Out of all the conferences I’ve been to, and the social media consultants I’ve met, it never fails that each time they never can fully explain social media concepts in common terms for the average small or medium-sized business owner. They throw out facts and figures about internet usage (I’m sure you all know how to read Neilsen yourself), lists of free social media tools (you have Google right?), and can never seem to give tips about how it can work for anyone but themselves or their own company. With that being said, hopefully each of my blogs will be able to explain in simple terms how social media can work for you.

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The other day one of my friends posted an amusing little article on Facebook called “Explaining Wawa, The Amazing Little Sub Shop” (full article), which became my inspiration for my first post. Now if you’re from the greater Philadelphia area-or even South Jersey- then you know that Wawa has achieved celebrity status in the eyes of most residents. In fact, amongst my circle of friends (and a considerable part of our town) there is a running joke that if God were to take a road trip his only stop would be Wawa to pick up a hoagie and some Iced Tea. Wawa meant so much to me that I pined away for it during my years at college in a city overrun with 7-11s. It wasn’t just me either, as a bunch of kids that went to my college, who also hailed from Philadelphia and its suburbs, planned road trips to Maryland for the closest Wawa because they just couldn’t live without it.

If this isn’t making sense yet, let me just put it simply: Wawa is a master Marketer. Myself, my friends, and the residents of the greater Philadelphia area are the proverbial jackpot for their business. We’re what every marketing representative strives to find. We’re dedicated 110% to not only supporting Wawa by buying its products, but to telling everyone we know that they have to buy it too. We’re what industry terms call “brand ambassadors”.

So how can Wawa’s marketing skills be applied to social media, and thus to your business?

1) Utilize Word of Mouth
Wawa is one of the most hyped companies on the east coast. Don’t believe it? I’ve seen friendships end over debates about Wawa. Now, I don’t have access to Wawa’s marketing accounts, but I would bet that word of mouth brings them more business than any newspaper or billboard ever has. In fact, in my time growing up outside of Philadelphia, I can only count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen an ad of theirs in a newspaper. I can only think of 2 billboards. The first time I saw a commercial from Wawa was a year ago and I think I went out right after to get a soft pretzel. The point is, when something new happens at Wawa, I hear about it from my friends. When people tell me they’re going to visit Philadelphia, I tell them to stop at Wawa. It’s the hype that keeps people coming back and gets new people to join.
Social Media at its very basic level is word of mouth. Social Media is a way for you to easily create your own buzz, and for your customers to add to that buzz and share amongst their peers. Whether it be liking a Facebook page, posting a link to your YouTube video, including share buttons on news from your website, or recommendations on food review sites- it’s all the 21st century way of increasing word of mouth. Social Media is word of mouth on steroids. So when you’re trying to explain why it’s important to use Social Media, tell your higher up’s or your business partners that social media is a free way to automatically get hype about your company. It’s giving college students, or housewives, or food enthusiasts, etc. the opportunity to bring their ways of expressing their love for your product to the next level.

2) Become One with Your Community
Part of why Wawa is so popular in the Philadelphia area is because it is a company that capitalizes on the culture of the area. Among its many unique products, at Wawa you can find hoagies, soft pretzels, and cheesesteaks. These three things are quintessential Philadelphia food. Wawa provides food that we all crave in a convenient manner. What could be more perfect? On top of that, they find a way to incorporate other Philadelphia traditions into their marketing. Take for instance the one TV ad I could remember (video) that throws in an Eagles motif. For Philadelphia, this commercial is honestly genius. If there’s something we love more than soft pretzels, it’s our Eagles. Their community outreach is even geared to be Philadelphia tradition. This past summer Wawa created a Hoagie that reached down the Parkway for Hoagiefest. Now as much as they rock at marketing in the Philadelphia area, they’ve failed in other areas, like Maryland, whose Wawa kids in DC depended on ended up closing. And why is that? Because Wawa failed to do in Maryland what it did in Philly, which was become a vital, integral part of people’s every day routine. I’m thinking that some Old Bay spiced crab cake sandwhiches instead of hoagies might have helped…
This is where Wawa can teach us a lesson: if you want your social media efforts to succeed, then you better bring something to the table that will make people want to incorporate your efforts into their everyday routine. So many times I meet business owners that think setting up sites is enough for social media. They think it’s a one and done deal, where having a Facebook page and letting it sit is enough. I can’t stress enough to them that YOU MUST POPULATE IT WITH CONTENT. Not only that, you must make the content unique to you. Social media is like telling a story, people will tune out if there isn’t something that pulls them to it. Wawa is part of my life because my best memories are grabbing iced tea and pretzels after school, or eating a hoagie during an Eagles game. Make your content personal. Allow people to comment. Give them applications, ask them polls, give them the chance to win coupons so every day they will come back to your sites and become invested in you. Keep them coming back for more, and the more likely it is they will become your brand ambassadors. Want an example? On Tumblr I follow one specific nutrition blog above all the others. Why? She not only plans out day to day meals, she lets users send in their own stories with recipes or citing their troubles. I’ll take that any day over health sites that list vitamins I should take or nutritious foods I should look out for, yet don’t tell me how to turn that into a healthy lifestyle.

3) Adapt and Overcome
So my favorite Wawa in Maryland closed, but one day while I was working on a documentary I discovered a Wawa in the backwoods of Virginia. Where one Wawa failed in the South, another one found a way to succeed.
Social Media has risks sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get involved. A lot of business owners worry that Social Media is too risky. Government leaders tended to always stress the security side to me. Small business owners have asked what a bad review could do to their image. Yes, there is a risk, but there is risk with anything, and with Social Media the reward often makes up for the risk exponentially. The best way to mitigate risk is to first develop a strategy BEFORE you create sites. Work out what sites will work best for you. Look at your customer base, who you want to target, and then find out where they are. For instance, if you’re a tech company offering some new, but easy to use gadget, consider entering into the online social gaming world. Your cliental is ripe and ready for the picking there.  Don’t get over your head and worry about trying to target every single major site, it will just stretch your resources and make more of a headache for yourself. And lastly, if you have a bad review, don’t ignore it! Respond to your followers, tell them ways you plan to improve, and offer goodwill by giving a coupon or saying I’m sorry and that bad review will turn positive.

I think the most valuable lesson we can learn from Wawa is how to build strong relationships between company and consumer. Wawa is a convenient store, albeit one with superb coffee and killer sandwhiches. What makes it special is that it is deeply ingrained in Philadelphia culture. Visiting a Wawa in the greater Philadelphia area is just as important as skating on Penn’s Landing or rooting for the Eagles in a local bar. They’ve achieved this status because of the consumers who have spread their stories and affection for the store. Social Media should be an outlet for consumers to voice their stories, spread their opinions, and bond with others who feel the same way. If you give your consumer this outlet, it is now free marketing and branding for you. Now your social media sites, and your company itself, will become apart of your consumer’s everyday life…and then the possibilities for your business are endless.

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