You wouldn't think that your local megaplex shopping mall is leading the way in terms of social media engagement, but you'd be wrong. Simon Property Group, owners of hundreds of malls across America, is doing it right when it comes to how they engage their store owners and consumers. Let's take a closer look and see some of the lessons learned for your own humble business, even if you aren't a retail establishment that can be seen from the food court.

Simon uses social media to better connect with you, the shopper. It is somewhat ironic. After all, wasn't technology supposed to make it easier for us to go directly to the merchant, and by-pass the middleman? Instead, Simon uses Facebook and Twitter and ordinary email to draw in customers to various mall activities and special events, and notify them about sales.

Each mall has its own Facebook page and each local region has at least one digital point of contact to oversee digital marketing efforts. This person gets a lot of hands-on training, including regularly scheduled conference calls and email newsletter prototypes that can form the basis of the mall's own email blasts to its local customers.

"We invite our shoppers to in-mall events via social media, such as our Kidgits events, that not only provide a fun experience for kids and parents, but also drive traffic into our malls at off times, something that retailers get excited about," says Patrick Flanagan, vice president, Digital Strategy at Simon. The company uses various tools to provide "insider information" about other events and deals.

The Facebook pages have been a hit, and some of them have gotten tens of thousands of fans, such as this one from the Houston Galleria mall. This week at the mall's page you can win a $1000 shopping spree gift certificate for example. The enormous complex has Neiman Marcus, Macy's, Nordstrom's, and Saks, along with an indoor ice rink and a Westin hotel.

Simon tries to integrate its own social media push with what its retailers are doing to complement their efforts. "Most of our retailers have their own social presence as well and we work to cross promote to these fan bases when relevant," he says. The goal isn't just to connect with current shoppers, but bring in new folks too.

And each Facebook page is tied into its Twitter stream for easy reference too, according to Flanagan.

"We trend about a 10:1 ratio between Facebook vs. Twitter; which is actually higher than much of our industry on the Twitter side. We provide different content for Twitter, but often in the same themes as the Facebook content. The main difference is frequency of posts as well as the need for every Tweet to be engaging. We are working on a project that helps our malls interact with Foursquare users via Twitter automatically, but in a more personalized tone."

Keeping track of 200 Facebook pages is a daunting task, but Flanagan uses Webtrends to watch what is working and what isn't across all of this content. "With over 500 field employees interacting with our shoppers across 200 localized Facebook Pages, we're always looking for new methodology to improve our already robust digital offerings. Webtrends Hoverstats and its proprietary PSI metric give us better insight into what content most effectively engages our shoppers - just in time for the holiday season." An example of the output from Webtrends can be seen below.

"The new Webtrends PSI tool will help our local malls levels learn what content 'works' and what content does not for their specific page. It is amazing to see that the same post on two different pages can work so differently: some mall Facebook communities are value centric while others are family or fashion centric and the content should be tailored based on these learnings."

And these efforts are getting results. "Our social program has been a net gain for Simon and our mall retailers. It's provided an additional outlet to promote retailer deals and events as well as drive general mall traffic, all things our retailers value."