How to Start the Family Express Social Media Community Manager Position

nat-finn-logoValpoLife asked a few of us to give tips, tricks and tactics on how to start the Family Express Social Media Community Manager Position. Coach Lee explained what not not to do. Daver sketched his approach. Allyn Hane sent a few of us the his white paper that surveyed Family Express’s web presence. I’ve never been one to leave it up to the reader’s imagination except when I’m leaving it up to the reader’s imagination so I’m going to outline how I would start. As Daver tried to quote the quote I botched while stealing it from renown consultant Jay Baer, “Just because they have your recipe doesn’t mean they can cook like you.” For as you’ll soon discover, the job of a Social Media Community Manager is a lot like the adage about the iceberg: people will only see 10% of what you do. The other 90% will be below the surface. The first 9 steps is a testament to what I mean:

1) Sit back and listen. Then, sit back and listen.
There’s going to be hype and excitement surrounding the candidate who is hired. The candidate’s going to want the social media keys so they can start tweeting & sharing, act-a-foo’.

Yeah. Don’t do that. And if the bosses encourage it, don’t. Not until you have a full understanding of the inner workings of Family Express. They’re not just a gas station. Family Express is a multi-layered, intricate regional corporate empire with tens of millions potential customers in a year thanks to those interstates. Those gas station locations are spread out in more places than one can count off the top of one’s head. Have you ever taken a backroad to Indy? You’ll hit a Family Express in every small town with a gas station. Often they are the only gas station in that town. Now, think of how many are in Valparaiso and Lafayette and all the medium-sized towns in between and what you have is the beginnings of quite the coconut telegraph. Make sure you know how each station communicates with each other and communicates with corporate. In order to communicate publically, you’ll have to know how Family Express communicates privately so as to not FUBAR the messages and run the risk of PR disasters.

2) Identify Family Express’ Corporate Social Media Goals
I could tell you what I think your goals would be in building and sustaining Family Express’ communities, but I’m not the one signing your paychecks. See what they think they need so you can build a plan that fits community goals and Family Express’ goals. There’s a common ground. You’ll find it. Mix in the promotions with the community support.

3) Get Out the Flash Cards
Have you memorized all of the Family Express locations yet? Get started. Before you think that’s difficult, remember you memorized the alphabet. That was 26 letters. You probably also memorized the multiplication tables up to 10x10. That’s 100. As one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Aaron Sorkin’s “Sports Night” once pointed out:

Just get yourself to want to remember them and it’ll be easy. Well, easier.

So your homework after day one will be to to memorize all off Family Express’s locations. This will make it infinitely easier to use your.

4) Take Inventory
For me there’s two bits here you’ll want to take stock in.

1) The marketing / advertising messages. Lots of specials, lots of pink and turquoise shirts, and most all of it centers around the Perks Club membership with the Mobile app. Get acquainted and make sure you are in the internal loop so you can announce these specials when they come out. You’re going to be the first source people turn to to check for gas price drops and coffee specials so don’t be the last to know about them.

2) Web Presence - Allyn Hane took a look at the marketing tools for Family Express when he wrote his white paper. If you don’t know Allyn Hane, then he’s done his job because he’s one of those internet marketers that lets his web properties speak for themselves. He’s one of the first I turn to when I have SEO issues and need someone with whom to bounce ideas. If he says the tools are in place, I’ll take his word blindly.

Neither one of use are sure about the email marketing but we are assuming that Perks club has one. If they do, you can syndicate it on the blog that you will whine about until you get one in place. If not, make sure they get it. Email is the #1 activity online still. Second - Social Media.

As I said, Allyn and I both agree on the same thing: needed a blog 5 minute ago. If you get Microsoft Office, schedule emails to go out every hour to the marketing heads until you get a blog. If it’s me, I migrate the whole site over to WordPress (full disclosure - my partner and I have our own that I’d use but if I had this job I wouldn’t have my own shop so I’m playing parallel realities here. Bear with me, please. I’m trying not to solicit). This way, you can do the modern URL structures of and use the categories like blog tags and all that other Googley-woogley SEO stuff. If you don’t get that, have them put it on If they try it off a wordpress or blogspot domain, keep screaming and don’t stop.

5) Monitor all the locations
Doing social media won’t all be about tweeting pictures of smiling elderly ladies and square donuts and rainbows and Perks Clubs announcements. All those locations you’ll be memorizing in point #3? Well, thanks to local SEO and social media (the lines are so blurred that you will be doing both), each location has a page on the following:

  • Google + Local
  • Yelp!
  • FourSquare
  • Bing
  • Local
  • Yahoo! Maps
  • DexKnows.comow

Each one of those can be edited, updated and, oh yeah, commented on by users. Potential customers. Current customers. You’ll have to make sure the data is current, the pictures and content are filled out, the contests are up to date, and that complaints have been addressed. Speaking of complaints, you will want to keep an eye on the following:


And judging from some of those, you’ll also have to contend with a company in California who goes by the same brand name. Welcome to Online Reputation Management.

6) Make Sure You Own Your name
There’s many, many tools out there that you will have to use. There are many, many tools you simply won’t have time to use, but you’ll want to own your presence in those spaces lest someone else does. Here’s a list of 20 of them that will get you essentially started. Especially Google accounts, you’ll be using these a lot! Also, read the whole list of 20 profiles to make. You will want the accounts loaded up for

  • Family Express Reviews
  • Family Express Fraud
  • Family Express Complaints...

And the others listed. The best offense is a good defense is a good offense is a good defense is the ebb and flow for which you will ride.

While you’re at it, go get them for Luke Oil and others that Family Express deams competitors. Sounds like an evil trick, but keep your friends close and...yup. You got it.

That point said, I have to go get my own. No stealing BakedFinn’s!

7) Lean Forward and Listen - aka “Put Your Ears On”
Now that you’ve soaked just how much setup work you have to do, it’s time to put that Google Account to work. For this case, you’re looking to use a couple tools:

Both come free with the Google account.

What is Google Alerts?
Google Alerts is a tool that sends up updates every time a keyword / phrase of interest to you gets indexed in Google. In this case, you can set it to get updated anytime someone publishes a web page with:

  • family express gas station
  • gas prices gary, in
  • best gas prices indiana
  • coffee dyer, in well as those fraud & complaint terms mentioned before.

Also, now you can start thinking about the message. This is where you can see what bloggers are writing about wanting to know, for example, the location of a great place to get coffee in Merrillville or if there was an issue at a Speedway in Crown Point.

This means, yes, you’ll be listening and looking for updates for your competitors. Welcome to the industry.

There is no limit on keywords and phrases on which you can monitor. Go to town. Listen for wants, needs, complaints, sales by competitors...the works.

What is Google Reader?
Ever see those orange-y icons that sometimes say RSS? Those are syndication feeds called RSS - Really Simple Syndication. What they allow you to do is get noticed and a copy of each and every new blog post / pieces of content that your favorite sites publish. You can subscribe to all the relevant ones and read them all in one location: Google Reader. Use Reader to follow area bloggers, niche bloggers, local news sites - you can subscribe to just categories from sites. Follow Gas Buddy. Follow Valpolife. Follow news sites for oil. Follow how-tos and traffic report sites to help out.

Google Reader also can follow Twitter accounts, hashtags, facebook fan pages and more. I track 250 blogs with my account, and that’s after trimming a lot of them. You’ll be able to follow quite a bit.

What Is Google Webmasters?
If it’s me, I’m assuming that SEO is out of scope yet part of the job. Google Webmasters is a tool that will track the health of the site in Google. It will also tell you in aggregate for what terms the site is ranked and will tell you what sites have linked to so you can see if anyone has written anything positive or negative about you. You’ll want to keep checking back to this site. It is an essential tool.

What Is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics measures traffic metrics for a website. It will tell you how many people visit the site, what keywords and sources they used to reach it, what pages they saw and how long they stated on it. Using this and the Google Analytics Campaign URL builder and you’ll be able to reliably measure which tweets, posts, shares and locations seem to be more socially active.

For Google Webmaster & Analytics
There will have to be a little setup on the website to get these to work. Your Web Design / Company should be able to do this without a problem. If they go to charge, remind them that these are free tools that their competitors aren’t so foolish as to attempt to charge for use.

What Is Hootsuite?
I couldn’t live without Hootsuite. There is a free version, but I pay for the $6 a month for one user because I track a few online brands. I can run twitter accounts, facebook pages, linkedin accounts and, the latest, Google Plus pages with it. I also track hashtags. Many, many hashtags. Tell the team at Family Express that in addition to a second monitor - 27 inches - and a second battery (unless you got the iphone, then a battery extender) that you’ll want Hootsuite!

Not only that, but you can schedule messages to go out to these multiple platforms at the same time. So if the Francesville Family Express tells you that the vintage church across the street is hosting a bingo tournament on Saturday afternoon, you can schedule hootsuite to send out a message via Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn noting that the Francesville station is running a special on Coffee and Square Donuts. This is where lesson 1 comes in handy because then you can run the special up the corporate flagpole, get approval for the special, then announce it on social media.

Or when VHS wins boys basketball semistate in Lafayette in 2013 - and they will - you can have schedule tweets on Saturday night saying that the stores in Brookston, Battle Ground & Francesville have 2 for 1 hot chocolate specials for those who come and show their ticket stub.

You see where I’m going with this: Hootsuite is bliss. It is browser based so you can login and check it from either your home computer or your work computer. And I love the mobile app for it. You’d a thought My Mobile Fans built it :-).


8) Sharpen the Tools
This is the part where you make sure all your foursquare, instagram, wordpress mobile (by the way, tell Catalyst Marketing to get a move on with that WordPress blog so you can use the mobile app when on the road!), and Hootsuite apps are all in sync with all your accounts. Do some test tweets so they are solid. You don’t want to go into battle with an untested weapon. Same goes with social media.

Also, test the scheduling tools. Make sure the forthcoming WordPress blog is set to CDT. Remember that some of your area is in EASTERN as well as CDT. Make sure Hootsuite is working. Also, if you’re going to do Google Calendar and Facebook events, make sure you got those times figured out. I messed up a tweetup earlier this year because I scheduled it from Fort Myers and thought the schedule was still set to CDT. Get those kinks out.

9) Final Check...Sort Of
Now, make sure you’re monitoring Family Express, yourself, key executives, compeitors, and common resources like Lakeshore 89.1 FM (they do the traffic report and announce local events), ValpoLife, I’m told those newspapers still exist, chamber of commerces and business organizations, and other areas that have either a quite a bit of customers or will attract them such as:

  • Radisson Star Hotel
  • Gary Railcats
  • Purdue University events
  • Valparaiso High School
  • Valparaiso University
  • Indiana 105
  • Horseshoe Casino live music acts
  • The other boats
  • Local Festivals and Fairs
  • Community and Business Calendars like NWiSM

Once you’ve got the tools running and collecting data - and they got you that second monitor - you’re ready to begin the part of the job the customers get to see.

What did I Mean By, “Sort of?”
It’s good to do a check of all this about once a month or so. Given all the locations one has to monitor, doing analysis updates every three months is more feasible. Now we don’t mean the data. That data you should be constantly reading through. In this case we simply mean the analysis, check for more thought leaders and competitors and bloggers and hashtags and making sure all the tools are reporting the data properly.

10) Now, You Get to Tweet
Well, if you’ve followed all this you’ve then got the lay of the land. Content should never be an issue. If there isn’t a contest somewhere there’s a community even somewhere else. Somewhere a potential customer is driving to or from another station on the way to somewhere else. So, here’s a few tips I go by

  • Laugh with them not at them - if you can make them laugh, the rest is gravy.
  • Never publicly laugh at anyone’s expense. - Customers, competitors, people you hate. Never. No rips, pranks, quips or retaliations. Doors close for a reason. Rant behind them and hope no one is recording or videoing it. There’s always a send button. Take a breath before pressing it and publishing on behalf of Family Express.
  • Give More Than You Get - if you do that, then the Zac Brown Band prophecy will come true and you will, “Get What You Give,” even if sometimes it’s just noise.
    • RT others
    • Reply in kind
    • Show support for causes and nonprofits
    • Be an amazing friend

Remember, kindness wins.

  • Space your messages out evenly - tweeters and social media users are jumping in and out of the data streams at all points in time throughout the day. 10 tweets or shares in 20 minutes at two different points in the day won’t help anyone.
  • Don’t Speak in the 3rd person - when people read your messages they will be reading it as if, “Family Express said.” This means that stating, “Family Express is offering...” People aren’t going to invite you into their weird little social media worlds just for a commercial announcement.
  • Attune to the Ebb and Flow of Your Customers - Duneland & The Region have a lot of shift work. Nurses, steel mill workers, blackjack dealers, stockboys...schedule some tweets to go out before 11pm and midnight, before 4 am, 6 am, 7am. Family Express will have all sorts of data that states when their stations get the most traffic. Prepare for times aside from the 9 to 5.
    • Sunday night before the work week
    • Thursday night before a three-day weeken
    • Two nights before a Holiday
    • Before kids go back to school
    • Popcorn Fest
    • Porter & Lake County Fair

Don’t worry. If the marketing department is doing their job, they won’t let you forget what next big thing is coming.

  • Learn what Your Customers Want From You - Aside from humor, kindness and support, customer will want the truth. In truth, they know Family Express has a few things they want them to know:
    • Did the price of gas drop near them?
    • What’s the cheapest gas?
    • What are the coffee specials?
    • What are the donut specials?
    • Are there car wash discounts?
    • What are the coupons?
    • Are those Coca-Cola 2 for $2 specials running again yet?
    • When did those breakfast sausages go under the heating lamps this morning?
    • Is the filling truck gone yet?
    • How much did I save on gas?

But they don’t want this blurted at their faces all the time. Give them weather, coffee specials, sports scores. Give them good news. Let them know when oil is back under $100 a barrel. Let them know when the Cline Ave. Bridge opens. This will involve a lot of RTing sports profiles, a couple local papers and other outlets, but those other accounts are a part of The Region. Make sure they are your friends.

  • Be Organized, Make Lists - from the department of Finn’s Carpenter’s House of Wisdom, be organized. Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Hootsuite all come with list making tools to keep the data from the communities you befriend nestled into digestible chunks. If you try to read it all in one list you won’t find anything of value.

Final Thoughts
Be a friend more than a maven, but me a maven more than a know-it-all. Never be a know-it-all but if for some reason you’re given marching orders to do just that, better to be a know-it-all than a push marketer that just spews specials. If you’re shoved into being a push marketer, never push the publish button. And if you have to, do it when nobody is listening. 2am would be nice. Thank you.

In Social Media - the intangible wing of Inbound Marketing - push & direct marketing is just the same as spamming. We know there’s a fine line, but it’s been blurred with a Jackson Pollock-like smearing of block & report spam buttons that most of us dare not to tread into broadcasting.

Be the one we turn to find out what’s going on around in The Region - aside from Valpo Life, of course!

One step at a time.
Don’t get overwhelmed. Remember, this is a career, not a gig. And this is just, yup, the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t touched community building, how to find social media people in the area, URL shorterners, link management, content & blogging strategies...

So kust take your time. It’ll be second nature soon enough, like those keys on the keyboard below.

And There’s a Community Here To Support You

Hit us up. Your success means other such corporations around here will finally catch up to the curve. We all want that.

PS - What’s up with that #NWI hashtag?
I’m told by my British sources that the #NWI hashtag is being used in the UK by British Nationalists. It won’t be easy to filter out and it’s probably gonna get worse before it gets better. Luckily, the 6-7 hour time difference means the crosstalk dies down during our peak usage. Also, make sure you’re also monitoring #nwindiana a little more. I’m guessing the British Nationalists won’t be using that one anytime soon.

About Nat Finn
Nat Finn is co-founder & Strategist at BakedFinn Internet Marketing, a cloud company that equips smaller companies with the online tools needed to level the playing field. His company also specializes in developing eCommerce, online lead generation & community websites for both internal and client use. Finn is often spotted at Blackbird Cafe in Valparaiso eating either “something lunchy” or “something dinnery” and often shares free internet marketing tips in exchange for one of the cafe’s large iced teas with a lemon slice. The easiest way to reach him is either his email or via social media: |