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Coordinating Social Media Between Franchisees and Franchisors

Marketing is changing fast. Businesses have entered a new era in how consumers connect with the companies they do business with, and how they communicate with their friends about the products and services they like or don’t like.

Dealing with the ongoing shift to digital communications, social media in particular, takes a lot time and energy. But a fundamental shift has occurred that any successful franchisor must understand: It’s no longer what you say about your brand products and services, it’s what your potential and current customers say about you.

Like it or not, your new primary marketing channels are Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, LinkedIn and dozens of others, and your customer base is now an important part of your sales force. Your brand positioning, benefit statements, reviews and your brand equity itself are in the hands of an ever-growing population of advocates and detractors that are not under your control.

Is your company listening closely to the messages being communicated about it, your franchisees and your products and services? Although the organization can’t control your new sales force, it can and must engage with and influence it.  To ignore this phenomenon could be fatal.  It is here to stay and grows every day.

Therefore, it’s something companies must get right. What does getting social media right look like?

Get it Right or Get it Wrong

Picture a steady flow of connected and engaged prospects who become new customers, come back often and refer others just like themselves. In other words, picture a healthy ecosystem of lead generation, conversion and repeat business, which naturally leads to increased sales, revenues and profits.

Conversely, getting it wrong is not a pretty picture. There are many ways to mismanage your reputation, from pure neglect because of a failure to listen or responding in loose-cannon fashion. Your business has invested everything in its brand image, and suddenly everyone has a multimedia megaphone to attack or praise you. Negative or even neutral sentiment in social media channels was a non-existent concern five to 10 years ago, but it’s now a factor that can devastate your business overnight or precipitate a slow decline into irrelevance and failure.

Bewildering? Yes, and if businesses find the new frontier of disruptive technologies challenging, remember that everyone in virtually every industry is dealing with the same thing. Therefore, it’s critical to get off the dime. It’s imperative that to equip your franchisees with the tools, strategies and know-how to master this channel to their prospects, before the entire organization is left behind. Getting it right starts at the corporate level, and there your business will likely see social media’s greatest impact on your brand, be it positive or negative at the local level. That’s not something one can afford to leave to chance.

“Brands are doing a better job of maintaining their corporate social presence, but still fall short when it comes to engaging their customer base on local pages,” says Jon Carlston, CFE, vice president of social development, Process Peak LLC, who helps manage the Facebook National-Local solution for franchise brands and sits on the International Franchise Association’s Information Technology Committee.

Engage Your New Sales Force

Start by making sure that your brand’s basic information is properly represented. Instead of directing the message, monitor and collaborate with your new sales team to effectively represent your position. Given the sheer number of new marketing channels and sales representatives, which multiply with every attempted or completed transaction, this can be a daunting task. But once it’s possible to monitor your message in the social media-powered marketplace, your brand can begin to identify, cultivate and even partner with your most ardent customer advocates and tap into the primal instinct for leveraging communities of trust when it comes to buying decisions.

This requires embracing transparency and a dedication to creating positive experiences for your customers. In this new world, owning up and swiftly taking care of things when they go wrong will always benefit your brand.  Never be afraid of negative comments; they provide the best opportunity to show the world your corporate values and how your company conducts business and in most cases, turns the detractor into an advocate.

Your new marketing channels and the associated virtual sales force are growing every day. As with your internal teams, your virtual sales force must understand what motivates the behavior it is seeking. They will perform best when the brands gives them consistent, relevant messaging and rewards them with perks and recognition for their loyalty. And here’s an added twist to engaging your new departments: They operate in a mobile environment where phones and other mobile devices make up a major part of their interaction. This means that this new world of marketing is ongoing, everywhere, all the time and getting faster and smarter.

Your organization can meet this challenge by adopting tools that enable it, the franchisor, to meaningfully monitor and manage its primary social media presence as a start. As the brand gives franchisees the opportunity to acclimate to this new marketing environment, the authentic local touch will ultimately enhance overall social marketing communications if the company can get them to buy into its strategy.

If You Don’t Have Social Media Skills, Find a Partner Who Does

How is this capability developed? The challenge for many franchisors is that this is completely uncharted territory.  If they are lucky, they have a corporate marketing communications infrastructure that’s capable of first figuring out the initial strategic and tactical steps in social media. If they are even luckier, they will be able to execute a comprehensive plan across the entire organization.

If not, then franchise businesses must find outside help from a resource that is capable of providing strategic planning customized to their organizations and help  them implement social media at the national and local levels.

A dedicated vendor can keep on top of all the latest trends and strategies (for example, should the brand be on Pinterest?) and can help your company avoid the typical mistakes that waste time and money. In practical terms, that means an organization that also understands marketing and the critical importance of maintaining brand congruency in an integrated fashion, across all channels.

If your potential vendor is still talking about social media and not social media marketing, then move on.

Companies can no longer treat their traditional marketing channels as if they were separate from their digital marketing channels. Strategically selecting the proper channels in each world and leveraging the combinations should be your prime objective as a franchisor and taught to your franchisees.

Harnessing the Power of Your New Sales Force

Your business or your vendor will need to create effective social media campaigns that coordinate your national branding initiatives down to the regional and local level, with synchronized social messaging (ideally with the ability to vary the messaging and the offer, by location).

The evolutionary changes to communication via social media are ongoing and changing rapidly making the do-it-yourself approach a sure way to always be behind the curve.  The dynamic nature of the social media revolution is disruptive to the static and structured precepts in franchising, but your brand must deal with that reality (just like it did when the Internet became the great disruptor).

As a franchisor, you owe it to your franchisees to get the necessary help to stay on top of the latest developments in social media. It’s your responsibility to take action and provide them with the best practices guidance they need to reach prospects and existing customers in new ways, and the implementation help they need to get it done.

This industry is at a pivotal point in history where in business, the people who are making the decisions don’t understand what’s going on and the people who understand what’s going on don’t make the decisions.

The organizations that can bridge that gap first are the ones that will win in this new economy. ⎯

Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc., chairman of IFA’s Social Media Task Force and a member of IFA’s Information Technology Committee.  He can be reached at 480-921-2444, Ext. 7027 or kenc@datadoctors.com.

 

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