/followers.
Sheetz has done a superior job of not only expanding its social media reach, but of leveraging organic growth.

“Our Facebook page was actually created by a very loyal group of fans, which was a result of tremendous organic growth,” said Ashley Sheetz, social media manager for the Altoona, Pa.-based chain. “When we acquired ownership of the page, there were already more than 90,000 likes. In 2013, we utilized a combination of paid media support and focused engaging content to help boost our already growing fan base. Our goal was to reach 1,000,000 fans on our page and we were very excited when this vision became a reality on May 4.”

Second Place: 7-Eleven
• Grew 555,547 new FB page fans and 8,408 new Twitter followers for a reach of 563,955 new fans/followers.

Third Place:  Wawa
• Grew 153,218 new FB fans and 17,047 Twitter followers for a total of 170,265 new fans/followers.

Most Facebook Fan Growth in 2013
This award recognizes the chain with the most fan growth percentage between Dec. 5, 2012 and Dec. 11, 2013. To be considered, chains must also have at least 10,000 FB fans.

Winner: Toot N Totum  
• Grew its FB base from 2,830 fans in 2012 to 11,053 in 2013, a growth of 8,223 fans (291% growth).

Second Place: Stripes   
• Grew from 18,363 fans to 71,320 for a growth of 52,957 fans (288%).

Third Place: Kwik Trip 
• Grew from 59,885 to 197,076, a growth of 137,191 fans (229%).

Most Twitter Follower Growth in 2013
This award recognizes the chain with the most follower growth percentage between Dec. 5, 2012 and Dec. 12, 2013 on Twitter. To be considered, chains also must have at least 5,000 followers.

Winner: Pilot Flying J
• Grew from 175 followers to 7,945 followers, a growth of 7,770 (4,440%).

Second Place: MAPCO
• Grew from 617 followers to 6,457 followers, a growth of 5,840 (947%).

Third Place: Wawa
• Grew from 9,716 followers to 26,763 followers, a growth of 17,047 (175%).

Emerging Facebook Users with the Most Fan Growth
While some chains have been thriving in the social media game for years, others are just turning their attention to boosting their fan count and engaging their base. This award recognizes chains that have the most FB fan based growth percentage among chains with fewer than 5,000 fans. Results compare Dec. 5, 2012 numbers to Dec. 11, 2013.

Winner: Jiffy Trip
• Grew from 61 fans in 2012 to 265 in 2013, an increase of 204 (334%).

Second Place: Road Runner Markets   
• Grew from 1,450 to 4,315, a growth of 2,865 (198%)

Third Place: High’s Dairy     
• Grew from 367 to 906 likes, a growth of 539 (147%).

Emerging Twitter Users with the Most Growth
This award recognizes chains that have the most Twitter follower growth percentage among chains with fewer than 1,000 followers. Results compare Dec. 5, 2012 numbers to Dec. 12, 2013. 

Winner: Toot N Totum
• Grew from 86 followers to 524 followers, a growth of 438 followers, (509%). 

Second Place: Rotten Robbies:
• Grew from 25 followers to 96 followers, a growth of 71 followers, (284%).

Third Place: Road Runner Markets
• Grew from 60 followers to 125 followers, an increase of 65 followers, (108%).

ENGAGEMENT AWARDS

Customer Engagement On Facebook
Using Wildfire by Google, CSD measured each chain’s FB engagement rate growth over the past three months ended Dec. 17, 2013. A page’s engagement rate is calculated by dividing its “People Talking About This” metric by its total number of fans (page likes).

Winner: Bolla Markets
• Engagement rate: Up 1,116.67% over the past three months.

Second Place: Tri Star Energy’s Daily’s
• Engagement rate: Up 522.22% over the past three months.

Third Place: Zarco USA
• Engagement rate: Up 400% over the past three months.

Customer Engagement Twitter
This award recognizes the chain with the most overall Tweets. It measures total all-time tweets—not just 2013—as compiled on Dec. 12, 2013.

Winner: Kum & Go with 14,484 tweets.

Second Place: Cumberland Farms with 8,899 tweets.

Third Place: Circle K with 6,557 tweets. Circle K breaks its pages out by region. For the purposes of this study, CSD looked at Circle K via the regions listed on its company Website: Midwest, Arizona, West, Florida, Southwest and Great Lakes and tallied the results together. Circle K Arizona had 4,737 tweets, Circle K Midwest had 12 tweets, Circle K Southwest 1,808 tweets for a grand total of 6,557 tweets.

How To Engage
While it’s vital to engage customers, how you interact with them can grow or hurt your business.

“What many businesses don’t realize is that it is just as effective to engage with positive reviews as it is with negative reviewers,” Ganeshan said. “Take someone who is mostly positive about your business and engage to lock them into a level of brand loyalty you’ve never experienced before.”

If someone raves about your sandwich, thank them for sharing their experience and letting their friends know, and tell them you look forward to their return to your store. If your organization lacks the time to engage on this level, consider pushing some of that responsibility out to your general managers and ask them to spend 10 minutes a day replying, Ganeshan advised.

By now, most businesses know that when customers comment negatively, it’s important to engage them quickly, publicly acknowledging the complaint and then solving the issue offline.

“Some of the mistakes we see businesses make is they tell someone complaining on Twitter to direct message them, but unless you are following them, they aren’t able to direct message you, so be sure to do that process in the right way so they have the avenue to get back to you. Or give them a customer-support type email you are able to share online,” Ganeshan noted.

Meanwhile on FB, it’s important to keep your tone in line with your brand image even when apologizing. If on FB someone complains and your image is “approachable,” then continue that informal vibe in your response, such as ‘So sorry you had that experience dude….’ and keep it in that brand message language, ” Ganeshan said. 

SOCIAL MEDIA SHOUT OUTS

Best at Asking Customers to Respond/Engage:
According to newBrandAnalytics, one of the best ways to get customers to post commentary and share images is to simply ask them. The result is more interaction with your fan base. Trivia, open-ended questions and photos that are sure to resonate with customers with a “share if” request are a few of the ways chains can drive this interaction. 

Winner: Tedeschi Food Shops
• Tedeschi is doing a solid job of engaging fans with questions and photos, which they encourage their fans to share. For example, to promote a Patriots football game, the chain posted an image that read: “Pats vs Panthers, tonight like and share if you’re ready for our 8th win.” The image gained 209 likes. With an array of response seeking questions Tedeschi knows how to keep fans conversing, while at times gaining valuable feedback about their shopping preferences.

The practice also allows Tedeshi to keep its products and promotions top of mind for customers without blatant promoting. Some examples include: “What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?” “What will you do with your free sparkling ice this Friday?” and “Battle of the Soups, Clam Chowder vs. Broccoli Cheddar, which is better?”

Runner Up: Family Express
Family Express keeps fans engaged by asking for their responses. For example, the chain at Thanksgiving asked its followers, “How do you make your turkey?” and “What is the best recipe for these leftovers?” The chain also engages fans with local store photos featuring everyday shoppers.

Best Following The 4-1-1 Rule of Useful Information
The key to engagement is keeping the information you provide relevant to customers rather than just advertising your brand and promoting products.
The 4-1-1 strategy says to post at least four pieces of fun or educational information and engage in one conversation (such as a retweet or a reply) for every self-promoting post on your page. This award recognizes the chain most excelling at this practice.

“Let’s say your chain operates stores near where a NASCAR event is being held. You might post about what time the gates open and close, where the best parking can be found around those events, what tailgating rules apply—four pieces of useful information—then you can hit them with the soft sell and then a harder sell,” Ganeshan said. The “useful” mandate can also extend to photos, game scores or stats, and it’s likely to vary depending on fan base.

Winner: Zarco USA
• Zarco is doing a superior job of providing fun and useful information, such as using cat pictures and memes, educating customers on flex fuels, and providing Super Bowl facts around the big game.

“In 2013, we changed our focus for our social media marketing strategy,” said Travis Moore, marketing director for Zarco USA. “We wanted to make it more engaging, fun and interactive. We realized people didn’t want to hear sales pitch after sales pitch—social media is for social engagement and fun.”

 Zarco decided to change its strategy when it realized posts that offered a coupon or blurted “Hey, buy this,” weren’t reaching a wide enough audience. “We found pictures and memes had a higher success rate than simple posts. People were more likely to click ‘like,’ comment or share an image rather than a simple text post,” Moore noted.

Zarco has also engaged local fans by giving away two free tickets to every home game for a local minor league baseball team. “That created a lot of engagement,” Moore said. Free car wash giveaways also garnered attention.

Runner Up: Ricker’s
• Ricker’s keeps information fun for its FB fans by posting game scores for the Indiana Pacers. It also provides useful information, such as about a radiothon for the Salvation Army and a job fare for c-store workers seeking employment.

Best Customer Encouragement
This award recognizes chains that are actively encouraging fans to engage in innovative ways. Not only are they asking questions, requesting shares, and providing useful information—they’re going a step further to find new and fun ways to actively seek engagement with their customer base on Facebook.

Winner: Flash Foods
Flash Foods closed out 2013 by testing a 12-days of Xmas promotion, but it also entertains fans with funny photos about Monday mornings. On Throw Back Thursdays it reminds fans of popular things from years past. It finds fun ways to resonate with its customers. For example, a photo of kids playing under a parachute with the title “best day at the gym ever” garnered 72 likes and multiple shares—proof you can engage with fans without c-store centric promoting.
“This was our first year testing a 12-Days of Christmas promotion,” said Jeannie Amerson, advertising and loyalty manager at the Jones Co./Flash Foods. “We ran the promotion over a 12-day period where we gave away prizes every other day or so, and it did really well. Momentum built throughout the week as fans continued to come back and shared with their friends. We gave away Flash Foods gift cards, which are always a big winner for us because we’re engaging our customers and they’re getting something for free, but then they’re also coming into our stores to shop with us and use that gift card.”

Now that they know their fans are interested, Flash Foods plans to run the promotion again in 2014 for a longer period of time.

Along with gift cards, the chain also gave away Flash Foods and vendor-branded items. “In the last few years, vendors have become a lot more approachable and supportive regarding these types of promotions online versus just in-store promotions than they were in the past, so it’s easier to get products and promotional items donated for that,” Amerson noted.

Amerson has seen firsthand that social media engagement drops if the chain is just promoting as opposed to offering exciting ways to interact with fans, so the chain now focuses on keeping the fun going. “For us, social media is about building our brand and relationships with our customers so they visit our stores. We’re not promoting constantly because nobody wants to be sold to 24/7, but we do try to find the balance between posting promotions and having fun,” she said.

The two promotions that created the most engagement with fans centered around a guessing game. In 2012, the chain featured a jellybean guessing game where fans guessed how many jellybeans were in the container. Due to its success, Flash Foods repeated the promotion this year around Halloween using candy corn. “We had over 35,000 impressions and over 1,200 comments,” Amerson said.

But for Flash Foods, engaging with the right fans is even more important than just gaining likes, shares and followers. “Engaging with a man in California doesn’t help us because our stores are in Georgia and Florida. We’ve worked hard to do things that specifically resonate with our local customer base,” Amerson said.

Runner Up:  Pilot Flying J
Pilot Flying J has endured a difficult year on the legal front, but it has made remarkable strides engaging customers. The company runs a photo of the week contest and has also been inviting truck drivers to share photos of the part of the country they are driving through. As a travel stop that caters to professional truckers, the photos garnered a high response, as well as comments, shares and likes.

The chain also offers road safety tips. A recent post noting, “With extreme winter weather affecting large portions of our country this week, please use caution and be safe traveling on icy roads” received 271 likes and 19 shares.

Most Original Holiday Promotion
Holidays offer a perfect opportunity for chains to engage with their fans in fun and creative ways. This award recognizes chains that used a fun and innovative promotion to engage with fans during the December 2013 holiday season that also helped indirectly promote their in-store goods.

Winner: Parker’s Markets
Parker’s has joined the popular “elf on the shelf” tradition loved by parents of small children. Chewy, the c-store chain’s elf, is featured in photos on its FB page with the elf appearing around the store scratching off lottery tickets, dangling upside down in the beer cooler and balancing on cookies in the snacks aisle. The result is a cute, festive and engaging way to alert customers to store offerings without blatant promotion.

Runner Up: Kangaroo Express
During the winter holidays Kangaroo Express engaged customers with RooCipies. While many companies are encouraging customers to share recipes, Kangaroo Express takes it a step further by encouraging customers to share recipes made using only ingredients found at Kangaroo Express. The result is an exciting competition for social media followers that also indirectly alerts its customer base to the array of products offered and new ways to enjoy them. 
CSD congratulates all of our 2013 social media award winners.

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