2016 May Be Year Of Social Media And Mobile Apps; Can Operators Meet The Challenge Of Engagement?

Posted On: 12/23/2015

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TAGS: bulk vending, coin machine, coin-op machine, coin-op industry, vending machine, bulk vendor, coin-op business, small business, vending, vending operating, Vending Times editorial, Hank Schlesinger, 2016 predictions

The approach of the winter solstice traditionally is the time to look at the year ahead. If we are to believe the tech gurus, 2016 will be the year of mobile apps and social media. This is no surprise, you may say; the new year will bring more of the same, or a lot more of the same. This time, however, some of it will be different. A technological revolution provoked by disruptive technologies seems unlikely, although you can't rule out the possibility. But the far more likely scenario is a continued evolution of social media conditioned by the overwhelming predominance of mobile devices.

If the tech mavens are to be believed, the trend is toward the visual, as images and other graphic elements replace text. Also trending is increasing personalization of data, as consumers curate their devices to provide a flow of information aimed at their own specific tastes and interests.

What has happened over the past few years is what engineers like to call "proof of concept." From the business side of the equation, social media have proven to be an integral medium for brand-building strategies. If team Kardashian seems like a flash in the celebrity pan -- please let it be so -- then consider that Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association all have invested heavily in social media, along with the players.

What these organizations see is that 20.5% of Internet users in the U.S. are expected to have Twitter accounts in the coming year, up from just 15.2% in 2012. And that percentage is expected to exceed 24% by 2018. The concentration of these users is particularly high among young people, in their teens and twenties, who grew up with Internet access and smartphones.

In conducting my own admittedly unscientific survey, I found that even some small businesses have switched from haphazard social media efforts to assigning a current employee the job of conducting a concerted, consistent social media program across a variety of platforms. Working in tandem with this effort are promotions and special events in growing numbers, both home-grown and held in conjunction with corporate entities. As one bar owner recently told me, "We try for one event a month, but have done as many as three. These have included special pricing as well as tastings sponsored by well-known companies."

Competition is tough. In one instance that I personally witnessed, nearly a dozen patrons were lured from one location to another by a single, well-timed tweet to a single customer. Word of the special event spread quickly.

Luckily, both street and entertainment facility operators are well-positioned to take advantage of social media. This industry is particularly well provided with opportunities for promotional partnerships with locations and flexibility in terms of equipment. For instance, special pricing on games, or one-night competitions promoted by a tavern or bar, add value and build location loyalty. Similarly, FECs running special pricing promotions for a single game category draw in players on slow nights.

The good news, then, is that the playing-field is leveled by social media, providing small businesses with tools for competing with large corporate entities. The bad news is that it also requires a level of commitment to promotion which, to date, has been uncommon among the so-called "little guys." It was not that long ago when announcements were mailed, and then faxed, and most recently emailed. For those particularly ambitious operators, Myspace offered the best online option. If the pundits are right in their predictions, the near future will require that an operator who wishes to remain competitive in large and second-tier markets also establish a presence on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

As they say, the revolution may not be televised, but it will be tweeted.