OAK BROOK, Ill. -- Social media marketing--just 10 years ago, this was a foreign concept. But thanks to the more than 1.4 billion active users on sites like Facebook and Twitter, social media has now become one of the hottest ways to create buzz for a brand, connect with consumers and appeal to the ever-desirable millennial generation. More and more top companies are using social media to do just that, and the convenience-store channel is no exception.
While compiling CSP’s list of the 25 biggest c-store chains (see Related Content below), the most successful retailers, time and time again, referenced the growing importance of social media. The numbers reflect their efforts: More than 6.28 million consumers are following the top 25 retailers on Facebook alone; however, some chains have been more successful than others, prompting CSP to compile a list of its top “social” chains, based on the number of followers on both Facebook and Twitter.
So what are the top social retailers doing? There are certainly a few similarities. Most c-stores on our list offer important basics, such as store locations, customer feedback, career opportunities, coupons and reward programs. Chains with a heavy focus on foodservice, such as Casey’s General Stores and Wawa, use Facebook to promote their in-store menus.
But it’s not just about highlighting what’s going on in the stores; many retailers use social media to promote their philanthropic efforts. Chevron (ExtraMile) offers a “We Agree, Do You?” app, which encourages users to “like” and share socially responsible messages such as “it’s time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy” and “protecting the planet is everyone’s job.” From now until Sept. 15, Gulf Oil will donate 50 cents to the American Cancer Society for every new person who “likes” its Facebook page. Last year, 7-Eleven Inc. partnered with Pepsi for a similar endeavor--During the promotion, 5 cents from every 20-ounce Pepsi product purchased at 7-Eleven locations was donated to Feeding America, with the option of doubling donations by checking-in to 7-Eleven on Facebook. The venture paid off, both for Feeding America and for Pepsi and 7-Eleven.
"Studies show that cause-marketing and social media are two critical ways to reach millennial consumers, a target demographic for both 7-Eleven and Pepsi," Jesus Delgado-Jenkins, 7-Eleven's senior vice president of merchandising, marketing and logistics, said of the charitable promotion.
Other retailers have increased their social presence by getting into the app game. Hess had huge success with its Hess Jet Game; released in December 2010 for Facebook and iPad/iPhone, the Hess Toy Truck-inspired app ranked within in the top 10 racing games on iTunes. The game’s popularity prompted Hess to release a follow-up Hess Racer Game in 2011.
While Hess is known for its holiday toy trucks, Sheetz is known for its made-to-order (MTO) creations--a fact the company’s Facebook page reflects thoroughly. The site features both an “Ultimate MTO Creation Contest,” where users can win a $200 Sheetz gift card for their entries, and a “Sheetz Shout-Out” promotion, which encourages fans to upload a 15-second video championing Sheetz’s Made-To-Order offerings in exchange for a free T-shirt and the opportunity to appear in a Sheetz commercial.
From games to charity, from hoagies to Slurpees, there is no shortage of opportunities for c-store chains to promote themselves online. But one thing is for certain: Top retailers recognize the importance of getting “social” with their consumers. It’s the way of the future.
CSP’s Top 10 Social Chains (by Facebook and Twitter followers)