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Shopping Centers in the Digital Age


One of my favorite times of the year is teaching at the ICSC University of Shopping Centers. I co-teach “Marketing & Social Media: Shopping Centers in the Digital Age” with Tim O’Connell, assistant VP, director of digital marketing and communications, at RPAI. While we present stats, trends and case studies, what energizes me most are the collaborative class discussions on how other shopping centers owners are progressing with their social media efforts.

Each year, we survey our students on their use of social media. Interestingly enough, the survey results consistently reveal that the biggest social media challenges faced by marketing professionals at both the corporate and center levels are lack of staff and/or time to devote to social media, trying to keep up with fresh content, and staying well-versed on the latest and greatest platforms. The five platforms being used the most are the following:

Centers are using Facebook to find new leads and create campaigns to bring retailers to their properties. They are also paying close attention to the community’s voice, expressed through “likes,” “shares” and comments, to gauge shopper sentiment regarding current tenants and appetite for new and/or specific tenants.

LinkedIn is a great place to network with individuals and groups that are relevant to your shopping center or company. It is also an excellent venue for sharing company news and thought leadership content — think of it as a digital Chamber of Commerce mixer that is open 24 hours a day.

With Twitter, you can follow key retailers you want to engage with or share relevant news.

Instagram is one of my favorite platforms. The demographics are younger, with 65% of users between the ages of 18 to 34 compared with Facebook, which targets ages 25 to 34 and 55+. This is the ideal platform to promote unique experiences at centers, delicious dishes from restaurants and store fashions.

YouTube is a growing platform that can be used for leasing, company culture, announcements and testimonials. At Phillips Edison, we use videos as a recruitment tool as well as to showcase vacant spaces.

Blogs can also provide great value by driving traffic to your website, positioning your center or company as a leader in retail, dining or entertainment, increasing your search engine optimization, and establishing better shopper relationships.

Here are the top five pieces of advice when determining social media strategy or tweaking your existing strategy:

1. Curate content. The thoughts, words and ideas of people on your team or in your centers can help you establish yourself as a great resource.

2. Pick one-to-two platforms and do them really well. Social media can be inexpensive so take some risks.

3. Get help if you need it. If you don’t have time to keep content fresh, there are lots of agencies that do a great job with digital media. Need help with blogs? Hire a freelance writer or train employees in the company to help you with your story.

4. Share your success stories with your retailers, your executive team and other employees. Package your results to promote why prospective tenants should be at your center versus the one down the road. This will give them a reason to be more engaged in promoting your company in social media. Use analytics and examples of comments on your platforms.

5. Attend ICSC MOCIAL+ Conference Aug. 10-12 in San Francisco. This is my shameless plug since I’m on the committee. MOCIAL+ offers networking opportunities with industry colleagues, outstanding digital speakers and many takeaways for your own digital media plans.

Cherilyn Megill, CRX, CMD, is VP marketing and communications for Phillips Edison & Co. Connect with Megill on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @CherilynM to collaborate on what you’re doing on social media. You can also follow Phillips Edison on LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter @PhillipsEdison.

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