It can be tricky enough for brands to engage people over social media, but what about service providers?

What about the shopping malls, theatres and transport hubs that we use every day?

They often lack the emotional spark that we get with brands – what makes us care about the latest news?

Apart from being a place that we need to visit from time-to-time, what value can the shopping centre bring to customers? What does a facility have to say on social media?

Although it may not seem like it, there are ways that these service providers can create and share engaging content online. 

Creating a emotional resonance

When travelling, people often have airline preferences, but the airport we fly from is usually dictated by convenience and necessity. It’s just somewhere we have to go. 

How do major transport hubs transform themselves from something that we tolerate, and therefore don’t care much about engaging with, into an experience that we remember and want to share?

How do they keep us engaged and exited to come back?

Heathrow does this by tying its brand identity into the national consciousness. This June it celebrated its 70th birthday by sharing the work of its resident photographer.

By recognising these moments, Heathrow solidifies itself in the national consciousness.

People may not care that an airport is 70, but they do care about that moment the Beatles stepped off the plane.

Heathrow continued this theme in July when it launched its first TV ad, which was filmed from the perspective of a little girl making her first visit to the airport.

Heathrow has started to tell stories over social media, and this is where the true emotional resonance lies.

The airport has realised that social media can be a powerful tool for storytelling, especially when it’s the customer telling the story.

Sharing experiences

There’s no real reason for people to chat with a facility on social media. Yes, they may have the odd “when do you open?” type question, but other than that, what is there to say?

But social media is a vital tool for service providers – it can help bring people in, to encourage them to make the trek to the Apple Store in Westfield, rather than the one in Covent Garden.

Having a collection of popular stores and brands under one roof isn’t enough to pull people in, and malls like Westfield know this.

To compete with the lure of central London and its many attractions, Westfield has to create an experience out of shopping.

It uses Facebook to promote pop-up stores and experiences – things that people have to hurry to see before its time runs out.

Westfield is an experience provider, not just a big building with a lot of shops.

It uses social media to remind people of that through events, showing them that it’s worth paying a visit because you never know what will be going on.

Finding focus

ODEON’s Leicester Square cinema is one of the most famous in the country and is often host to red carpet events.

People expect a special experience when they visit, and it’s important that its social media presences reflect that.

But the films it promotes change from one week to the next, depending on what the hot new film is.

One week it could be Ghostbusters, the next it’s the latest Bourne movie.

The @ODEONLSq account changes its Twitter profile picture to promote each new movie as it comes along. The focus isn’t on one particular brand, but in celebrating movies in general.

People follow the account because they love films. To celebrate this, the account runs ticket giveaways.

These not only encourage people to engage with the chain’s social posts, but it makes them want to follow and check its social feeds regularly.

By giving something away, and asking for very little in return, ODEON clearly understands what its customers appreciate.

The social media team understand the importance of cultivating a personality, a voice, that makes people want to chat and participate in events.  

It doesn’t shy away from getting in on the social-political commentary, which shows that the brand doesn’t take itself completely seriously, and that it appreciates it’s part of a larger world (one that its followers may want to seek escape from). 

It’s important for any organisation that uses social media to have a defined voice, to be relatable. Cold corporate speak has little place on social.

Service providers can use social media to create and enhance the emotional connection that people have with the location by linking it to storytelling and its place people lives.

They can create shared experiences and focus on the things that draw people together.

It’s not just about posting dry service updates, but creating a community of customers who want to come back.

Social Media is just one of the topics covered at the Festival of Marketing 2016, which takes place in London on October 5-6.