The franchising community "gets it" when it comes to social media, five years after this windstorm blew away so many of our traditional marketing methodologies.
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are old hat, when just a handful of years ago they didn’t exist. Pinterest and Instagram are the rage, with more social media tools sure to go mainstream. The industry is immersed in tweeting, posting, pinning and all kinds of social-sharing strategies.
My belief turned to certainty this fall at an annual conference, when I presented on social media to a packed room of franchisees who are part of a business services franchise—not your traditional social media-savvy crowd. During the interactive discussion, a fiery group of franchisees debated appropriate postings, the best people to follow, the right way to engage and more. I loved the back-and-forth banter, and it was meaningful because a year prior such conversations were happening only between a mighty few, not the masses.
Across the board, we’re seeing business-to-consumer and business-to-business brands alike putting to use what just the other day seemed to be the unknown and uncomfortable. Social media has made it in franchising.
However, with wider acceptance comes a new set of challenges.
Freedom multiplied, infinitely
Inherent in franchising is the fact that franchisors relinquish a certain amount of brand control. Franchisees often put their own local market spin on the brand, all of which is monitored and often mitigated with field representatives, ongoing training and support center visits.
For franchises that permit hometown pages — and most do — social media takes that local market freedom and multiplies it infinitely. It’s inexpensive, it’s instant and there are countless channels to broadcast your message. It also requires regular attention—let a few days pass and it turns into a few weeks and, before you know it, months of inactivity.
Unquestionably, social media opens the door for errors in judgment. Just take a few minutes to peruse through Facebook and Twitter. You’ll find some of the biggest franchise brands on earth being misrepresented on local pages in a variety of ways.
To what degree should franchisors manage these risks? Here are five franchise-friendly solutions for franchisors to ponder as ways to guide, instruct and control (if necessary) a more confident collection of social media users in their franchise system.
A built-in network
1. Share your concerns. Collaboration is a critical component of the franchisee-franchisor relationship. In fact, when collaboration works the right way, franchises have a built-in network to tap into for best practices in operations, finances, human resources and more. The same holds true for social media.
With this network at your disposal, why not have a series of town hall-style discussions or webinars, where franchisor and franchisee openly discuss, share and question approaches to social media. Collaboration hits at the heart of social media. Bring it offline occasionally and you’ll discover the suggestions and advice given to franchisees regarding social media management will be absorbed and enacted in the spirit of togetherness.
Plus, you can help each other with just a few clicks of the mouse and keystrokes. So, go ahead and "Like," "Follow" and "Connect" with all in your system and immediately your message can be multiplied.
2. Be proactive with creative ideas. One way for franchisors to guide and gain appropriate controls is to provide creative engagement ideas for franchisees. I would advise against populating pages for franchisees, as that seems a bit insincere on a medium where originality is applauded, but weekly customizable ideas shared through simple spreadsheets can be very helpful.
Beyond ideas for standard day-to-day engagement, regular education or advice on how to manage social media can prove to be helpful for franchisees. For example, you can provide a weekly tip with ideas such as how to win back a customer who has filed a complaint on a review blog or through a Tweet.
Likewise, proactive franchisors can create systemwide campaigns. Blogs are easy to create and roll out across a franchise brand in support of a specific promotional push. Plus, blogs foster ways to include informational posts combined with anecdotal experiences related to your client/consumer base. Get your system behind a blog by making it easy for them to customize entries and respond to brand loyalists engaging on the local site—it becomes a cathartic experience for all involved.
3. Take small bites. Making a commitment to support your franchisees’ social media presence doesn’t mean advising them to tackle all of the channels available. Start slow. Social media is a marathon and you want your franchisees to be efficient and effective with their engagement.
For instance, business-to-business brands may want to select LinkedIn as the initial path to head down with franchisees. It’s where their professional clients are participating in social media. Make the most of the social media channel where your customers are engaged. Too often, franchisees tackle more than they can handle and the social media task becomes more of a hassle than a help.
It’s a full-time job
4. Keep a watchful eye. Franchisors choosing to be proactive with social media should realize it is a full-time job, not just another responsibility for the marketing department. The planning and processes require the talents and attention of a full-time employee.
One of the main duties of this full-time employee ought to be monitoring social media to ensure the business/brand is represented in the best light. The monitoring should cover both franchisee use as well as client/consumer commentary. There are several online applications to subscribe to for monitoring. Making this a priority at the franchisor level is another integral part of managing social media risks.
5. Rapid response is a must. With the monitoring in place, it becomes easier to squelch any negative commentary on social media sites. Alerts can be set and actions should be taken quickly. You should have a standard procedure in place to respond and alleviate any issues customers present. This plan should be shared as policy with all franchisees.
Sincerity in response occurs when this action is taken at the local level, if that is where the customer issue has arisen. However, franchisors should not hold back from addressing the issue if it remains on social media pages unaddressed for several hours. An internal communication plan should include alerting franchisees to issues noticed on social media sites if they go unnoticed.
We in franchising have embraced the use of social media. Now, it’s time to control it, to put in place measures to avoid the blunders that break down brand value, and implement the ideas that build it up.
Jamie Izaks is president of All Points Public Relations, a Chicago-based public relations and social media firm that specializes in working with franchises. Reach him at