Even some of the savviest mall owners admit there was a time when they considered social media participation optional. But by 2010, most of the major shopping center developers, managers and owners had jumped on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagons — and social media programs have since eclipsed traditional marketing methods at many properties.
A fourth-quarter 2010 study by Alexander Babbage, entitled the “Shopping Center Social Media Benchmark Report,” found that social media tools and networks are making it easier for shopping centers to relay information, interact with customers and generally stay connected — and that is what is largely driving mall buy-in.
In fact, since Babbage began collecting data two quarters ago from 1,842 U.S. shopping centers 300,000 sq. ft. or larger, use of Facebook and Twitter at those centers has grown by 78.2% and 54.5%, respectively. Facebook is, not surprisingly, the main social medium for malls, but Twitter is gaining popularity as well. (Visit chainstoreage.com for more study results.)
Two of the country’s top 10 developers (based on number of centers) are also among the busiest social media users. Beachwood, Ohio-based Developers Diversified Realty had 32.6% of its larger centers (300,000 sq. ft. and up) using Facebook and Twitter in the fourth quarter of 2010. Cleveland-based Forest City had 75% of its centers on Facebook and Twitter as of the fourth quarter.
“We are very happy with our progress,” said Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, director of advertising for Forest City. Getting the majority of its centers online, however, wasn’t an overnight affair.
“We took a crawl-walk-run approach,” Shriver-Engdahl said. Fear of public postings and concerns about the time it would take to create and monitor the sites gave Forest City pause, but not for long. In 2006, the company was a social media observer, but by 2008 it was ready to trial its Shoptopia online social experience at two shopping centers. A successful test paved the way for an additional 14-center rollout in 2009.
The Shoptopia program features brands and retailers found at Forest City shopping centers, providing a platform for shoppers to interact with their centers and the tenants that inhabit them. But it is not a replacement for traditional marketing. Forest City builds multi-layered marketing programs tailored to each center; a typical plan might include print and broadcast advertising, direct mail and billboard, layered with Facebook and online advertising.
Developers Diversified started watching social media 24 months ago but didn’t immediately participate. “We didn’t want to follow because everyone else did, but rather to ensure it was a fit for our customers,” said Dawn Lecklikner, regional VP shopping center marketing for Developers Diversified.
The company’s loyalty program, ShopStar, includes both Facebook and Twitter functions to allow its malls to communicate with customers. The initiative, which also features exclusive member contests, discounts and offers, was introduced internally in February 2010, then went live in April at 19 lifestyle and enclosed mall properties.
This year, Developers Diversified will debut a Facebook application and a mobile application for ShopStar designed to encourage shopper interactivity with each property’s retail tenants — something retailers should leverage, Lecklikner said.
“To maximize social networking in our malls, we encourage tenants to become engaged with us, to see us as partners,” she said. “If retailers will give their store-level people the tools and guidelines to communicate personally with the local community, they will reap the rewards,” she said.