Playing catch-up with technology advances
Everything old is new again - at least when it comes to franchising and the Internet. A little over a decade ago, the franchise community was up in arms about franchisees developing their own Web sites. Now that concern is Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Joel Johnson, 22, spends most of his day on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking hot spots reading posts about what people are doing in real time. That's probably not all that unusual for someone of his generation; what is unusual is that he's getting paid to do it.
Johnson goes in and out of virtual conversations looking for people who want to talk about burritos, or better yet who want advice on where to eat lunch. Suggesting lunch sites is easy. He recommends Panchero's, his employer.
"I was surprised that people were having as many conversations about where to eat," Johnson says. Some will even post pictures of what they ate - before they ate it, of course.
Chatting on social networking sites has been described as a "cocktail party online." It's friends keeping up with friends, and people looking not only for a place to eat, but people to meet them there.
Johnson not only chats, he answers questions and complaints, runs a trivia contest and works with Panchero's franchisees to encourage virtual guests to become in-restaurant guests and then post a comment about their visit.
Meet the wave of the future - citizen marketers. Just as bloggers have become citizen journalists, now consumers are marketing products for companies. Third-party testimonials have always been less suspect than the advertiser telling how great its product or services are. And now with the number of people online chatting about their lives, getting them to recommend your restaurants, hair salon or products isn't a hard sell.
The downside is that it's harder to control a message about your brand when someone else is posting it. And that's why once you have a Facebook page, etc., you have to devote staff time to monitor it. And when you get a "friend," you have to stay in contact. "Would you want to be a friend with someone who wouldn't interact with you?" asks Nick Powills of No Limit Media Consulting in Decatur, Georgia. Responding to friends - what you become when you join someone's social media network - is a chance to market your product with coupons, deals or specials in real time. "It's direct mail on steroids," Powills contends.
Just like the comment cards left behind at businesses, bad reviews posted on the Web need immediate attention and a policy to address them.
Which is why Panchero's hired someone just to do social media.
When Panchero's CEO Rodney Anderson first started thinking the Coralville, Iowa, company should get involved with social media, he, and the other 30-somethings in the office, weren't sure how to do it. He told the staff they needed to find someone who does online networking for fun. Johnson just happened to apply for a job. "I was impressed with him," Anderson says. "I said (to staff) this might be the kid."
David Asarnow, CEO of Clix studios enjoys some of the fancy artwork his franchise offers customers.
Johnson is researching the phenom, and reporting back to Anderson and staff on his findings. What they've learned so far, Anderson says, is that the postings become the property of the consumer, not the brand. "People don't want push marketing," he says. "You have to let it have a life of its own."
Postings can't be fake or contrived. Marketing needs to be interactive, something consumers create on their own or add to. Any offer needs to be freebies or a reward for being a loyal fan, Anderson says. You're in it for the long run, to build relationships, not for the short-term sale, he adds.
Ironically, since he's online all day at work, Johnson's found he's doing less Web surfing at night.
Sometimes franchisors don't even need to set up a Facebook page, fans do it for them. Such was the case for Shakey's Pizza. Customers of the old brand making a comeback set up a page for the closed Cockeysville, Maryland, Shakey's restaurant for former customers and employees to post a story about their experience there. The page has 373 members, who all have a memory of the restaurant to share.
Social networking sites have become vital marketing tools for many franchises.
Rob Fix, vice president of franchise development for Shakey's USA, found out about the page when he attended the International Franchise Association's convention in February and promptly posted a comment: É "Shakey's is back on its feet and you'll be hearing more and more over the next year. Hopefully we'll be back to Cockeysville before you know it."
While it's always nice to hear positive things about your brand, jumping on negative complaints, whether they're for bad service or disappointing products, is critical. The public gets angry when you have a vehicle to address problems and then fail to follow through, Powills cautions.
As of the last count, there were 150 million active users of Facebook, with 140 new ones joining every day, according to Powills. Users are from 170 different countries, so if you're a concept looking for international exposure, it's here.
Twitter, a similar social networking site, had 3 million "Tweets" a day, way back in March of 2008.
A number of franchise companies have already taken advantage of asking customers to make and post videos for them (there are 70 million videos on YouTube, everything from TV shows to individuals posting clips of their hobbies and bloopers).
David Asarnow, CEO of Clix studios, was on the cutting edge of digital photography, but had no idea how to extend that to marketing on the Web. He hired No Limit Media to help the company develop a social media campaign that would attract both franchisees and customers. "We need to keep the budget low, but increase sales," he says. "It's amazing how much we've done in a short time."
Asarnow said they went into the project knowing they'd "try hundreds of things and not all of them will work." It was a process of testing and measuring the results.
One program they're using for franchisee recruitment is to host a webinar for prospects, so they can introduce the concept visually to several people at one time. "We were spending 15 minutes to two hours on the phone per lead (before this)," he says.
The webinar is interactive. Prospects can type in questions and get them answered. After the presentation, they open it up for conversations.
"We started with franchise sales and now we're doing it (webinars) as training," Asarnow says. "We train franchisees and then they train their employees."
Asarnow has two Facebook pages. One personal; one for business, "because my business contacts don't necessarily want to know what I do in my personal life, such as 'washed the car yesterday.'"
On Clix's Twitter page, they're running a scavenge hunt in conjunction with other businesses in the area. Game players click onto the different sites after getting clues, where they'll receive a "prize," in the form of a coupon, discount or other reward. The last clue will be an in-person event - speed dating - at which Clix will provide a free portrait for their online dating profile. This introduces the concept to a group of people who may not normally come into a portrait studio, Asarnow says.
In addition, Asarnow writes a blog on how to take better photos. An interview with the CEO is posted on YouTube.
Another established brand doing new media is Huddle House. Now in its 45th year, Huddle House needed to find a way to reach out to a younger audience.
When they started investigating the social networking sites, they found there were already videos posted on YouTube about their brand. One was two giggly girls doing "coffee creamer shots at Huddle House" - which was the title of their video - while another was titled, "Eating Arby's at Huddle House." Neither one will win any awards. However, diners who submit a video depicting why they're Huddle House's No. 1 fan have a chance to win a flat-screen television and numerous other prizes, according to Susan Franck, vice president of marketing for Huddle House.
Franck, who describes herself as on the older end of the MySpace generation, says she knew they needed to jump into the social media fray because it was a topic constantly being batted about in professional marketing seminars and meetings. Like many franchises, however, their small marketing staff couldn't spare the time to be online eight or more hours a day.
They hired Powills' firm to set up pages on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. In addition, the CEO Phil Greifeld has become a blogger.
In just a few months, they've watched their fans on Facebook grow from 27 to 121 (when we checked the page). MySpace, which is a younger demographic than Facebook, is up to over 220 friends. To encourage fans to post a positive testimonial, they offer to mail a travel mug to the best ones.
"We occasionally get negative posts, but we can respond right away. Usually when people complain they just want to be heard," she says. And negative comments shouldn't scare anyone away from reaching out to this group, she points out, because "you're going to get negative (posts on the Internet), whether you have a site or not."
Social media sites don't replace traditional public relations efforts, Powills stresses.
"I think you should be doing both," he says. "Franchising is always slow to catch up to technology. Why? I wish I knew... (But) with social media, everyone's behind the curve."
The top 5 social media mistakes
1. Not changing your franchise agreement to cover social media. Just like franchisors took control of their Web sites a decade or so ago, now they need to control what's being said about the brand in social networking sites. In addition, start now to secure your company's name in conjunction with YouTube, etc., just like you did URLs just a few years ago.
2. Not maintaining and updating your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or blogs. Once you train the public to visit your sites for updates or to post a comment, you're obligated to follow through. Nothing is worse than ticking off the new citizen journalists.
3. Thinking you can do social marketing on your own. While you may have a marketing team in-house, they're also charged with traditional advertising, PR and marketing. "You need someone to do it daily," contends Nick Powills. And you also want someone who knows what they're doing. Social media is not just PR in a trendy wrapper. You need someone who knows franchising and the "social" lingo.
4. Overpaying to outsource this service. Since it's still fairly new, it's hard to quantify how much a lead from social media actually is worth. Are you looking for franchisees or long-term customers? Do your due diligence - sound familiar?
5. Thinking Facebook, etc., are just for kids. Facebook may have started as networking for younger people, but take a look at who's on it now. Some of the original kids' grandparents are living their lives on their Facebook pages. Powills describes it as "LinkedIn on speed."
From Nick Powills of No Limit Media Consulting