From inspirational messages and lifestyle tips to DIY projects and contest alerts, Stone Road Mall (SRM – Guelph, Canada) developed its #GuelphUnited initiative as a response to COVID-19. With its ongoing marketing goals in mind, the center executed a financially responsible plan to increase community support and strengthen its social platforms. Having previously established a community presence, SRM was able to generate local content and organize giveaways with “a skeleton crew administrating process.” Primarily counting on social media to spread its positive messaging and strengthen consumer engagement and reach, the marketing team elevated its digital game and exercised Facebook and Instagram, using their story and highlight-reel function, respectively. With #GuelphUnited, SRM solidified its position as a community leader.

“[With the closure of non-essential businesses within our shopping center, we had to pivot our marketing efforts drastically. We knew that engaging with the community through the COVID-19 crisis was essential to maintaining our strong presence within the community. Stone Road Mall prides itself of being a community leader and we wanted to construct a social media plan that embodied this. The hashtag #GuelphUnited was a natural fit and guided our messaging in an effort to engage our community for a common purpose, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic],” noted marketing manager, Christina Magee.

“[We took this opportunity to speak to the broader community, on their level, with personal messages of hope and gratitude for their support of Stone Road Mall, humanizing the robust center tenant messaging that occupied much of our public communications. By leading with positive messaging, we ensured that our content was meaningful, informative, and engaging our local patrons. Shopping local is now paramount in the minds of consumers. Stone Road Mall employs many people and its current image as accessible and community-driven provides us with a favorable position.]”

Managed by Primaris Management, SRM identified early on that its consumers were looking to local leaders to champion public health and safety guidelines. Understanding that perspective is everything, Magee believed that, even with the closing of the mall, a moment to prevail still existed. Responsible for the development and content creation of the initiative, B. Wallace Kennedy Production Management Inc. promised to stay true to the SRM brand. Brian Kennedy, the agency’s owner, laid out a plan that included a calendar of themed posts that supported its desired messaging. With online and social engagement up almost 500% over the previous year, SRM has heightened the attention of its followers and implemented the sharing of regularly curated activity on social media.

“We knew that the #GuelphUnited message was broad enough to use as a common thread throughout the public engagement initiative. We decided one key weekly theme to share was light-hearted, with positive quotes and personal messages, celebrating the resiliency of the human spirit during the pandemic and SRM’s gratitude. The quotes and messages were developed on-brand and to resonate with SRM’s target demographics. We also decided to showcase local groups and organizations that were taking action as a response to the negative impact that COVID-19 was having on the Guelph community. These groups, some of which were previously welcomed into the mall for [various] initiatives, were now invited to share in Stone Road Mall’s digital platform space,” Kennedy explained.

“Continuing throughout the week, in line with Public Health’s messaging, we shared helpful tips of ways people could better protect themselves. To diversify the messaging further, we created DIY activities that followers could do while at home. Highlighting a cross-section of categories from beauty and fashion to home décor, we included retailers’ DIYs as a way to support their digital presence. Building on the momentum of connecting with our followers throughout the week, every Friday we coordinated a giveaway on one of the mall’s social platforms through a ‘like’ and ‘comment’ call to action.”

Providing exposure to a tenant that remained open during the shutdown and was deemed essential, the giveaway asked followers to “like” or comment with their answer to a question that respected Public Health’s messaging. Due to a positive public response, SRM has continued to host the giveaways weekly to highlight retailers as they began the gradual process of reopening. Without compromising the momentum gained from its newly formed #GuelphUnited initiative, the center has been able to leverage the increase in brand awareness and public engagement throughout the initiative to support its tenants and share their reopening details via social media.

Proving it worth as a localized megaphone for SRM’s national retailers, #GuelphUnited helped the center earn 130,000+ organic impressions following the sixth week of the campaign. Rather than spending resources on paid social media advertising to boost the response, the center wanted to nurture its relationship with both retailers and community organizations to gain a more meaningful public response.

“We continue to recognize the importance that social media has in strengthening our brand awareness and its growing ability to engage with consumers through the development of new tools and functionalities,” Magee added.

“Looking ahead at future events and promotions, we must be prepared to adapt to reality. Consumers are listening, but they are also, thanks to our initiative, communicating back. It’s becoming evident that a more socially conscious consumer, with new shopping behaviors, will need to be accommodated as we usher in the ‘new normal,’ which isn’t very familiar yet.”