NEW YORK — The Twitter-verse is abuzz about Duane Reade, and it’s no accident.
The iconic New York City drugstore chain, a division of Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreen Co., recently garnered its one-millionth follower on Twitter — a milestone achieved with the help of a fleet of consumer bloggers who are fans of the chain. “Consumer-generated media is a core part of our social media strategy,” Calvin Peters, public relations and digital communications manager, Duane Reade, told SN at an event here celebrating the company’s Twitter success.
About a year and a half ago, the drugstore chain launched a “VIP Blogger” program through its social media agency, Bentonville, Ark.-based Collective Bias, which has a network of about 2,000 consumer-bloggers around the country. About 20 of those bloggers have become “VIP brand advocates” for Duane Reade, after a careful vetting process in which their writing and expertise were evaluated.
These VIPs — many of whom were in attendance at the Twitter celebration — agree to try certain products from Duane Reade and write about their experiences online, in exchange for receiving access to events, special deals and other perks. Most of the products are cosmetics and health and beauty care items, which are a focus of Duane Reade’s merchandising.
The bloggers’ connection to Collective Bias is explained in their posts. Although their posts are, in effect, sponsored, Duane Reade gives the bloggers free rein to write whatever they want, Peters explained.
“We are reaching customers with the authentic, consumer-generated content they crave,” he said. Visual presentations are an important part of the social media posts, he explained, and many of the chain’s online contests involve user-generated photos.
One of the VIP bloggers told SN she got involved with the program through her interest in fashion.
“It’s really opened up a lot of opportunities for me,” said Christine Tsang, who writes the fashion blog Tineey.com, which is heavy on visual content. “Working with Collective Bias, I have learned a lot about blogging, and about the industry.”
The consumer-blogger marketing strategy is one that has been employed by several supermarket chains, including H-E-B, Food Lion, Price Chopper and Hannaford Bros., but Duane Reade exemplifies how the effort can be woven into a holistic social media effort to drive consumer engagement — and actual product sales.
Duane Reade combined the VIP Blogger effort with a series of aggressive social media/advertising promotions that “speak with an authentic New York voice,” Chris Riedy, head of retail partnerships at Twitter, explained. The effort has included Twitter ads, promotions around new store openings, contests and other activities, all of which combined to drive a 6,709% increase in Twitter followers in the last 12 months.
And, in what Duane Reade called a true measure of the effort’s return on investment, the chain cited a 28% lift in sales of its Duane Reade Legwear products following a “Show Us Some Leg” social media campaign.