Using Social Media to Build Community

Liz_Gillespie Social Media to Build CommunityCREWMemberBy Liz Gillespie, VP Marketing of North American Properties


Retail-oriented developments begin and end with a community, both physical and virtual. At North American Properties (NAP), years before a project breaks ground, we build a following and an engaged group of brand advocates through social media – essentially we build communities virtually before building the physical community.


We use social media as a focus group, creating hashtags and fostering engagement in order to co-curate our developments with the help of people who will ultimately use them. This approach often transforms casual social media users into loyal fans who are invested in the property, because they feel they’ve had a hand in its development.


Once the property is open, we often work with our retailers to promote deals, new products, and in-store events, creating an added value for tenants. We also work with brand-aligned bloggers to amplify our reach to the right audiences. With this, we broadcast our community events and activities to thousands of people every day. The millennial-coined “FOMO effect” kicks in (Fear Of Missing Out) and guests, not wanting to miss the fun, are drawn to our properties for future events, increasing overall foot traffic and “dwell time” within the community.


Here are just a few ways we have leveraged social media to create a more engaging and meaningful experience for our communities:

Atlantic Station Atlantic Station – We first incubated the concept of “co-curating” through social media when NAP took over Atlantic Station in 2010. The struggling property had developed a reputation for being unsafe and sales were declining. NAP made a strategic decision to transform Atlantic Station into a vibrant, experiential retail development, but, first, we needed to gather community feedback.


  • Implemented a bold and transparent social media program that invited the community to share feedback and ideas around improving Atlantic Station.
  • After months of listening, use social media to share an open letter to Midtown residents that laid out a ten-point plan for Atlantic Station.
  • Include the community in every step, generating thousands of user responses about the future of Atlantic Station


  • Gained an army of supporters.
  • Last year, we sold Atlantic Station for more than double its purchase price
  • The community continues to thrive with thousands of fans on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

AvalonAvalon– At Avalon, our 86-acre mixed-use community in Alpharetta, NAP delivered an unparalleled line-up of chef-driven restaurants, but one dining option was missing. Avalon’s guests, residents and office workers desired a quality, quick-serve option: Chick-fil-A.


  • Brought the zoning request to the city. (To our surprise, the planning commission voted against the request, saying Chick-fil-A wasn’t “good enough” for Avalon.)
  • Executed a hyper-local social media campaign, leveraging Avalon’s highly-engaged social network to educate the community about Chick-fil-A’s high standards, and built a groundswell of support for the quick-serve restaurant. (Our plan included a special hashtag #AvalonNeedsCFA.)
  • Used social media to empower and encourage local brand advocates to raise their voices.


  • In 12-weeks (with a 5-week hiatus because the city asked us to ease up), team Avalon shared 93 unique social posts with the hashtag #AvalonNeedsCFA and generated 432,700 impressions.
  • Our social media campaign was a success, and in December 2015, the Alpharetta City Council voted to approve the Chick-fil-A at Avalon.


Colony SquareColony Square – When NAP acquired Colony Square in November 2015, we set out to transform the property into a “living room” for Midtown, featuring best-in-class retailers, restaurants and community events.


  • Focusing on community outreach
  • Created the hashtag #reimagineCS in order to listen to our stakeholders and followers


  • Based on community feedback, we have established core values for the property, including sustainability, mobility, technology and culture.
  • We are listening to feedback on social media at every step of the way, and are committed to implementing the community’s ideas to make Colony Square a destination that people will want to visit.
  • So far, #reimagineCS has received 2,272,493 social impressions and has reached an audience of 875,694.


LoreleiLorelei– We are incorporating the lessons learned from our other projects into a new mixed-use development in Charleston, South Carolina. NAP will transform 160 acres of premier waterfront property into “Lorelei,” an upscale, experiential community on Laurel Island that is distinctive to Charleston.


  • Listening to the community through public meetings
  • Embarking on a discovery tour to derive inspiration from our country’s best examples of mixed-use, experiential, waterfront communities, which include exceptional food halls and favorite gathering spaces.


  • In progress!
  • Naturally, we are sharing our findings along the way on our social channels and inviting feedback using the hashtag #imagineCHS. Follow along!


Liz Gillespie oversees all aspects of North American Properties’ (NAP) corporate and property-level marketing programs including branding initiatives, integrated communications, leasing support, digital strategies and public relations activities. She most recently spearheaded the marketing strategy for Avalon, a $600 million mixed-use development in Alpharetta, Georgia. Liz’s unique brand of creativity and commitment to delivering The Avalon Experience contributed to the property’s highly successful grand opening, with 98 percent of the 380,000 square feet of retail space leased. Currently, Liz is leading marketing efforts for Lorelei, an experiential, waterfront mixed-use development in Charleston, South Carolina, and the reimagining of Colony Square, Midtown Atlanta’s original mixed-use destination. Liz has more than 25 years of experience in commercial real estate marketing and is known for her innovative ideas and ability to create meaningful and memorable guest experiences.


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Author: CREW Atlanta

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