Despite how well the mall brands itself, a collection of shops and stores never did connect to the shopper with something near human in scale and relationship. Corporate icons such as Ronald McDonalds from the hamburger empire, Wendy, or Burger King simply were not an option for a mall for the reasons of continuity and control. There was rarely a human face that the average consumer can relate to, except for the mall security, which was usually an outside vendor. So the branding consists of logo, names, and distantly emotional event such as holiday picture taking, concerts, and special openings.
The evolving social media platform of Facebook is a tool that lets the mall manager create a more human-like appearance for the mall without having to worry about the issues of a spokesperson and cost. By empowering the average consumer with a forum, the Facebook’s specialized mall page allows the mall manager to post events and information to a central location that people can check, much like a corporate website. However, because Facebook already has all of the technology built into its website, the mall manager do not have to spend a large amount of money to developed these critical tools. Technologies that were once expensive to own and costly to upgrade; electronic bulletin board, discussion forum, picture uploads, video-sharing and emails, comes standard and free with a Facebook account. In addition to the zero-cost of setup, Facebook also maintain all of the technology and enhances these features all the time, wit no cost to the mall managers.
Even with these reasons, mall managements did not embrace Facebook when it started because it was a new type of communication they had no experience with. Mall marketing evolved from mass communication to no communication. Social media represented a new challenge because the consumer now can talk back to the management and share what they talk about (and complained about) with their friend. Most mall managers thought having a forum where people can talk about the mall would turn their Facebook space into the world’s most public complaints department.
In fact, it was more a blessing for most malls. On Facebook, most malls found there are people who genuinely loved the mall and are unabashedly about promoting and defending the mall. There are also people with genuine complaints, which the smarter mall managers were quick to address it on the Facebook and report back any solutions. Mall vendor also found a forum where the consumer can give feedback, and they can test our promotions and talk to the consumer directly.
Of course, with any forum that has a healthy dialogue, there are those who will complain and offers negative comment without any sort of reason. To the mall management’s relief, people who use online forum take those snide remarks in stride. While the downer comments make the poster feel good, the reader are looking for useful information and opportunity to share the good news. Without having to encourage people to post, the negative comments are often ignored or counter by other users.
With the big hurdles of costs and control out of the way, mall managements are also discovering the power of social marketing. Facebook is an egocentric program that allows the user to become their printing press. When a user joins a mall’s page as a fan, their entire network is exposed to what they post. So when I join the mall webpage, all of my contact, all paltry 150 friends, can see what I post. When I post about a good experience at the mall’s café using a little known discount coupon, I had 7 friends who tried it within a week. This may not seem like much, but this is a way to increase the malls’ traffic without the mall management having to do anything!
This is free marketing. In the old days, a direct mailing campaign of fliers and coupon was considered success if 2% of the recipients acted on the offer. This is a huge amount of money for a very small amount of return. With social media, the cost of printing and delivery drops to zero, and you still get the same result. Why would anyone not try that?
Another more advantage to social media marketing is the social aspect of the Facebook application. The way friends are linked to each other, sharing information (and by extension, experiences), they can explore other people’s world. Two friends will have some overlap in contacts, but not complete overlaps. When I post about a good movie review on Facebook at my local mall, some friends usually comment on it, and a few who live near by will add the group. When they join the mall group, their entire social network will become exposed to the mall. The more accurate albeit disturbing comparison is a virus. When you get sick, your family gets sick too. When you go to work sick, your coworkers get sick. When they go home, their family gets sick. With Facebook, you can infect your friends with good experiences, which in turn, allows them to infect others with it. It’s really germ warfare for the mind.
That pretty much describes how malls are using Facebook to create a sense of community and transforming itself to a town center once again. While it is a tool for the mall to market itself, but it is also a way for communal experience to be shared. The old saying goes, “When shared, sorrow is cut by half, and happiness doubled.” With Facebook, happiness at the mall is not only doubled, but doubled, and doubled, and doubled again.