For years truckstop and travel plaza operators have relied on paid advertising to attract their local customer base, but now a growing number are turning to social media to promote specials and build relationships. Whether they’re logging on from smartphones or signing on at home or work, today’s customers are plugged into social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Yelp have hundreds of millions of users. For retailers the sites are a way to promote their business and also a way for them to be a part of the conversation.
Johnson’s Corner, Johnstown, Colo., has embraced social media and uses it daily. The company has over 3,100 likes on its Facebook page, which is uses to poll customers, promote catering, share specials and create conversations.
“We have a wide, wide range of people on our Facebook. We have people that live here, truckers, families that used to live here and even younger generations, and we try to engage certain aspects for each one,” said Sabrina Missimer, a social media consultant who works with Johnson’s Corner. “It is trying to keep in contact with each one of our demographics. As a restaurant and a truckstop, our demographic is everything. We have our hand in every social media possible.”
Johnson’s Corner poses questions on Facebook. “We’ll ask, ‘How long have you traveled today’ or let them pick the flavor-of-the-month cinnamon roll,” Missimer said. “We even have little kids writing in and making up their own names for the cinnamon rolls.”
Johnson’s Corner recently held a Facebook contest asking who wanted a dozen cinnamon rolls and why. “That response was overwhelming. There were people that were funny and very sincere and very honest. We decided it was going to be hard to choose, so we decided to have five different categories,” Missimer said. “It is just as much fun for us as the Facebook people.”
Facebook is one of several social media sites where customers can check in, which not only allows them to tell their friends where they are, it can also allow them to take advantage of special offers.
“We’re finding that when people are going to truckstops, a lot of them like to check in. Facebook Places is one place they check in and so is Foursquare,” said Nick Damoulakis, co-founder of the web-design firm Orases and a featured expert in The NATSO Show 2013 Human Library.
He added that Facebook garners more traffic than Foursquare.
Not only are customers using social media to connect with businesses, they’re also using it to check them out ahead of time. Yelp, Google and other sites allow customers to leave public reviews.
“For us, Yelp is huge. It is the same with Google Reviews,” Missimer said.
Damoulakis said business owners should claim their pages on the sites and regularly check reviews. “Whether people like it or not, people are leaving reviews about the businesses,” he said.
Damoulakis said most of the traveling public and locals are normally talking about the food when they’re talking about a truckstop and identify most with the restaurant, so it makes sense to have two different social media accounts.
While Griffith is involved with social media, she said finding the time to keep the accounts current can be difficult. “I hired a company called Mood Media to manage our accounts. They are part of Muzak, which supplies music throughout our facility,” she said, adding that she pays about $50 a month to the company. “I will forward any specials or information we would like to post to our Mood Media contact and she creates the post.”
Each month Mood Media sends Griffith a report, so she can see her web traffic and the number of social media posts.
In addition to the social media sites Johnson’s Corner takes advantage of, the company also offers an app that sends out dinner specials, shows attractions and events around truckstop, lets truckers get in touch with the parts department and allows drivers to check the weather. They can even interact with each other. “It is like a Facebook, but it is not,” Missimer said.
Social media can sometimes seem overwhelming. To break it down into bite-size pieces, Missimer suggests operators identify the demographic they’d like reach the most and then start in their own backyard. “Everybody wants everything now. You don’t get that. You don’t win people over that way. You have to be honest and truthful,” she said.
To be effective, social media interactions need to do more than share specials.
“Just posting promotions doesn’t matter. Are you having conversations? Then you know it is working. If you aren’t having conversations, it probably isn’t worth it,” Damoulakis said.
Missimer said, “If you’re only going to be putting out information on deals, people are going to get tired of it and either hide you or no longer be your friend. They want to see deals but don’t want to be sold.”
She added, “You’re becoming friends with these people and you want to interact with them. Think about what people would want to respond to.”
Top Social Media Sites
One of the most popular social media sites is Facebook, which has over one billion monthly active users and 680 million mobile users. You can create different kinds of posts on your page, including updates, photos, videos and questions. The people who like your page will see your posts in their news feed. Facebook also lets you expand your reach. When people interact with your page, their friends can see it in their news feed as a story, so grow your audience by promoting stories about people engaging with your page. Learn more at www.facebook.com.
LinkedIn is a business-to-business social media platform with over 200 million users. The site helps users build their professional network and access insights and opportunities among their peers. While it may not drive customers to your location, it could help you connect with individuals you want to work with. To get started, visit www. linkedin.com and create a page for yourself (not your business). Once you sign up, you can search to find past and present colleagues, classmates and peers.
Yelp is an online guide that helps people find places to eat, shop and play based on the opinions of other consumers. It provides a forum for people to come together and talk about good service, good food and go-to businesses. It is also one of the top links that will show up when someone does a web search of your business. Yelp has approximately 86 million monthly unique visitors, and a survey by the Boston Consulting Group found that local businesses with a free Yelp account saw an average of $8,000 in annual revenue from Yelp. You can set up a free account to post photos, provide information or leave messages for your customers by visiting https://biz.yelp.com/.
With 500 million total users and more than 200 million active users, Twitter is another top social media site. It is the go-to place to share short and sweet posts, promote daily specials, poll customers, engage with your regulars or advertise open positions. Each post is limited to 140 characters. Creating a Twitter account is free. Access Twitter at www.twitter.com.
Truckstop and travel plaza owners can claim their listings on Google and influence a driver’s decision for free. By signing up for Google Places, you will ensure you show up on Google Search, Google Maps, Google+ and mobile devices. Best of all, it is free and easy. It only takes a few simple steps to ensure that the next time drivers use Google to find a truckstop in your area, your location is easily searchable and set apart from your competition by providing additional information or even coupons. Visit www.google.com/places to create an account and update your contact information and hours. After you’ve set up your location online, you can make changes at any time.
Distributing Coupons Via Social Media
Coupons aren’t just for the Sunday paper anymore. Customers are accessing them on their phones, searching for them online and accessing them via social media.
Retail expert Rick Segel said, “Coupons have exploded and become the backbone of all marketing.”
For fuel retailers, the key is to offer a coupon that will ensure the customer has to come into the travel center. “You don’t want them just to fuel up and leave. Look at what category has the largest margin and select from there,” Segel said.
There are several types of coupons locations can offer. Segel said the best coupons are bounce-back coupons. “If they buy something, you give them a coupon that is a certain dollar amount to get them to come back in the next seven to 10 days. It is like cash in their hands and if they don’t spend it, they feel like they’re wasting money,” he said.
Businesses can also offer specials through deal sites, such as Groupon and Google Offers, in which they offer a certain special. However, Segel cautions operators to be careful when creating a deal.
“You can make an offer, but the problem is that the majority of the people who are coming in are coming in just for that offer and it can cost you a fortune if you’re not careful,” Segel said. “You hope they buy something else, so have your sales people make suggestions and group things together.
Segel suggests operators place an expiration date on the coupons. “You also make them have the coupon that was sent to them. You can’t give coupons at the desk because if you do it belittles the whole program,” he said.
Sabrina Missimer, a social media consultant who works with Johnson’s Corner, said the location has had success with coupons and has offered them on Facebook and Yelp. However, the company has found customers will make their own coupons, so it is important to train staff on what the legitimate coupons look like. “It is amazing what people try to get away with,” she said.
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