Should you or should you not pursue a local social media program for your franchise? In other words, should your individual units maintain business pages on sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter?
The Lure of Local Social Media
We understand the instinctual desire to localize franchise brands; it sounds picturesque. Think about it. If you were to pull the trigger and all went right, your program infrastructure would be like uncorking champagne: so much local goodness would spring forth, with your bubbly — your brand — intact.
If all went as planned, launching a local social media program would mean franchisees (zees) would have direct access to their customers. They’d have the opportunity to share real-time, location-specific content on community, team members, products and promotions, keeping them happy and your system in the black.
If your zees stayed the course, brand accessibility would be at an all-time high as customers began to associate local social media pages as an alternate (or even primary) means of communication with your brand through social commenting, tweeting or messaging.
But there’s an operative word here…
The Plague of the “If”
As a general rule, never make a business decision on a conditional. In all of the blue-sky scenarios above, “if” rears its ugly head. If your franchisees manage their pages in accordance with your program guidelines, customer relationships will be created and leads will be generated.
The existence of the “if” means that there inevitably will be franchisees that don’t meet these standards for a myriad of legitimate reasons.
The Opt-In Local Social Media Model Solution
While zees are capable of managing their own social media pages, they’re also resource-strapped. In place of a system-wide local social media mandate, re:group recommends the opt-in local social media model instead.
This allows the franchisees that have the expertise and resources to manage local social media effectively to do so, while mitigating the brand reputation risk of those who do not.
Why Opt for Opt-In?
We did not come to this recommendation lightly. We’re big fans of franchisees. They are one of the main reasons we love the franchise industry so much. If you were to pit multi-unit business models up against one another, the franchise model is positioned to be the most uniquely local.
At their core, franchise systems succeed when a collection of small business owners pour their hearts, souls and investment into a brand that they can see flourishing in local communities. That takes risk, drive, passion and skill. Franchisees have got grit.
Business Management Expertise Limitations
Unfortunately, the one thing zees have working against them is their depth of resources. They come to the table with a diversity of experience — some previously in sales, operations, the military or marketing — but most often, they leverage expertise in maybe one to two of these categories, not the whole shebang.
That’s why buying a franchise makes so much sense. Instead of going it alone, franchisees get access to brand equity, training, help with the cultivation of a professional vision, unit economics consulting, and marketing and operations support.
More often than not, franchisees don’t have a wealth of experience as professional marketers. That’s not to say that they don’t have the capacity, but as the leaders of small businesses, they’re resource-strapped. They only have so many hours in the day to devote to critically important things like hiring, training, management, inventory maintenance, customer service, customer satisfaction, marketing and advertising.
And let’s be honest: Most franchisees don’t have the budget to hire a full-time marketer.
So, if a franchisor (zor) were to insist or encourage a franchisee to manage, for instance, a local Twitter page, as a function of time alone, it probably wouldn’t be possible for it to get the attention, strategy or sustenance needed for it to be effective.
Franchisor Support Doesn’t Equate to Full-Time Management
Recognizing this, some franchisors try to circumvent this resource challenge by providing support. This might include setting up the new local social media pages with consistent creative, training their zees on social technology and content strategy, providing expectations for posting frequency and some best practices for social care. Some zors take it a step further and regularly provide and/or publish pre-packaged posts to the franchisees’ local pages.
Even with the extra hand, the fact of the matter is that professional social media networks are living, breathing entities that require constant community management, customer service, marketing, public relations and sales acumen for successful maintenance.
How much time does that take? The 2017 Social Media Marketing Industry Report by Social Media Examiner, the world’s largest social media marketing resource, revealed that 64% of marketers are spending more than six hours per week on social. That time commitment increases among marketers with more years in the field as they begin to deeply experience social media’s benefits, such as increased exposure, increased website traffic, development of loyal fans, the capture of marketplace insights and generation of leads.
The Proof of Neglect Is on Facebook
With these resource deficits in mind, what happens when a franchisor disregards these red flags in pursuit of the unobstructed vision?
When franchise prospects and clients come to re:group, one of their largest and most consistent pain points is establishing, managing and measuring a local social media program. So, when we’re performing a competitive social media audit, we always pay close attention to:
- If local social media pages have been created
- If they have a representative amount of followers or fans relative to the local customer base
- If the static creative (i.e. profile photo and cover art) across the different entities is consistent and adheres to brand standards
- If the page is regularly updated with content
- If that content appears to be created locally or by the franchisor (zor)
- If the page administrator is responding to customer comments, posts to the page, @mentions and reviews
- Whether those responses are done tactfully and with regard to customer service best practices and empathy
The Proof Is in the Data
95% of the time, franchise brands have incomplete, inconsistent, abandoned or neglected local social media pages.
If I had to put a percentage to the amount of time either our clients or their competitor brands had checked all the boxes on that list, it would probably be around 5%. 95% of the time, franchise brands have incomplete, inconsistent, abandoned or neglected local social media pages.
Here are some examples quickly uncovered by doing a random search of a few different social networks. In full disclosure, these brands are in no way affiliated with re:group. Their names are blacked out for privacy reasons: 1
Example 1: Abandoned (14 followers)
Example 2: Blinded beyond product promotion (455 followers)
Example 3: Duplicate franchisor content with no local value (438 page likes)
Example 4: Stale content (252 followers)
Example 5: Off-brand content (101 page likes)
Is this how you would want your brand represented?
Interestingly, if you do a search for the big franchise brands on social media (e.g. Subway, KFC, Burger King, etc.), you’ll notice that you won’t find many local social media pages. The most granular these power players typically get is the country or — in the case of McDonald’s on Twitter — the co-op level.
Please ask yourself why. Then listen to a fascinating Convince and Convert interview with the McDonald’s director of social media, Rick Wion, on managing the millions of social mentions.
Local Social Media: The Cost of Value
Managing a local social media page is a lot of work! Before you even consider it for your franchisees as an effective local communication vehicle, you need to be honest with yourself: Do you truly believe in its value?
Social media will not work if its existence is solely a result of checking a box on a list of local marketing to-dos. You have to harness a passion within to reap the benefits of a prominent, strong, attentive, engaging brand on social media.
If you’re looking for a direct tie to sales and expect that of your franchisees, then a local social media program probably isn’t right for you. re:group would recommend allocating your money to other advertising initiatives that are trackable. If you decide to go that route, social media advertising targeted to specific local demographics is definitely an option if you still want to be visible in the space.
Many franchisors that understand the value of local social media keep their eye on the prize: a well-managed system-wide local social media program. Knowing that there is risk involved when placing the onus of page management on the zees, some zors consider utilizing outside help (e.g. agencies, freelancers, etc.).
In more cases than not, zors want to keep it simple, but powerful. They envision a streamlined, no frills, no fuss, low-cost, low-maintenance solution for franchisee social media that packs a punch. Here’s the only hitch: Social media management (or any professional service for that matter) isn’t low-maintenance or free; it’s an indispensable investment in the brand. Or, please let me rephrase: good social media isn’t.
If we refer back to that stat from the 2017 Social Media Marketing Industry Report above, you’ll remember that 64% of marketers report spending six or more hours per week on social media. Let’s look at the baseline of that stat for a second as we do a hypothetical: Let’s say that to retain a high-quality social media professional to be the voice of your franchise brand online, it costs (on the low end), $110 per hour. At six hours per week and 24 hours per month, that’s $2,640 per month to manage a social media program.
From my experience, that’ll get you management (content creation, scheduling, community management and reporting) of maybe one social media page with low to medium customer chatter, probably without any custom social creative (multimedia assets created specifically for social media use).
You might be thinking: Silly, Taylor, I don’t have to use a social media professional to do this work…
The Problem with the Prototypical Intern
So, let me ask you: If you don’t already have an experienced and trained team working on your brand social media, whom would your gut instinct choose to put in charge of your program?
Many franchisors without prior business experience communicating via social media channels would probably be fighting off the urge to say an entry-level marketing manager, a nephew or an intern.
Fundamentally, the entry-level marketing manager, the intern — and maybe even your nephew — serve a purpose. They can have some really great ideas. And they’re getting invaluable work experience! But let’s consider the social media role for a second. There are several different aspects of maintaining a brand’s social media presence that only a professional should be acting on, especially when decision-making must happen in near real-time. And especially because that person’s job tends to run longer than a college semester…
Just ask yourself these questions:
- Would you have your entry-level marketing manager as your public relations spokesperson (think: the person you would rely on to answer questions during a press conference)?
- Would you have your nephew in charge of developing an ad campaign that was responsible for maintaining brand voice, while touching on brand differentiators that motivate product or service purchases that help you achieve marketing objectives?
- Would you have an intern make decisions on how to publicly respond on Instagram to a customer that threatens to blast you on the 7 o’clock news for ruining his life?
And though your franchisees (zees) are bright and motivated business owners, they probably won’t have the time or access to skilled professionals to do this either.
The Supplier Automation Play
Despite knowing all of this, I promise you the temptation will be real to cut corners. There are service and technology providers out there that will promise the world for low-budget, low-maintenance, automated, entry-level “solutions” for local social media management. Don’t be fooled by them at your next franchise convention.
The Wall Street Journal article entitled Small Businesses Search in Vain for Web-Ad Help sheds a lot of light onto such companies. Though social media isn’t specifically mentioned in the context of this article, it will give you an idea of the deliverable quality and service support offered by these types of providers.
Automation either doesn’t work or totally misses the mark.
In the realm of social media, where the essence of brand communication is one-to-one, automation either doesn’t work or totally misses the mark — just like the risk of using your entry-level marketing manager, nephew or intern at the franchisor level.
If You’re “Going Local,” Go “Opt-In”
The conclusion? Good social media work — work that you would be proud to associate with your brand, your baby — is an investment, just like the investment you’re making in your zor team right now. You’re paying for their labor, yes, but also for the long-term effects of cultivating prospects and customers to do business with your brand.
This same logic must be applied when determining whether or not to extend your brand’s social media program to the unit level. Do your franchisees have the skills and time to be strategic and active managers of their own local social media pages? If not, are they able to hire and train people they trust to be the voice of their business on social media?
More than likely, the answer is, “Some of them.” That’s why re:group recommends the opt-in local social media model for franchise brands. It puts the accountability and the creativity in the hands of the committed franchisees, while mitigating the brand reputation risk of those who may not have the resources to sustain a quality program.
This model champions franchisees that have the passion, creativity and resources to maintain an active local social media presence, while mitigating the brand reputation risk of those who may not have the assets to sustain a quality program.
If you’re curious, here are some other franchise social media model options kindly relayed by Fransmart, a global leader in franchise development.
The Beauty of the Opt-In Local Social Media Model
When considering our many social media audits of franchise brands, what happens most often is that, in a sea of neglected local social media pages, there are one or two shining examples of how things really should be done: The brand is on; the content is creative and regular; the posts are full of local references; there’s an active following; and the conversation is lively.
The Valrico Smoothie King and the Westlake Ace Hardware are diamonds in the rough. If you search for other Smoothie Kings and Ace Hardwares across social media, you’ll notice that a lot of the defining characteristics mentioned above don’t hold true for the rest of the brand.
Why is that?
- Is it because Instagram pages were mandated by the franchise agreement?
- Is it because the other zees weren’t technically trained on how to operate a Twitter channel?
- Is it because they aren’t used to using social media for business?
- Is it because the other franchisees lacked the manpower to keep their accounts updated regularly?
- Is it because there wasn’t enough money to put behind Instagram advertising on this channel to make the time investment worth it?
It could be all of these things. All of these are legitimate reasons to shy away from maintaining a social media channel as a franchisee.
But just because 95% of zees don’t have the skills or don’t have the time or resources necessary to dedicate to the channel doesn’t mean that the Valrico Smoothie Kings of the world shouldn’t be on Instagram (…or Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, etc.).
If you asked the Valrico franchisee if he or she saw value in that page, his or her answer would probably be yes. That would be in line with Social Media Examiner’s, the world’s largest social media marketing resource’s, 2017 Social Media Marketing Industry Report that found that 92% of marketers consider social media important to their business. The difference is, these opt-in zees have the zeal and ability to unlock that value.
Before You Let Them Loose, Train.
The opt-in local social media excels because it empowers motivated, skilled franchisees to proactively manage a social media property confidently and diligently.
How do you pinpoint which of your zees (or their teams) have the chops? There’s no foolproof evaluation, but here are a few telltale indicators:
- Marketing, public relations, customer service and sales experience
- Writing ability
- Ability to think on his or her feet
- Supreme attention to detail
- Ability to assess news value
- Sense for the psychological and tangible motivators that drive customer purchases
Even if you do reveal the superstars among your system, it’s extremely rare (and ill-advised to expect) that this type of seasoned marketing professional will magically appear and be ready to go — especially considering that there’s always more to learn and perfecting the craft is never complete.
Even if you are lucky enough to have an all-star zee, your local social media program still needs structure.
Even if you are lucky enough to have an all-star zee, your local social media program still needs structure. It needs parameters. It needs strategy. It needs minimum posting expectations. It needs to follow brand standards. Franchisees need to understand community management and the best practices associated with it. If your franchise utilizes local social media technology, they need to learn how to use it and analyze performance.
That’s where franchisor marketing support can come in, such as the local social media programs re:group developed for Goldfish Swim School and Pet Supplies Plus. These guidelines can be placed into your franchise agreements or incorporated into your franchisee training programs. And while the zee onboarding process is a fantastic place to start, regular training and/or consulting sessions will ensure that your opt-in zees are on the forefront of change and technology mastery.
Even If You Don’t “Go Local (Social Media),” Your Zees Will Still Exist Locally
You might remember that earlier I gave McDonald’s some props for killing it with co-op accounts on Twitter. They’ve circumvented poor zee management risk by condensing handfuls of locations into regional accounts, thereby reducing the number of active pages to manage. Unfortunately, Facebook is another story.
On Facebook, McDonald’s has done what many large franchise brands do when they know they want local social pages for the purposes of SEO and local discovery, but don’t necessarily want to manage them individually: They activate Facebook Locations (previously Parent-Child) pages.
This gives McDonald’s corporate access to all Facebook business pages for each of their restaurants, with the ability to:
- Edit business information, including the page name, store location, the profile photo and cover photo
- Run locally-targeted ads using Facebook’s Business Manager
- Manage local notifications
This all sounds great, right? Not necessarily. When franchisors (zors) don’t have (or don’t want to pay) skilled people to manage their local pages and/or don’t have a healthy opt-in local social media model with motivated and skilled zees to populate the pages with unique content, they often sit neglected.
To avoid the negative brand perception that is sure to result, the franchisor might instead choose to publish the same “main brand page” content to its thousands of local Facebook pages. Some zors have access to this feature via Facebook Locations, while others may use third-party tools.
Unfortunately, this strategy typically backfires in terms of generating activity on the local page posts. Because the content is not locally oriented, it offers no additional value over the “main brand page.”
No harm, no foul, right? Sadly, no. When a zor activates Facebook Locations, or if a Facebook Place page is auto-created after a customer “checks in,” the kicker is that the review section and post commenting is alive … and typically unmanaged. This makes sense — it’s a product of the scale of the brand across Facebook.
Until recently, the same thing was true for any visitor posts or private messages to the local Facebook page. Luckily, the social network just remedied that, with those two settings defaulting to off after a local page is created.
Because of these factors, local customer conversation has had a tendency to fall victim to lack of regular local social media community management.
Below is a screenshot of three recent reviews on a local McDonald’s Facebook page:
The above shows just three of 23 reviews, 10 of which are one out of five stars. All 23 have gone without response and probably unnoticed. There are so many implications to this decision:
- How did McDonald’s failure to respond to each review affect the purchasing behavior of the reviewer?
- What brand damage did McDonald’s cause by not responding to a negative customer review that is seen by other page visitors?
- How is this McDonald’s franchisee or McDonald’s as a brand going to get better without analyzing customer feedback?
These are risks that would be mitigated should the franchisor choose to employ the opt-in local social media model. Participating zees would make a commitment to attend to these reviews on behalf of their businesses.
The good news is Facebook just launched the ability to turn the review section on and off. So, for franchises without the resources to ensure regular management, there is a risk mitigation option.
Why Online Review Management Matters
Review management is important. Ask Your Target Market, an online market research company, recently reported that 50% of survey respondents said they checked online reviews before making a purchase “always” or “most of the time.” And according to a survey by Dimensional Research, 88% of consumers say that online reviews affect their purchasing decisions.
In 2015, Google found that businesses are at risk of losing 22% of customers if they find one negative review online, and up to 59% if they find three. Not addressing and potentially converting these three negative reviews into positives could have cost this franchisee 59% of its customers.
In the same vein, Volume Six of the Bazaarvoice Conversation Index uncovered that 71% of consumers reported that a brand’s response to an online review positively affected their perception of the brand. And a report by RightNow confirmed: 68% of customers that left a negative review and got a response became loyal customers as a result.
Reviews and customer complaints are happening, whether or not a franchise is “doing” local social media, or even if the zor decides to follow the opt-in local social media model.
If your franchisees aren’t monitoring and responding to reviews across social media (most easily done with a tool like NewBrand, Reputation.com, Rallio or Review Monitoring), then to preserve the brand reputation, it is your responsibility to make sure customers and prospects alike get the service level they’ve come to expect from your franchise.
Opt In to the Opt-In Local Social Media Model
So, you’ve learned all about the considerations to make when deciding whether or not to pull the trigger on a local social media program for your franchise brand: If your franchisees don’t have the resources to devote to operating a successful social media presence, re:group recommends that you opt in to the opt-in local social media model.
When you place social media management power into the hands of only the capable and willing, you can rest assured that if a local page is live, it is attended to. Zees will provide customers with fresh, helpful content; they’ll be there for them when things go wrong; and will celebrate the brand champions among the group.
But even if you don’t “go local,” you’ve learned that, as a zor, you need to be aware of the local social media pages that are live as a result of the activation of Facebook Locations and/or customer check-ins. You understand that, ultimately, it is your responsibility to make sure customers and prospects alike get the service level you expect of your brand.
With this knowledge under your belt, sleepless nights should soon be a thing of the past.
So, now we want to hear what’s next for you. Email re:group at firstname.lastname@example.org, and GOOD LUCK!
- Community numbers pulled on 7/28/17
- If you’re curious, here are some other franchise social media options kindly relayed by Fransmart, a global leader in franchise development.