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RFID Can Put Social Media On Autopilot

Organizations from Vail Resorts to a small ice cream maker are using radio ID tags to trigger social posts.

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"We have found some really interesting behavior around the attainment of these digital pins," Urwiler said. "Some are easier to get, and some more difficult, but we've heard a lot of stories about people who skied a little extra to earn the next pin." In the process, guests "get more mileage and the enjoyment" out of the experience, he said. "And the more they talk about it socially--you can't buy that kind of marketing."

Tickets containing RFID chips were issued to about 650,000 guests this winter, out of which more than 100,000 activated their online accounts. Of those, 45% chose to make their profiles public by sharing them with another social media account, collectively generating 275,000 posts to Facebook and Twitter. Vail's estimate that those posts were seen by 35 million people is extrapolated from Facebook's statistic that its members average 130 online friends.

Izzy's Ice Cream can't boast those sorts of numbers, but Sommers said its Facebook page "has gone from a couple of thousand to over 4,500 fans" since it added the RFID-powered feature.

The Flavor Up page on the Izzy's website tells customers exactly what flavors are in the dipping cabinet at its store at any given moment, and posts to the Izzy's Facebook and Twitter pages consist almost entirely of flavor updates--with customer notes of appreciation also showing prominently on the Facebook page.

"You'll never see a vanilla update, because we always have vanilla in the case, but every time Chocolate Dulce de Leche gets changed to Dark Chocolate Zen; that publishes to a Web content management system and also to Facebook and Twitter and everyone who has signed up for email updates. Eventually, we could do texting as well," Sommers said.

Izzy's has just the one retail location, but its ice cream is also in about 25 restaurants and 14 grocery stores in the region, Sommers said. Rather than trying to grow into the next Ben & Jerry's, Izzy's aspires to be a destination--and social flavor updates are one way of making sure customers who drive from miles away to get a taste of their favorite flavor won't be disappointed.

The system is powered by RFID tags embedded in the nameplates that store personnel slide into the case when they change a flavor. One reason for implementing the system had nothing to do with the Web or social media. Whenever store employees changed the flavor in the case, they were also supposed to update the big display board behind the counter. But sometimes when the store got busy, they would forget, so someone standing in the back of the line would decide on a flavor based on the display board, only to get to the front of the line and find out it wasn't available.

"That was always a scenario where we really didn't meet the customer expectations--really a chronic failure within our institution," Sommers said. So now RFID tag readers update the electronic sign behind the counter--and the Flavor Up posts online as well.

"What we're trying to do is create a really great customer experience, along with really great ice cream," Sommers said.

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