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Entering blogosphere

Instant reports are all the rage


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Just as their print predecessors, bloggers love controversy to “sell newspapers.”

But is anyone holding them accountable? Take a look at the latest phenom in franchising.

 

Sean Kelly, president of Leola, Pa.-based Ideafarm, claims blogs are the democratization of the Internet.

In “ancient times”—only four or five years ago in computer time—blogs were the moving tales of individuals reporting their travails via the Internet in the form of electronic diaries, with issues of loves, loves lost; jobs, jobs lost; travels, no travel, and so forth.

But during the past five years, savvy business people have recognized the potential and moved blogs front and center into the commercial realm. Seeking to engage potential buyers, franchisors or franchisees, franchise leaders are using blogs as quick and inexpensive ways to reach people—lots of people – with information that is more up-to-date and a bit edgier than what’s found on a Web site alone. Blogs, in short, are the hottest, newest marketing tool in the U.S. today and quickly are becoming a business necessity.

“To stay on the cutting edge and keep your name in play, you need a blog. If you’re not in the blogosphere, you are behind the times,” says Mark Siebert, founder and CEO of Homewood, Ill.-based iFranchise Group, a franchise consultancy. Blogs are not necessarily arbiters of truth or disciplined journalism. But as the next evolution of the Internet, they are the wave of the future, he adds.

“Traditional marketing methods—newsletters or bulletins—get lost,” explains Joseph Schumacher, partner with Wiggin and Dana, a New Haven, Conn.-based law firm with nationwide offices. “A blog is continuous and continual.” Wiggin and Dana’s fanchiselawblog.com is a “legally inclined Weblog.” Schumacher began it four years ago and now shares the writing with five partners in the firm’s franchise and distribution practice. He reports 40,000 to 50,000 hits per month for the site that focuses on news and interpretation of franchising’s legal issues.

Blogs are the “democratization of the Internet,” adds Sean Kelly, president of Ideafarm, a marketing consultancy from Leola, Pa. “With franchising, a great deal more information is available about franchise companies. Blogs have changed the way people market and present. They are good for franchisors trying to create good relationships with their franchisees and potential buyers. It’s a win-win for all sides.”

A surprising 90 percent of Web sites—last year’s star marketing tool—are stale and static, without much change, says Helen Gallagher, computer consultant of Computer Clarity, an Internet-based consultancy. Today, there are an estimated 19 million blogs in the English language. According to a recent survey, 57 million American adults read blogs and 12 million keep their own.

Blogs are a fresh and dynamic. Even their names often scream “take a look”: franchisefetch.com, franchisepundit.com, bluemaumau.com. These are not your father’s Web sites.

Who’s blogging?

Google “franchise blogs” and you’ll find 2.43 million entries. But using the Google toggle bar, click “more,” then click “blogs” on the drop-down menu, and enter “franchise blogs.” A more up-to-date listing of 640,000 blogs appears with information on how many hours ago a posting was made. While many of those entries can be dismissed because they relate to blogs of baseball, hockey or even movie “franchises,” a substantial number are related to franchising as a business method.

Here is a short and non-inclusive list of some of the most popular franchise blogs:

Independent blogging voices:

• BlueMauMau.com: Despite the reference to mau-mau, which means to attack or denounce vociferously especially so as to intimidate, and despite taking its name from a secret society of African terrorists, this is one of the most complete and complex sites up. It has news, commentaries, responses to “Dear Franny” questions, humorous snippets, and individual blogs. The blog’s spokesman, Mr. Blue Mau Mau, says he aims “to prosper and amuse” with this independent site aimed at franchisees and franchisee wannabees.

• FranBest.com: This newer site includes “the relentless search for the best in franchising today.” It contains sections on marketing for franchisors, franchisees and franchises, links to the major blogs and offers suggestions for franchises that have been overlooked. It was created as part of a blog network, and is operated by Sean Kelly of the consulting firm Ideafarm.net, of Leola, Pa. Kelly describes it as a hype-free site, highlighting and profiling franchise opportunities. Among the writers are some of the best-known consultants and attorneys in franchising.

• FranchiseLawBlog.com: Law firm Wiggin and Dana’s blog, with comments and interpretations posted regarding legal issues. No responses are accommodated.

• FranchisePundit.com: News, comments and judgments on purchasing specific franchises done by an attorney who suggests what to and not to purchase. Although two names are listed as running the site, only one, Russell Knoll, seems to write for it.

• FranWorst.com: Just what it says; suggestions of what not to buy.

Advertising opportunities—closely approximate classified advertising sections of a newspaper

• FranchiseBusinessOpportunities.com: One of a number of blogs for entrepreneurs under the umbrella of The Business Opportunity Weblog Network. The network was founded by Dane Carlson in 2001, who works with Mark Welford and Cris Zimmerman; entries are signed by them.

• FranchiseChat.com: Says “chat” but clicks onto FindaFranchise.com, and the name says it all.

• FranchiseCircle.com: Defined as the “first franchise crazy community on the Web,” (whatever that means), it’s a social networking site aimed at suppliers, area developers, trade groups, franchisees, franchisors, but “caters specifically” to prospective buyers. It provides free online lead generation to franchisors. Behind the project is Carter Malloy, who managed a division of Candy Bouquet International. Related is: franchisor.tv: a video blog, or “vblogging” tool, where franchisors, suppliers and area developers can output video to interested FranchiseCircle.com users.

• Franchisefetch.com: A cartoon dog welcomes you to a site that includes sections for industries, resources and “Top Dog franchises.” Postings are done by the blog operator, joe@franchisefetch, an outfit out of Newburgh, N.J. Despite a phone number listed and an answering machine, no responses were made to repeated calls.

• FranchiseGator.com: Franchises and business opportunities for entrepreneurs from bases in Roswell, Ga., and Seattle.

• FranchisePick.com: In partnership with b5media, a 150-blog network of interconnected sites. It is advertiser supported.

• FranchisePrize.com: Listings of franchises separated in categories of “trophy” or “medallion” opportunities. Advertiser supported.

Marketing opportunities

• FranchisorMarketing.com and FranchiseeMarketing.com: Blogs from Kelly’s Ideafarm that contains marketing tips, news and guidance for franchisors and/or franchise owners (franchisees) and managers.

Blog authors are not afraid to take stands. On franchisepundit.com, for instance, attorney Ryan Knoll runs “the inside scoop” on franchises and then categorizes them as “I wouldn’t buy it,” “gossip,” or “great idea.” Bluemaumau.com features a mix of news and critical reviews about franchising, while franworst.com spotlights just that—franchises deemed poor by Richard Quick II, the ostensible author. Most, but not all, list their contributors, but many responding postings are signed without full names or contact locations.

Still, Eric Stites, founder and president of Franchise Business Review and operator of frantopic.com, now in beta format, is a believer. Web sites that feature franchisors, he says, often hold just marketing material and are too often “tight-lipped.” Traditional (franchise) media—magazines, newsletters—report monthly. Blogs are able to leverage comments and grow at a more rapid rate in terms of news than a traditional Web site.

“People today are savvy and know that they should look at multiple sources,” Stites says. The frantopia.com site, which is accepting registrations, and its franchise blog brethren can give them that, he claims.

It is difficult to make sweeping generalizations about blogs. Some are run by a single person, others by a group of friends or colleagues. While some tend to speak with one voice or point of view, such as www.blogs.marriott.com, the blog maintained by Bill Marriott, the 75-year-old president of Marriott, others have multiple voices, most often a collection of consultants. Some are offshoots of existing Web pages, which in turn were offshoots of print newsletters or magazines. Others are called “clip blogs”—compendiums of articles printed elsewhere, newspapers, newsletters, magazines or the Web.

Only a few characteristics are required to formerly be a blog: articles are displayed chronologically, the site is often interactive (allowing readers to leave comments); contents are archived and there are links to other sites—the more links the better. By contrast, traditional Web sites are usually divided into sections or topics and the top article may not be the most recent. With blogs, immediacy is prized; the Google blogs search lists entries by how many hours ago the site had a posting.

Another feature is the age of those using blogs. “Definitely younger, Web-savvy people,” says Stites of his audience at frantopia.com, but he points out that “even the older generation today hasn’t bought something without checking the Web first.”

Schumacher of franchiselaw says his reader demographic may have been younger or more Web savvy at the beginning, but as people see how easy and user-friendly a blog is, older, less Web-savvy people are logging on.

Another benefit is that blogs are easier to create and update than Web sites. They can contain photos or audio clips. And a key point for those starting blogs: Not only are they easy to write, they are free. They only expense is time because there has to be continuous postings to keep the readers’ interest.

The advantage to running a blog is that it reaches so many people so quickly and allows dialogue, says Sean Kelly. “We created franbest to help people find the good guys,” he says. “Today everybody wants to know (everything). You can’t try to hide or go away. You have to join the dialogue. People are going to the Internet to find the information on franchise companies. Good franchisors are answering the inquiries with good dialogue on their blogs. Franchisors that see blogging as a threat are missing an opportunity.”

Franchisors such as Marriott, L.A. Weight Loss and others are maintaining their own blogs and more are coming online daily.

While the creators are enthusiastic about blogs, there can be serious drawbacks. “So much information out there is garbage,” says Stites. “You can’t control bad or good information, you are just creating a platform. With more users you get more information, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.”

 

Some define blogs as nothing more than gossip, while others say they are a font of useful information.

Siebert agrees. “The Internet is a far from a perfect tool,” he says. “You have to take information with a grain of salt. You need to use it carefully as a resource and weed out the good and bad to find the best.”

Just as their print predecessors, bloggers love controversy to “sell newspapers.” Take the example of a respected tech blogger who posted the story of his brother who had an unhappy experience with a franchisor. Within days, a hailstorm of posts over a myriad of linked blogs created a serious problem both for the franchise that didn’t return the brother’s money and the subsequent company that was alleged to be the same outfit in new trappings.

The speed in which the information ran around the Internet—days or weeks rather than months—and the allegations required the franchisor to hire legal and public relations aid. The initial posting unleashed a series of allegations by many, something it will take years for the new company to overcome, if it ever does. And, in the midst of all this was a bit of Internet skullduggery, with posts being eliminated from some blogs without the authors’ permission. The site of bluemaumau.com that was carrying much of the discussion mysteriously went down. No-one maintains that such problems come with blogging. But they are possible.

We are entering a new era, says Kelly. Time magazine wasn’t far from the truth naming “You” as the Man of the Year in 2006. Individuals or franchisors have the capacity to create blog sites in minutes, mostly for free, and present information for anyone and everyone to comment on. Franchisors, buyers and consultants alike hope for the best—that the dialogue promotes everyone’s efforts and makes their blogging worthwhile. Blog advocates are certain that will happen.

“The Year 2007 is when blogging will peak,” predicts computer expert Gallagher. The question is whether all franchisors can keep up with the time—and whether they want to.

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