Socializing With Customers

For control state agencies and retailers, venturing into the world of social media can be a daunting proposition. For those in a highly-regulated industry like beverage alcohol, it’s easy to overlook Facebook and Twitter and their online siblings as not worth the trouble. But is it worth giving competitors an advantage and missing out on a growing, younger customer base by sticking to traditional methods of communication that are more familiar? No, and participating in social media isn’t nearly as challenging as it sounds.

“Social media should be more of a shift in how you do what you’re already doing, layered on top of your existing strategy,” says Amanda Hite, founder of Talent Revolution and a speaker at the 2012 BDLive! Conference. “It adds super powers to what you do now. People need to understand that customers are already having online conversations about them; they can either listen and engage in those conversations or not.”

For retailers who aren’t convinced they possess the technical ability to participate in those conversations, Hite offers this advice: “Find a 16-year-old mentor.” Success in social media isn’t achieved by the folks that have the best technology skills, she says; it’s most often achieved by those who have the best people skills. In that sense, it isn’t much different than talking to regulars from behind the counter. The following are a few examples of the many industry members already experimenting with (and reaping the benefits of) social media today.

Turning Constituents into Followers and Fans

When trying to reach multiple constituencies, social media can be an effective tool to disseminate information broadly and quickly. For the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, that means reaching citizens, licensees, trainers and compliance officials.

Facebook and Twitter have been effective tools to reach out to people and increased awareness about what the agency does, according to Public Information Officer Andrea Miller. “Not only do these sites give our fans a platform to discuss new legislation and answer questions regarding our rules and laws, it also gives them up-to-date news and information about what’s going on,” she says.

The agency updates its Facebook and Twitter pages on a daily basis and uses a YouTube page to post occasional public service announcements. It follows the state of Michigan’s social media standards and practices, but is free to engage with fans and followers, increasing the agency’s public image and giving it a more transparent feel.

“We want to increase awareness and engage people in intriguing topics that refer to their business, home, or substance abuse coalition,” Miller says. “We include topics like keeping businesses clear of violations, statistics about the dangers of underage drinking, and we’re adding a new feature to include businesses that pass their controlled buys.”

Currently the MLCC relies on industry groups, state departments and website pushes to increase its public visibility and gain fans and followers, but the agency is developing ways to increase those numbers internally as well. “We’re planning to engage fellow MLCC employees to put social media taglines in their email signatures,” Miller says. “We’re also including the Twitter and Facebook logos on all publications and presentations we create, directing prospective fans to our sites.”

Try Everything and See What Sticks

Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Anapolis, MD, is a 15,000-square-foot store with annual sales over $10 million. To reach the widest range of customers possible, Bay Ridge turned to social media, a “less expensive option than the traditional forms of advertising: print, TV and radio,” according to co-owner David Marberger. “We currently use Facebook, YouTube and our website to reach online consumers, and we’re just getting started with texting and Twitter,” he says. “We’re soon beginning Skype interviews with prominent winemakers, brewers and distillers. I think you need to take a shotgun approach to the new forms of marketing.”

Marberger’s method is to throw a lot against the wall and see what sticks. While everything won’t work, trying is the only way to find out what will. Bay Ridge used the email addresses they collected as part of their “Card Club” program to inform customers of their social media endeavors. Marberger also puts signage around the store and mentions the company’s Facebook page in traditional forms of advertising. He uses the page to announce sales dates, events, new products and industry news. Ultimately, he says the most important thing is keeping in mind that the information sent out to customers needs to be relevant.

His advice to other retailers? Don’t try to fight modern technology and accept that it’s changed everything about people’s lives, including how they run a business. “The number of people using social media is getting bigger by the minute,” he says. “You don’t have to be a whiz at it yourself, since there are plenty of people that can and will do it for you, but you have to try. Ask yourself, what is your competition doing to get customers into their stores?” The answer probably includes online marketing using social media.

Younger Generation Leads the Way

Since 1936, change has been part of Peco’s Liquor Store in Wilmington, DE. The family-owned and operated business says change is key to their 75-plus year success and led them to embrace social media as an important marketing and sales tool.

Ed Mulvihill, whose great-grandparents founded the store, began running the company’s website and Facebook page when he was in college. When he graduated earlier this year with a marketing degree, he took what he learned and applied it to Peco’s. “I’ve always wanted to work at the store and I was excited to try these new tools,” Mulvihill says. “It’s both exciting and terrifying, since you also don’t want to be the one to screw up the family business.”

Peco’s specialty is craft beer. The store carries over 275 brands from more than 70 breweries and relies on a loyal craft beer clientele from the neighborhood. The store also carries more than 1,500 wines from around the world and while Mulvihill says it’s difficult to compete with big box stores when it comes to spirits, Peco’s does well with a number of smaller, craft distilled brands.

His grandparents and mother still come to work at the store everyday, and Mulvihill says while they didn’t get social media right away, they’re 100% supportive of what he’s doing, and even though it’s difficult to explain the technology, they can see the results. That was especially obvious in January when customers kept wishing Mulvihill’s grandfather a happy birthday in the store – it turns out Ed had posted on Facebook that he was turning 83 that day. “He got a real kick out of that and thought it was great,” Mulvihill says.

“Growing up with social media, that’s my go-to form of communication, but for older customers who don’t have profiles, we need to turn them onto it,” he says. “We tell them about our website and we make sure everything we put on Facebook also appears on store signage and in our email newsletter.” Peco’s incentivizes customers to like them on Facebook by saying they’ll be the first to get coupons and information about new products.

While the feedback isn’t always obvious, customers are getting the message. When Peco’s had a certain Dogfish Head beer in stock for the first time in a year recently, Mulvihill posted a picture on Facebook with the caption, “it’s back, get it while you can.” He was confused when no one “liked” or commented on the posting, but soon people came into the store and started buying it up. Customers told him they left work to come get it and didn’t want to announce that on Facebook in case anyone saw. “We sold out of that case in about 45 minutes,” Mulvihill says, “and it was on a Thursday afternoon.”

Reach Anyone, Anytime

When print and radio don’t get the responses they used to, where do you turn? For Berbiglia Wine & Spirits, a family-owned chain of 11 stores in and around Kansas City, MO, ranging from 1,500 to 12,000 square feet, the answer was social media. Jack Bondon Jr., the VP of Operations and third-generation family member, says the store needed to embrace new technology to keep up with the times.

“I’ve learned that the old media isn’t effective in driving younger dollars into our store,” he says. “Social media is the way to reach anyone, anytime with your message.” Berbiglia’s uses both Facebook and Twitter to engage its customers. The store tends to use Twitter to announce new items or send out quick, timely messages, while it uses its Facebook fan page to tell customers about wine tastings and the like. “We’re trying to stay in the forefront of our customers’ minds,” Bondon says. “By periodically posting on these sites, we feel that when the customers choose to purchase wine and spirits, they’ll remember us first.”

To drive people to its online pages, Berbiglia’s posts signs in the store promoting its Facebook and Twitter presence. And by announcing tastings, special releases and sales through its social media pages, the store has made them a must-click destination for customers who want to stay informed.

Digital Dictionary

App: Short for application, this is an icon installed on a computer or mobile device that acts as a shortcut to a webpage, game, or other program that performs a specific function (examples: Words with Friends, Angry Birds).

Blog: A personal page that reads like a journal, containing entries starting with the most recent (examples: Blogger, WordPress).

The Cloud: Describes data stored on an external server and accessible through a web browser from any computer. For individuals, it eliminates the need for a hard drive; for companies, it eliminates the need for on-site servers. Information stored in “the cloud” is also generally backed up in multiple places to prevent catastrophic loss of information.

Podcast: A (generally) short piece of audio content, often part of a larger series of audio casts on a certain subject, which can be downloaded and listened to anytime. Content can be downloaded from an individual webpage, or through a service like iTunes.

RSS Feed:  Like a customized newspaper, it draws in stories from a particular publication or about a particular topic that users choose to subscribe to. Feeds can be sent to an email address or accessed through a news reader like Google Reader.

Social Network: A website where users can create profiles to share their interests, photos, memories, and connect with friends that they’ve given permission to access their information (examples: Facebook, LinkedIn).

Twitter: A micro-blogging service where users can share short messages (140 characters or less) with other users who have “followed” them. The site’s biggest draw is its instantaneous updates and the ability to create hashtags like #superbowl and #nygiants to track what subjects are most popular at a given moment.

URL Shortener: A site where users can shorten their URL addresses, allowing them to track which links they’ve posted and who’s viewed them. Especially useful for sharing links on Twitter and Facebook, which limit the number of characters in a message (examples: and TinyURL).


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