As retail property owners and developers continue to search for the most effective ways to use social media, they are beginning to look beyond Facebook and Twitter to build loyalty among shoppers. In the past few weeks alone, Developers Diversified Realty launched its own social network, while Madison Marquette unveiled an iPhone app for one of its lifestyle properties.
Meanwhile, Weingarten Realty has been trying to use various social networking tools to connect with brokers, tenants and customers through its Virtual Partner Network (VPN). All of these efforts are taking retail developers to a new level of sophistication in the use of social networking for marketing purposes.
Developers Diversified’s ShopStar, for instance, is what the firm calls an “online hub” for its tenants and customers. The tenants, including both retail stores and entertainment establishments, can use ShopStar to advertise special events, prizes and giveaways to shoppers. Customers, meanwhile, receive access to information about local properties and can offer feedback on what they think would improve their shopping experiences. Developers Diversified hopes the program will help build brand loyalty.
“For Developers Diversified, it was important to tie together both the online and in-center experiences and we felt we could better do this by developing a customized online program,” as opposed to a stand-alone Facebook page, says Scott Schroeder, vice president of marketing and corporate communications with the firm. “Developers Diversified wanted our online program to seamlessly integrate into our current company culture and truly engage shoppers and give them a reason to continually return to our sites.”
ShopStar members can discuss non retail-related topics ranging from summer recipes to vacation destinations on the site and can receive exclusive perks, including coupons, free desserts at participating restaurants and gift cards. For instance, anyone who joins ShopStar between June 1 and June 30 receives a chance to win a spending spree at their local center. During the same time period, when members refer friends to the ShopStar network, they will become eligible for a prize.
Developers Diversified launched ShopStar on June 1 at 25 of its projects, primarily lifestyle centers, properties with significant entertainment components and enclosed malls. The launch was accomplished in two phases. In late February/early March, the firm created Facebook and Twitter pages for the properties to build an online fan base. By the time Developers Diversified launched ShopStar itself, it had an audience of approximately 5,000 Facebook fans and Twitter followers. That base, in turn, contributed to the firm generating about 1,100 members of ShopStar to date.
“We are extremely excited that the response has been significant in a short amount of time,” says Schroeder.
While ShopStar is aimed primarily at shoppers, Weingarten Realty’s VPN targets leasing brokers, agents and potential investors as well. The network uses Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to offer a continuous feed of latest Weingarten news, real-time vacancy listings and leasing updates. It also posts information on retailers’ events and community projects in which Weingarten takes part.
On June 11, for example, Weingarten Tweeted information on new vacancies at six of its centers, including Chino Hills Marketplace in Chino Hills, Calif. and Independent Plaza in Mesquite, Texas. The report included the names of the former tenants, the location of the vacancies on the centers’ site plans, the spaces’ sizes and links to corresponding property Web sites.
Retail property owners are also increasingly embracing the use of smart phone apps to market their centers. In time for this summer’s Memorial Day weekend, Madison Marquette, a Washington, D.C.-based firm, launched an iPhone app for Asbury Park, its 400,000-square-foot lifestyle center in Asbury Park, N.J.
The app, which can be downloaded for free from the Apple store, gives shoppers updates on cultural events at Asbury Park, in addition to informing them of retail sales and providing links to Facebook and Twitter pages. The response from shoppers so far has been very strong. They especially like being able to get event updates, says Angela Sweeney, vice president of property marketing with Madison Marquette.
“Our hope is the application will help drive traffic to the center because customers can get information on promotions and special events,” says Sweeney.
Madison Marquette worked with mobile marketing agency Mobile Fringe to develop the app. The process took approximately six weeks, according to Sweeney. She says Madison Marquette chose to launch the app at Asbury Park because it has a large entertainment component. In the future, the firm might develop similar apps for its other properties.