Everyman Uses Social Media
How to find Face time and Link up without becoming a Twit
Mention TTY or Teletype to someone nearing their 40th birthday and you are likely to see them stare blankly at you—until they pick up their iPhone and do a search on Google or look up the definition on Wikipedia. But back in the olden days before faxes and e-mail (my first fax machine was in the 1980s and my first e-mail account was with CompuServe followed by an AOL account in the early ‘90s) the TTY machine was my instant communication link to the world. For those of you who have never seen a TTY, think expensive electronic mail without file attachments or graphics, printing slowly and loudly on a continual roll of blue- or yellow-striped paper. While a TTY machine’s technology is ancient by today’s standards, it was an effective and instantaneous method of written communication—and one of the first social media tools.
Starting with the TTY and accelerating through the age of facsimile machines and electronic mail, marketing gurus used the new technology to sell their products and services and to get their message out. In doing so, each development broke down a bit more of the etiquette of communications we had become accustomed to and expanded the definition of what is considered acceptable marketing and communication. Today there seem to be few barriers left, and in our haste to use this new technology and get our message out widely and quickly, the one essential question that needs to be answered is: How do these new social media communication tools impact our brands—both personal and professional?
Here’s my take—as a fairly typical and mature businessperson—on how some of these new tools are currently being used or abused.
Like most of us, I have become a communications junky. I read, at a minimum, three newspapers a day before coming to the office and either CNN or Fox News is always playing in the background in my office. I also subscribe to both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal online, and scan through the political and business blogs to see what is happening on my Blackberry.
Facing the facts
I have a Facebook account. My niece originally asked me to become a friend on her page and because of that I set up my own page. For a time it was a fun place to have friendly banter with relatives and friends. But as my group of “friends” grew to include people I hardly knew, I began to get routine posts about leg cramps from skiing, who was visiting their franchisee in Topeka or whose child was singing the national anthem at a local ball game. Such a quantity of abstract and fairly useless knowledge that I could not take advantage of personally or professionally diminished the usefulness of Facebook for me quickly. But what troubles me the most about Facebook is that the cultural barriers are low, and I am consistently surprised by what people think is appropriate to post on their own site that in turn populates their friends’ sites. We are always viewed through the lens of those we associate with, and Facebook has become more of a risky place than a social place for many professionals. Facebook has likely missed its opportunity to be a place for commerce.
Linking, then tubing
LinkedIn is another matter. Since joining, I have accumulated 480 connections and have found 32 groups that interest me personally and professionally. It has become a place where I am “discovered” by people who share my interest and a place where I can find the people who have information I need. Its most powerful feature is “discovering” who you know that has a direct relationship with someone you want to know. Several of my LinkedIn connections are people I was able to meet simply because they knew someone I knew. Without this tool, I would have had no way of knowing a connection existed. It is a fascinating tool and its potential for information and targeted franchise sales is only just beginning. By no means is it a perfect vehicle and much of its use in marketing, such as the self-answered questions by people selling their services, is likely to change as the technology evolves.
Many franchisors are finding the power of YouTube. By creating story lines that are too expensive to use in the paid media or targeting audiences with story lines not appropriate for mass media, this is a perfect site for consumer sales and franchise sales if used correctly. Even though Jack in the Box has little presence in my neck of the woods, following the health crisis of “Jack” through entertaining posted videos had a major impact on that brand’s consumer loyalty and brand recognition far outside of their traditional marketplace. YouTube also can be used to imbed information quickly and inexpensively and with little issue of band width concerns on franchisors’ Web sites. While its power is already being harnesses by smart brands, its potential has still not been tapped.
Possibly the best information site in franchising—I am certain many of its members will find my calling it a social media site a bit offensive—is the list serve operated by the American Bar Association Forum on Franchising. Made up of a group of mostly legal and some business professionals, the list serve operates under a fairly strict and monitored set of posting rules. It is one of the most valuable educational vehicles in franchising today. Experienced and novice franchise lawyers, and even the occasional business consultant, ask questions which are quickly answered. In a collegial manner, often missing from other social media sites, information is frequently debated, but never in an unpleasant or derogatory manner.
Tweetless in Connecticut
I don’t Tweet, but I do have an account on Twitter. Twitter is not something I find particularly useful. At its root, it gives you the ability to send text short messages to masses of people. But, for me, with the exception of my wife, children and Kay Ainsley (my partner at MSA) knowing that I just landed in Chicago, was meeting a client in London or picking up dinner at Whole Foods, is not likely going to be compelling information for most people. Nor am I particularly interested in following the tweets of most of the people who routinely ask if they can follow me on Twitter, since I might have to also follow them. While new approaches are being found for it daily in franchising, I may be one of a small minority who does not see the benefit of Twitter for many of the applications it is being used for today. Then again, I have been wrong before.
Social media is changing how we all look at communicating with our customers, our prospective and current franchisees and the media. It is a tool that is being used creatively to market products and services and to do it in a localized fashion. It sometimes employs GPS technology tied to databases that customize the message to the end-user and even selects the devise on which they want us to communicate with them. It is revolutionizing how we market franchises at trade shows and create, in an inexpensive manner, audiences for local sales presentations. At the retail level we are starting to see it used to customize menu boards and outside signage, adjusting prices and offerings based on the time of day, the weather and traffic.
In many ways, it is a new technology that can be applied to old applications like the simple e-mail message. We have all learned how that can be used well and how it can be misused. It is a tool for training our new franchisees and a tool to continually improve the brand performance of our locations.
But with any new tool will come mistakes and misuse. And not every tool we have today will stand the test of time. Clearly though, social media and how you use it can have an impact on how your brand is perceived and whether your message is reaching your audience at the time and in the way they want to receive it. While today’s technology has potential we did not even comprehend or envision a few years back, just as in every other medium, ensuring the reader is getting the right message and that they see your brand in its best light is essential.
But most essential is that you use it in a way that elevates and is respectful to how you want your brand perceived. As with that e-mail you wish you had not sent, social media is a message you may not be able to retract.
Michael Seid is founder and managing director of Michael H. Seid & Associates, an international franchise consulting firm with both established and new franchisors as clients. He can be reached at email@example.com