The business section of today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer highlights local real estate investment trust company DDR Corp., which recently launched a social media campaign aimed to increase brand recognition and loyalty. According to the Plain Dealer article, DDR’s social media strategy involves reaching out to consumers – a trend gaining momentum among real estate investment trusts as these companies compete to drive foot traffic to shopping centers, making them look more attractive to new tenants as they try to fill the ever-increasing space vacated by failed businesses.
Retail real estate investment trusts own shopping centers, and shopping centers need stores and shoppers to thrive. Most of the time, if I need to shop, I go to the closest mall, or the mall with the trendiest stores. Lately though, if I’m going to leave my house to shop, I want it to be a pleasant experience from start to finish. I want to shop in a beautifully landscaped and well maintained space that has plenty of fresh air (no hot flashes in the check out line please); a decent foodcourt so I can buy my kids refreshments (bribes) if needed; the stores I’m looking for; and hey, a clean play area doesn’t hurt! With more places to shop (and many of them electronic), shopping centers have to fight to keep tenants and to continue to drive shoppers to the stores. For real estate investment trusts, and businesses in general, engaging in social media is mandatory. I’d bet that most consumers don’t know who owns the malls they shop – perhaps because the ownership is invisible, or secondary to the retail stores they house, or maybe because consumers just don’t care. I, for one, care about where I shop, the quality of the building, how it’s powered and patrolled, and where I park. But the task of a social media strategist at a real estate investment trust seems a bit binary: is the aim to woo consumers or tenants? If you want to attract a tenant to fill a retail space, why not start with the local population, crowdsource the tenant search a bit through online discussions about what kinds of shopping experiences they are after, and build demand from there? Something akin to: “If you build it (demand), they (retail tenants) will come.”
I perused DDR’s social footprint, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest but the pages were not easy to locate. Maybe TimeWarner is having a slow day, and the search functions on Facebook and Pinterest could use some work (just in case anyone from there is listening; and DDR, maybe some search optimization or paid search ads would help direct traffic?), but the only way I could find the Facebook and Pinterest pages was by clicking on the Plain Dealer links. Once there, I found some good things. I got a sense of community involvement on Facebook that made me hungry for more. On Pinterest, I found links to valutext.com, which offers location-based discounts by text message, akin to mailed ads only paper-free, and more likely to be read. On YouTube, I learned about DDR’s “Set Up Shop” program, in which they lease to new, small business tenants rent-free for six months to fill empty space and stimulate local economies.
To get to this consumer-focused content, however, I had to sort through press releases and business graphics. Plain Dealer reporter Michelle Jarobe McFee refers to these graphics as whimsical. Indeed, they are not your average pie charts, but they are still pie charts that explain the retail real estate business, and I’d like the sense of community to speak louder than the CEO on these platforms. Yes, let the CEO speak, but let him tell me drinking Diet Coke for breakfast gives him a competitive edge, or that he does 100 sit-ups before he eats lunch in addition to (or instead of) business speak. People who use social media don’t want the same content they could get by flicking on CNN Money or picking up a newspaper. They don’t want the typically stale press release. They want engagement. Connection. They want to see what it’s like to work for DDR. They want to see what it’s like to shop at a DDR shopping center. They want know what the Company values. They want to be inspired.
Some ways that DDR Corp. (and the company you work for) could increase engagement:
- Share photographs of special events at malls that involve real people – not models.
- Encourage interaction by asking people to hit like to congratulate your organization for winning awards.
- Include calls to action in Tweets to drive retweets.
- Start a blog hosted on your company’s website (Google loves blogs, so this will increase your search optimization).
- Consider establishing different, interest-tailored social communities: one for consumers, one for tenants, one for investors.
- Host a contest that offers rewards for engagement/participation.
The bottom line is this: the social media landscape is a lot like Home Depot right now. You push your cart down the aisles, a bit overwhelmed by all the options available. You didn’t do any research before driving to the store, and you don’t really know how to unclog your sink, but were hoping to be inspired by the tools in the plumbing section. You can either fill your cart up with all-things-plumbing, whether or not they are useful tools that will help you on your project, but because they look good and you may have seen a plumber on HGTV use this type of snake OR you can ask a professional (either a plumber or helpful Home Depot employees) for help. With social media, the shopping spree is useless – strategy is key.