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Small and medium-sized retailers often use social networks to build brand awareness, drive traffic, create customer loyalties and generate repeat business. But since it can be complicated — and expensive — for retailers with limited resources to create and manage social marketing campaigns, a growing number are partnering with a third party to manage the technology for them.

Nashville-based Gigi’s Cupcakes has more than 70 locations in 21 states. All the stores are franchised — including two owned by founder Gina “Gigi” Butler — and until late last year each had its own Facebook page, with no consistency between and among them.

So marketing director Tonnya Acree and marketing manager Lindsey Fuller began looking for what Acree describes as “brand-consistent Facebook marketing tools that didn’t require highly technical skills from us, or the time it would have taken for us to manage those tools.

“Our owners are busy baking and running a business,” she says. “They just don’t have the time to manage a social network site, so the platform had to be really easy for them to use.”

Gigi’s implemented Sweet Shoppe, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) social network platform developed by Social Candy. Sweet Shoppe has a flexible architecture that allows businesses to quickly and easily create and manage Facebook fan pages, as well as run custom promotions. All the technical aspects of the program are handled by Social Candy, freeing up Gigi’s marketing team to concentrate on creating effective Facebook promotions.

“Social Candy makes everything really, really easy,” says Fuller. “On our end, it’s just like the switch of a button.”

Coordinated deployment
When Gigi’s is ready to launch a new marketing program, Sweet Shoppe can “coordinate the deployment of all their Facebook pages together, which eliminates any maintenance on Gigi’s part,” Social Candy CEO and founder Darin Kotalik says. “It also allows for a quick launch since all the updates happen at the same time ... And it allows each store to have their own customized message on their individual Facebook pages.”

Through Sweet Shoppe, Gigi’s can take advantage of Facebook’s “fan gate,” a technology designed to convert visitors to a Facebook retail page into fans – and turn that fan information into a customer loyalty database.

“Before, we didn’t have an effective way to reward our fans for showing their support and ‘liking’ our pages,” Fuller says. “Now we have applications that are driving traffic to our Facebook pages and we have tools to reward our fans. Fans ... love that they can see our daily menu and daily specials.”

Gigi’s has gained more than 20,000 new “likes” since it implemented the Sweet Shoppe platform; on its corporate page, the number of “likes” jumped from 3,000 to 10,000 in about two months.

Gigi’s uses sweepstakes and contests to generate boosts in “likes” and brand awareness, which in turn drives traffic to the stores. “We can market across all the pages and build the brand at the same time,” Fuller says.

“Our store’s Facebook presence is a key marketing vehicle,” says Acree. “We aren’t yet able to afford national television or cable advertising, so our website and Facebook pages are the two main vehicles that we rely on for advertising.”