Social Media in Irish Shopping Centres 27.03.2012“Do we really know what we are doing??” Aidan Grimes recently attended a Social Media conference at the new BBC headquarters at MediaCity UK in Manchester. It really was a worthwhile exercise. Working in an ever changing economic and volatile retail sector means that it is incumbent on all real estate professionals to be armed with the necessary tools to attract as much business as possible into our retail schemes. The impact of social media on driving footfall and crystallising sales within UK shopping centres is now starting to be realised and I left the conference convinced that we in Ireland are still not “at the races” in the context of communicating and maximising our shopping centre businesses. The following is a synopsis of what I took from the event. When engaging with Social Media, a centre should seek to answer the following points:- In answer to point 1, principally we need to obtain new customer data records, amplify communication campaigns, and forge relationships with local community groups, schools and societies. In addition it is vital that relationships with key retail partners are established and this is utilised to drive sales via collaboration. The skills associated with making the Centre work are a challenge. We in Colliers are recommending a 3 pronged approach. Firstly identify a key person on the management team that will take responsibility for Social Media. Secondly ensure that you have a plan and that the content is well written and appropriate. Thirdly equip the person with i phone/smart phone so that they can respond quickly and be open and conversational in their responses 24/7-e.g. one would be amazed at the lack of activity and interaction that occurs on Saturday and Sundays (traditionally our busiest trading days). Creating a set of rules or social media policy for your centre is good practice. For instance, I was unaware of the fact that placing competitions on Facebook is contrary to Facebook’s own terms and conditions. The policy should also determine frequency of updates and response times in each of the main social media channels and how often they are monitored for mentions of the Centre. Having decided our primary objective and sorted out adequate resource we can now get down to the “nitty-gritty” of who we are talking to. Google Alerts is a good place to start in identifying what is being said about your centre and the kind of topics that shoppers are discussing. It also allows you to assess what is being said about your competitors! The obvious forums that one can establish are platforms for Twitter and Facebook - However embarking on a social media campaign has parallels with building a web-site – you can build it but that doesn`t necessarily mean they will come. There must be a reason to respond. One of the chief findings of a recent UK survey showed that shoppers are not brand loyal to a shopping centre nor do they tolerate repetitive sales orientated information. Messages that are self-serving are likely to fail. A simple rule of thumb on what will work is if the information is something that the local media would cover themselves. The best way of measuring the success of the Social Media plan is to create specific, measurable goals at the planning stage e.g. An increase in the numbers attending the Christmas lights switch on event An increase in charitable donations to local community groups via the centre An increase in footfall at particular times of the week via offers promoted through social media. There appears (for obvious reasons, namely, age and demographics) to be a lot of merit in engaging with students and 3rd level colleges in creating events that drive student business into shopping centres. In summary the following are my top tips for developing social media activity in shopping centres. Plan a social media calendar Prepare for Crisis matters - Dundrum Town Centre are to be commended for acting very proactively in communicating the reopening of the Centre after the floods last October Segment your audience Remember week-ends (Saturday mornings!) Use information wisely Read the terms and conditions of social media platforms (e.g Facebook and Twitter) Publish relevant pictures and video. Make it relevant to your tenant mix. Finally one should note that consumers want any engagement to be conversational – they do not want to be spoken at. Retailers are engaging well with their consumers through social media-it is now up to operators of shopping centres to follow the lead and reap the benefits of better footfall and enhanced spending.