In early May of this year it rained in Tennessee. A lot. The record-breaking rain devastated the area and claimed 21 lives in the state. Businesses and homes were damaged and closed due to flooding, including the historic Grand Ole Opry. Right next door, Opry Mills Mall was underwater in every one of its 1.2 million square feet. Closed to rebuild, the mall needed a way to stay connected with its customers and evangelists until it can open its doors again.
A visit to the mall’s Web site encourages visitors to stay connected through its Facebook page, promising progress reports on the reconstruction. Lynn Kittel, Opry Mills’ Director of Marketing, turned to the social networking site as a way to keep in touch with customers, and even she has been pleasantly surprised with the response. “People usually just think of a mall as bricks and mortar,” she told me on a recent phone conversation, “but this experience with Facebook reinforces that it is so much more than that.” Kittel explains that many of their visitors have emotional connections to the mall and use the page to express how much they miss being able to visit.
Before the flood, Opry Mills had around 1,400 followers on Facebook. That number has swelled to 8,476 (and counting) as of the posting of this blog. Fans post questions and comments regularly, asking which stores will return, requesting photos of their favorite stores, and seeking construction updates and timelines. Kittel responds promptly and always honestly, “We’ll tell you the truth. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll find out and get back to you.” She’s also been able to combat rumors and misinformation (including a story that piranhas had escaped from an indoor aquarium and were “running amuck in the mall”). She doesn’t delete the infrequent negative comment; in fact, she says that “most of the time, our other friends on the page come to our defense in full force.”
The mall posts videos and pictures of the destruction and reconstruction, generating enthusiastic responses such as: “Awww…makes me miss it so much” and “I might have a few tears of joy over this!!” The posts are never written in “marketing-speak,” and often have a touch of humor. Responses to questions and concerns are compassionate and personal.
Kittel understands intuitively what I constantly preach: Social media is not about “marketing,” but about building relationships, listening and responding. Opry Mills wants to keep its fans engaged with the process, and even solicits input from Facebook followers on what they would like the mall to become as they rebuild. “One of our posts that received the most responses was when I asked what kinds of restaurants they wanted in the food court.” By doing this, Opry Mills invites its base to take a vested interest in the mall; in turn, they will take more interest in its success and likely be more active to share items from or about the mall, and more responsive to specific requests from the mall to help spread the word. I’m anxious to see what impact Kittel’s social media outreach has on the success of the mall, and I look forward to following the grand reopening on Facebook.
A recent post on the Opry Mills’ Facebook page posed this question: “What weighs 4,000 pounds and had to be loaded into the mall with a helicopter?” You’ll have to visit their page for the answer.
Disclosure: My brother is an executive with Simon Properties, overseeing all of the Mills Malls. However, that’s simply the reason Opry Mills’ Facebook page was on my radar, and not why I’m using it as an example.