Gifted Social Media Strategies from Mall of America

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 9.46.40 AMSocial Media interactions between the Mall of America, and its more than 40 million visitors each year are so good, that visitors don’t have to mention the mall by name to get help, directions or recommendations.  All they need to do is tweet their needs and the mall responds via ESP.

In this case, ESP stands for the mall’s Enhanced Service Portal (ESP) Team, rather than for extra-sensory perception – although it’s not uncommon for the team to surprise visitors with spontaneous and helpful responses. The team is led by Senior Social Media Strategist Erin Vande Steeg and managed by Social Media Community Specialist Nate Sandell.

The team monitors and manages social channels (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Foursquare, Tumblr and beyond) for Mall of America (MOA) during retail hours.  It’s primary mission? To provide mall visitors with the friendliest and most helpful social media experience they can.

“We are a conduit for anyone that is visiting MOA, whether they are are potential guests, they have come before or they are already here. We want to make their stay more enjoyable and help them find their way around.” Said Nate Sandell, head of ESP.  “”We look for opportunities for engagement that go beyond the norm… and stay on the cutting edge of social engagement.”

The Mall of America is the largest mall in the U.S. Inside are 500+ stores with 4.3 miles of storefronts. The mall includes 50+ restaurants (including sit-down locations and 2 food courts), an amusement park – Nickelodeon Universe, movie theaters, a comedy club, a Legos imagination center, and an aquarium.  40 million people travel to MOA each year.

“We are tweeting constantly. Most conversations are initiated by us.  We find conversations from people who are here, or excited to be here, and we jump in. If we see guests talking back and forth about an event because they’re confused, we jump in to clarify without being asked. This team enjoys those engagements most.  They’re comfortable being creative and taking chances initiating conversation. We encourage that and we’d rather have to reign staff in for being too social, than push them to be more social.” The team also team looks for opportunities to ‘surprise and delight’ guests in unexpected ways with free passes, gift cards, and unique experiences.”

The ESP uses Spredfast CRM  to manage accounts for Mall of America, it’s theaters, and the Nickelodeon theme park within the mall. “We use it to monitor all of our feeds in one place.  All of it is coming through and we can set up separate streams to individualize what we want to focus on – such as specific hashtags that we’re monitoring, ” Sandell said. During black Friday weekend, for example, the team monitored the #Twizzard hashtag to trigger snowfall inside MOA based on the volume of tweets at any given time.  The intent? To create a ‘Twitter blizzard.’

“We had one person who’s only job that day was to look at that stream and engage with everyone using the #twizzard hashtag, respond back to them, and thank them for being a part of it. That is what we always tell this team: there job is to find ways to engage and jump into conversations at any time Mall of America is mentioned” Sandell said. “Send Gifs. Send memes. Look into profiles to get a quick understanding of who each person is from a social presence and try to connect with them in a meaningful way.  If someone is a big ‘Parks and Rec’ TV fan, for example, the GIF we send them will be related to Parks and Rec.

Location-Savvy Social Media

The ESP team uses Geofeedia to track social media activities that occur on Mall of America grounds.  “It gives us a great understanding of how conversations evolve based on location.”

When visitors use their phone on premises, their location is tagged on a map along with their social post. “it comes in handy because we don’t have to be tagged in posts to know that they’re happening on our site.  Even if there is no mention of ‘MOA’ or Mall of America, we can see what they are talking about and pop into the conversation.

“Sometimes we just say ‘Nice picture’ and it starts an entirely new conversation about their experience at the mall. It surprises guests in a great way,” Sandell said.  “It’s also a great security tool. If people are doing things they’re not suppose to be doing, and they talk about it using social media, we can alert security.”  Common examples of this? Photos and mentions of smoking in bathrooms and of shoplifting items from mall stores.  Since social posts are timestamped and geotagged, he said it doesn’t take long to track down when and where these activities occur.

“Our guests also love sending us photos of double-parked cars in the parking ramps.”

High-Quality, Social Service

The team uses Kipsu to provide a high-touch experience for guests.  It provides a network of txt numbers throughout the mall that guests can use for help, direction, and customer service requests.  The ESP also uses web-chat, from the MOA website, to support guests before they arrive.  Conversations using the chat are more personal and direct than most social media conversations. If a guest is looking for a place to eat, we want to provide them with more than one option that appeals to them – and make reservations.

“If they are looking for a specific item, we will call stores to see which ones have the item in stock, in the right size and color. If possible, we’ll even place the item on hold for the customer,” Sandell said.  A year ago, the team had 400 conversations per month.  Now, they average more than 2,500 conversations (up to 300 conversations per day on weekends).

“We think of this as a digital concierge service and we’ll always go above and beyond to help a visitor find what they need.” Each conversation is comprised of several responses, which the team tries to keep responses under 90 seconds each.

What’s Next? The team would like to add digital signage throughout the mall to display mall-related interactions. For example, a digital sign near the theater might post conversation about featured movies. “There are a lot of opportunities to engage with guests that we haven’t unlocked yet.”

A Social Media Command Center

The ESP team has 8 staff. Up to three staff man the ESP to monitor MOA social media channels during ordinary retail hours. These hours include Monday – Tuesday 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m; Wednesday – Saturday10:00 a.m. – 9:30 p.m; and Sunday11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. The ESP is also manned during extended retail hours from Dec 12 to Jan 3.

ESP is part of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Mall of America. “The idea behind this whole area is to take what we were doing on the digital/social side of things and combine it with what we were doing for traditional guest services. We put it all in the same area that security was,” Sandell said. “With what we do in social, a part of it is security and we wanted to be close to them so we can talk about the things we need to.  It’s not uncommon for large groups to ascend on the mall without prior notice.  The ESP team is often the first to know when unscheduled meet ups (sometimes with thousands of participants) occur.  This gives them the opportunity to contact organizers, the MOA events team, and security staff, as needed.