Enter the Fourth Horseman
Social media is the next lead generation site
By virtually all accounts, the Internet represents the single biggest lead source for most franchisors. Yet despite its dominance of the franchise lead generation market, a significant number of franchisors simply do not use it effectively.
It is little wonder. The traditional troika of Internet lead generation - organic search, Pay-Per-Click, and portals - are all designed to keep us off balance. Organic search engine optimization techniques change almost weekly, as the major search engines try to improve their search algorithms and SEO companies strive to catch up. Pay-Per-Click advertising, by the very nature of the competitive bid process which serves ads, can require frequent strategy changes in an effort to stay a step ahead of the competition. And franchise portals, which now number more than 100, represent the primary focus for most franchisors' Internet marketing strategy.
Yesterday's Internet today
Say what you will about the old guard, there still is a predictable way to optimize your Internet advertising expenditures - even if this strategic approach to optimization is both complex and underused.
Search engine optimization, while complex in practice, is easily understood. Maximize inbound links - especially from well traveled sites. Develop copy and graphics with a goal of achieving a keyword density of about 5 percent. Populate anchor text and titles with keywords. Optimize specific pages around particular keyword phrases. Add a few more tricks of the trade, and "Voila!" - the site rises toward the top of Google. The effort involved is often as simple as hiring an expert and the cost is less than the price of a year on some portals.
Pay-Per-Click advertising can be equally challenging and, by its very nature, involves extensive trial and error when optimizing. Test keywords. Develop, code, and test ads. Develop and test landing pages. Vary page position (and bids) within your budget. Develop negative keywords. Place cookies on your page to measure results. Once done, apply appropriate statistical and quantitative analysis to those results. This process requires continual refinement, but with a large enough sample size, the process will inevitably draw you closer to an optimized strategy and budget.
Portals pose their own unique set of difficulties - the biggest of which is measuring their true performance. Simply looking at "hits" or "page views" cannot measure the qualitative aspects of the leads that are generated. And while the trend today favors a pay-per-lead approach, there are still many portals that work on a flat fee basis - requiring more complex measurement (Don't dismiss these flat fee sites out of hand, as some are more cost effective than the pay-per-lead sites.) One such method involves the use of custom landing pages and the measurement of "capture rates" from these pages. Even without that effort, an approximation of the number of leads generated can be achieved by applying your overall capture rates to inbound "hits" generated by a site - allowing you to derive a rough cost-per-lead measure. Your Pay-Per-Click capture rates, which are derived on Google by placing a cookie on the appropriate pages, can serve as a rough proxy in this calculation.
Unlike organic optimization efforts, for which results are difficult to quantify, both portals and Pay-Per-Click can be measured using the same common denominator. And to the extent that you are bumping into budgetary constraints with your franchise marketing, you will want to alter your mix to feed the vehicle which is delivering results at a lower cost per lead.
Mark Siebert is the chief executive officer of the iFranchise Group (www.ifranchisegroup.com), a franchise consulting firm with consultants who have worked with 98 of the nation's top 200 franchisors.
Mark can be reached at 708-957-2300 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enter The Fourth Horseman
Social media is the fourth horseman of Internet lead generation.
At the 2009 IFA convention, virtually all of the sessions and roundtables dealing with social media were spilling out into the halls. By some estimates, MySpace alone has over 253 million registered users, ranging from the casual to the fanatical (Someone was recently arrested at a Starbucks after allegedly stealing a laptop from a patron who would not allow him to log into his Facebook account). So it is easy to understand what all the fuss is about.
The problem is that far too many franchisors view social media like guerilla marketing on steroids - easy opportunities for free publicity that can drive leads. But marketing on social media is neither free nor easy - and the shear number of people using the social media will not dictate the size of the opportunity.
Consider the difficulty of optimizing social media marketing efforts. Wikipedia lists about 150 major social networking sites - and their list does not even include sites like YouTube, Flickr or Slideshare. It does not include blogs, RSS feeds, social search sites, or social bookmarking sites. Moreover, many of these sites have dozens of different applications (Twitter alone has over 500) designed to make your social networking life "easier."
If you want to have a significant presence in the social media, you would need several full-time people just to maintain this effort. In fact, a recent article in BusinessWeek indicated that the budget for an effective social media marketing campaign starts at about $50,000 for as little as two or three months effort. For most franchisors, that kind of commitment is out of the question - especially if the focus is narrowed to franchise lead generation.
For those of us in the real world, the key to success is to have and execute a plan. Gone are the days in which you could have a singular Internet strategy. The key to optimizing lead generation on the Internet is understanding that in the world of Web 2.0, you need to have at least four separate strategies, including a plan for how you optimize efforts on the social media. And that starts by understanding that a random listing on LinkedIn and a Facebook page is not a plan - it's a prayer.
Franchisors should start by developing a budget. When it comes to the social media, the budget may be focused on staff time as much as it is on cash outlay. How much time and effort can they afford to spend in these efforts? Who will maintain the company's social networking efforts - and do they have the skills? In addition to being able to properly communicate the franchisor's message, they will also need to be conversant in the language of social media - and understand the universe within which they are operating. Absent that person, you will likely need to budget for some outside expertise to get you started.
Once your social media champion is chosen, focus their efforts. That starts by understanding your online franchise buyer, what motivates them, and where they are found. That, combined with some research, will tell you where you should spend your time and what you should be communicating.
When you first get started, there are some easy wins, but care must be taken to ensure the right choices are made:
Inbound links from social bookmarking sites can increase a site's traffic - and boost search engine optimization efforts - but they have to be the right sites.
Good publicity on the right blogs can help enhance a franchisor's reputation - but of course, they have to be the right blogs and it has to be good publicity.
Fan pages and recommendations can build credibility and Tweets can build traffic - but only if you generate a substantial number of "followers."
Videos posted to sites like YouTube, Yahoo Video, and other sites with business channels can increase traffic and build credibility.
And a franchisor's effective use of the social media will demonstrate to potential franchisees that the franchisor understands cutting edge marketing techniques.
It is important to know where not to focus your efforts. Franchise marketing is designed to do two basic things: generate new leads and reinforce the franchisor's value. Creating a corporate blog, for example, will probably accomplish neither. Anyone coming to your blog already knows who you are - and chances are that if they are seriously interested in your franchise, you know them, too. And while the blog may help reinforce the value proposition, readers will certainly know that the bloggers have an agenda - and will thus treat it with the skepticism that is properly afforded any piece of propaganda. Given the time required for a corporate blog, the savvy franchisor may want to focus their limited resources elsewhere.
Social media, despite all of its complexity, offers worlds of opportunities for franchisors seeking to generate franchise sales leads. But these opportunities do not come without a cost. Franchisors seeking to access these opportunities are thus well advised to budget and plan just as they would any other aspect of their lead generation strategy. If they do so, the rewards they reap may well exceed the price they pay.