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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

The Mall of America’s “Big Secret Parking Party” Twitter Social Media Case Study

Written By: Carol Roth | No Comments

This holiday season, The Mall of America did a special online Twitter promotion (The Big Secret Parking Party or #bspp) as a way to leverage social media.

According to an article on ClickZ, on December 18, 2010, the Mall of America reserved 96 spaces for its Twitter followers that followed them @MallofAmerica, found out about the incentive and then registered on Eventbrite.

And according to Dave Haselman, EVP of operations at Mall of America, they did this because:  “We want to reward loyal Twitter followers with something extremely coveted during the holiday shopping season – a close parking spot without the hassle of a time-consuming search. We hope this service will be an added value as well as increase our follower base.”

Over 100,000 shoppers visit the Mall of America on average each day with 12,550 spaces available.  So, was the #bspp a good use of social media or did it miss the mark?

What I like about this promotion:

Creativity: This promotion was a fun way to reach out and create buzz on Twitter in a way that hasn’t been done before, so they get high marks for out of the box thinking.

Knowing the customer pain points: I like that the MOA folks knew that finding a parking space, especially a premium one, is really a customer need and that helping with that would provide a real, tangible benefit.

Where I think this fell short:

Ignoring most of your customers: While I like the idea of a fun perk, if you are trying to create loyal customers, it is a bit backwards to say that you are only going to reward your shoppers who follow you on Twitter.  If parking spaces are a high demand item, why not make them available to all shoppers and use Twitter as one of several ways to get the word out for this?  Why would you provide a benefit only to the small number of Twitter followers you have?

Dangerous program scope: With well over 100,000 customers shopping at the mall that day, there is a risk/reward imbalance to the program.  Making 96 of the 100,000 shoppers happy could be easily counter balanced by the customers who were peeved that they missed out or didn’t know about it, whether on Twitter or outside of Twitter.

Not ‘getting it’: One of the reasons given for the program was to “get more followers” for MOA.  Social Media promotions should be about using a distribution channel to reach your customers and engage them- it’s not about getting you more followers.

The verdict and what I would have done:

I have spent over half a decade creating loyalty programs and events, both formally and informally. Based on my limited knowledge of the above, knowing that parking is important to customers (and that time is at a premium and so is being warm in the Minnesota winter weather), a better use of social media would have been to create a parking solution for all customers, using Twitter as a part of the program (and not the be-all-end-all of the program).

For example, MOA could have had a sponsored valet parking program for the day.  It could have been free and promoted to shoppers already shopping in the mall (“Didn’t find everything you want today?  Come back tomorrow for our free parking event”) AND through Twitter, as well as through other outlets.  Or if free wasn’t in the budget, they could have offered a coupon for a discount off valet through multiple venues, including Twitter.  This type of program would have been more inclusionary, laying a better foundation for loyalty than simply rewarding 96 people on Twitter.

The takeaway

As companies and brands approach social media, remember that it is a tool to reach new customers or pockets of existing customers who are dialoguing there, but your social media strategy needs to be integrated in a holistic way with your other efforts to truly create customer loyalty.

What do you think of the #bspp?

Article written by
Carol Roth is a national media personality, ‘recovering’ investment banker, investor, speaker and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. She is a judge on the Mark Burnett (Shark Tank, The Voice, Survivor, The Apprentice) produced technology competition series, America's Greatest Makers, airing on TBS and Host of Microsoft's Office Small Business Academy show. Previously, Carol was the host and co-producer of The Noon Show, a current events talk show on WGN Radio, one of the top stations in the country, and a contributor to CNBC, as well as a frequent guest on Fox News, CNN, Fox Business and other stations. Carol's multimedia commentary covers business and the economy, current events, politics and pop culture topics. Carol has helped her clients complete more than $2 billion in capital raising and M&A transactions. She is a Top 100 Small Business Influencer (2011-2015) and has her own action figure. Twitter: @CarolJSRoth