Get Social

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Today’s consumers are flocking to social media. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn alone have hundreds of millions of users. Add in sites such as Foursquare, Yelp and deal-of-the-day websites, and those numbers continue to grow. That means that businesses not involved in social media are at a competitive disadvantage. Yet smart retailers aren’t just using social media as a way to promote their business, they’re using it to be a part of the conversation.

“It is a way to communicate back and forth with our customers and to get feedback on what is right or wrong,” said, Bob Reichelderfer, food service manager at Johnson’s Corner in Loveland, Colo. Johnson’s Corner is active in Facebook and has more than 1,550 likes on its page.

Word of mouth marketing has always taken place, and now social media brings it out into the open and let’s retailers take part in it. As of Feb. 4, there were more than 845 million active users on Facebook, and more than half of those users log onto the site on any given day. In September, Twitter Chief Executive Officer Dick Costolo said the site has more than 100 million active users. LinkedIn also boasts over 100 million users.

Because there are several social media sites out there, operators need to choose where to focus their efforts.

Alexis Grant, a social media consultant, advises her clients to focus on two or three social media outlets, but not to try and be everywhere at once. “If you try to be everywhere, you can’t focus on those platforms to get where you need to be,” she said.

She suggests all retailers join Facebook. “Beyond Facebook, I recommend looking at where your potential customers hangout. It could be on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube or Flickr,” Grant said. “Then go beyond those big five and look for a niche network.” Those networks may include a web forum or a Facebook group.

NATSO Website Extra!

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Click below to access direct links to the social media sites mentioned in the article:

Social Media Sites:
FacebookTwitterLinkedInFoursquareYelp and Flickr

NATSO Member Social Media Sites:
Johnson's Corner Facebook Page 
Johnson's Corner Twitter Page
Iowa80 Group Facebook Page

Keep your page active
Heather DeBaillie, marketing manager for Iowa 80 Group, helps manage the company’s Facebook page, which has more than 1,600 likes. She posts about once a week and creates a calendar to organize her posts. “We try to mix it up with straight information and with something fun,” DeBaillie said. “We don’t want to post too often and we want to make sure what we’re posting is relevant.”

DeBaillie told Stop Watch she suggests operators post items that will encourage customer feedback. “Pose a question to them — ask what their favorite item on our your menu is,” she said. Johnson’s Corner held a contest on its Facebook page and allowed fans to vote on their next cinnamon roll flavor. The winner? Bacon.

“The response was really good, but more importantly, it got a lot of people talking about it,” Reichelderfer said.

If you’re going to have a page on a social media site, it is important to keep it active. DeBaillie receives alerts from social media sites on her Blackberry. “Even when I’m not at the office on my computer, I can link to it and see what is posted,” she said.

Acknowledging positive feedback is as important as addressing negative feedback. “I always advise my clients to respond to positive feedback and share it,” Grant said. “That is an extra step people sometimes forget to take.”

Address negative comments
DeBaillie spends a good amount of time responding to positive feedback, but the occasional negative comment does arise. “You want to take care of the issue and also let other people know you’re taking care of the issue,” she said.

Every situation can be different, so retailers shouldn’t try to implement hard and fast rules when addressing negative social media comments, but many businesses make the mistake of not responding at all or deleting negative feedback.

“Social media gives you an opportunity to talk about that head on rather than avoiding it,” Grant said, adding that negative feedback also gives businesses an opportunity to provide excellent customer service. “Use it to show people that you’re human and give them a solution to their problems,” Grant said.

DeBaillie said she never deletes a negative comment. “It is important to leave those up there because when you delete them, people know that and they think you’re trying to hide something,” she said.

When addressing negative comments, time is of the essence. Jumping in and acknowledging the concern quickly can reduce the chance of additional negative comments. Responding publicly also shows other users in the online community that the retailer takes complaints seriously.

“A lot of times we’ll respond and say, ‘We’re sorry you had that experience, please call us’ and we give them the main number,” DeBaillie said. “You can send a message [via Facebook] and we’ve done that.”

Referring to negative comments, Reichelderfer said, “We may post a public response or respond to people privately and try to solve the problem. It varies.”

No matter how you respond, DeBaillie said it is important to remember that anyone online can cut and paste your information and share it in other places, so post carefully.

Monitor review sites
Yelp, a social media site where users leave reviews on local businesses, acknowledges that negative reviews “can feel like a punch in the gut. The good news is that by contacting your reviewer and establishing a genuine human relationship, you have a chance to help the situation and maybe even change this customer’s perspective for the better.”

Johnson’s Corner is active on Yelp and has used its Facebook page to ask fans to post reviews on the site. As of the fourth quarter in 2011, more than 66 million people had visited Yelp in the past 30 days.

Yelp advises businesses to remember that their reviewers are paying customers, human beings with feelings and sensitivities, and vocal and opinionated.

“When contacting a positive reviewer, your purpose should be simply to deliver a human thank you and let them know you care. That’s it,” the website said. “Remember, this customer already likes your business — just use this opportunity to thank them and introduce yourself.”

In addition to utilizing Facebook and Yelp, Johnson’s Corner automatically feeds its Facebook updates onto Twitter. Several employees at Johnson’s Corner create status updates. “Once you get used to it, it takes about 10 minutes a day to read what’s there and respond to it,” Reichelderfer said.

For Johnson’s Corner, social media is a way to reach out to its current customer base and engage the younger generation. “If you walk in our dining room at any given time, they’ve all got grey hair. We want to make sure we’re getting to this next generation, and they’re not the ones reading the newspaper or listening to talk radio where we advertise,” Reichelderfer said.

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Join the conversation! Do you have a stellar blog, Facebook page or other social networking site? Or have you seen a member of the truckstop community excelling at social media? Tell us about it in the comments below.  

Operators Learned More at The NATSO Show
Operators who were ready to take their social media efforts to the next level, took advantage of retailing expert Rick Segel at The NATSO Show. During the Human Library, show attendees were able to “check out” Segel and had him review their website and social media outreach and gave them practical advice for taking their efforts to the next level.

Operators were also able to take part in a breakout session — Using Social Media to Connect, Monitor and Analyze. The session gave operators insight into how to monitor their online reputation and develop and execute a strategy for connecting with customers. For learning opportunities like this and more, save the date now for The NATSO Show 2013, Feb. 3-7, in Savannah, Ga.

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This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.

The magazine is mailed to NATSO members bimonthly. If you are a member and not receiving Stop Watchsubmit a request to be added to the mailing list. Not a memberJoin today or submit a request to receive additional information.

Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More
Source:
Stop Watch Magazine
Retailer Featured:
Iowa 80 GroupJohnson’s Corner Truckstop

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