Shopping Centers Test Social Media Waters

We have a guest post today from Brian Quinton, executive editor of Chief Marketer, one of our sister publications. Quinton specializes in covering digital and mobile marketing for brands and attended the ICSC Fusion conference in Chicago and writes here about the steps shopping center marketers are taking in exploring social media.

Here's are some excerpts of his observations. The full version can be found here:

I'd been skeptical that social marketing could work for the companies that own malls, as opposed to the brands that lease space in them. For one thing, research has shown that most people who engage with brands in social media do it in expectation of receiving some benefit—particularly in the form of a discount. Mall operators may control a lot of the offline shopping experience, but they don't have any power to offer discounts.

More basically, I just wasn't convinced that the relation between shopping centers and their consumers had enough stickiness to make friending or following a mall attractive to many people. And the undoubtedly soft metrics available for social marketing to date made it seem unlikely that operators, with the woes of the retail economy still upon them, would want to divert resources into campaigns that did not have provable ROI.

But the ICSC discussion, entitled “The Business Justification for Digital Media”, set me straight on a few of those points. Most basically, it seems, shopping centers are in fact interested in opening up social media conversations with their publics for a variety of reasons and on a number of fronts. Here's my quick take on some of the most salient points of the discussion:

• It's not all about discounts. The Washington DC-based Madison Marquette group has 6 to 8 properties that maintain ongoing campaigns in social media, and some of those take decidedly non-pocketbook approaches. For example, the marketing director at the company's Glen Eagle Square in Chadds Ford PA runs a “Mommy and Me” Twitter page to more effectively engage the mommy shopper niche. A mother herself, she tweets not only about sales and events at the mall of interest to parents but about general parenting topics, and gets a viral boost when other parents retweet those posts for friends.

“One of the great things about social media is that it's viral,” Madison marketing VP Angela Sweeney told the audience. “So if I notice my friend is following this page, I may go there and check it out. You may not have been able to speak to that second or third person directly, but your fans can tremendously expand the reach of your message.”


• Social media can also be useful to operators' leasing efforts. Sweeney says a mall in Chapel Hill N.C. put a Web 3.0 spin on a traditional mall development tactic—a petition drive to convince a brand to move into a center—by mounting such a petition drive on its Facebook page to bring American Apparel to the property. More than 600 people signed the petitions in less than three weeks, and as a result Sweeney's company is now in discussions with the retailer about that location.


• “Success” is still kind of a flexible concept in shopping-center social media. The Holly Green Facebook page, for example, has only 524 friends. And the Web site it points to,, does not appear to be functioning at press time. Meanwhile Madison Marquette's social efforts have fan/ follower counts that range from “25 to 12,000”, according to Sweeney. I hope to confirm this later, but i'm fairly certain she said twenty five. If that's not understatement for effect, it hardly seems worth the effort.

Read the full version here.

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