The marketing methods of businesses have evolved over time: from paper flyers and posters filling store windows to commercials and online pop-up ads. With the rise of social media over the past few years, many businesses have jumped aboard this bandwagon as a form of marketing and promotion. As the goal of advertisement becomes greater connectedness to consumers, stores have begun making use of social media to link the items sold to the consumer. Chains such as Starbucks run hugely popular FaceBook and Instagram accounts, reeling in well over eleven million followers and obtaining thousands of likes on each post. This can also be seen on a smaller scale as the means by which local businesses acquire and retain customers.

One Broke Girl

As a college sophomore suffering from too much to do with too little in my purse, I seize any free food item I can get my hands on. Buzzfeed recently posted a video relaying ways of acquiring free food from big name restaurants such as Dunkin Donuts; keep your eyes peeled foscreen-shot-2016-10-30-at-12-42-22-pmr all my friends running to collect these goodies! Buzzfeed has called attention to a little known fact: stores such as Blackberry Market in Glen Ellyn, IL will often have hidden ways of giving away food as a means of promotion. The app Popular Pays feeds straight into this world of advertisement: a user’s online “popularity”– how many Instagram followers a user has– correlates directly with what the user can get for free. If a user has five hundred followers or more, they are eligible for a free cinnamon bun from Blackberry Market. The more followers, the more free items a user qualifies for. Taking this process a step further, when a user posts a picture of Blackberry Market, the user is able to claim another free item. Providing users the opportunity to connect their social media accounts to a store such as Blackberry Market constructs a bridge between their lives to the life of the store. Obtaining free items through social media only deepens the loyalty and excitement of the customer for that store and its products.

Two Way Street

“We gain a direct line to our customers,” says Bob Davidson in an interview, Blackberry Market’s co-owner who handles their social media. “Customers get the same thing. It’s both a mutual respect and exchange. Customers want to know what’s going on and we want to tell them.” In addition to creating a connection between the customer and the store, Blackberry Market is enabled to set a consistent brand awareness and image. Customers are the ones who continue the promotion of this image by posting about Blackberry Market. Davidson is adamant: “The best kind of advertising comes from trusted influencers who are simply posting out of a love for Blackberry.”

So…free food?

Social media is wonderful, to be sure, but I know what you’re thinking: where do the benefits of this store and customer relationship come in?! Around 1 PM on a beautiful summer day, Davidson posted a picture of a bike in front of the shop announcing $1 gelato for whoever walked or rode their bike to Blackberry. Within half an hour, two groups of young teens showed up referencing tscreen-shot-2016-10-30-at-12-43-18-pmhe post! You never know the benefits you will receive from connecting with Blackberry– or any other local food business– on social media.

Social media opens up a world of marketing that has not been explored or tapped into before now. Presenting buyers a means of connection to the stores they enjoy and partake in, whether or not they are physically present at these stores, deepens the relationship between businesses and their customers. Encouraging customers with prospects of free items increases the loyalty and excitement that customers have for these businesses. Since downloading the Popular Pays app, I have spent far more time at Blackberry Market, my feeling of connection to the business deepened through their presence on my Instagram feed.

Building Relationships

In a study on relationship building between companies and consumers, Kaede Sano and Hiroki Sano state that “More and more companies have begun to realize the influential power of social media and are now utilizing it in various fields such as customer relationship management and product innovation,” yet social media is also “a new communication platform without a long history.” While it is difficult to track the trend of social media usage as a form of marketing, we can most certainly predict the incredible contribution and impact it will have on relationships between businesses and their consumers. Creating a friendship-style connection, social media benefits both the business and the buyer, simultaneously establishing marketing opportunities and perks of community and free food.