Franchisor Catches On To Social Media

Monday, February 22, 2010

If you are going to use Twitter and Facebook as a business tool you have to know what you are doing

It has become impossible to escape the buzz around social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, so franchise company founder Dawn Mucci decided a year ago to jump on the bandwagon.

But she isn't sending tweets about what colour of shoes she is wearing, her intention is to leverage the power of social media to build her company, an 18-franchise firm of "professional nit-pickers" called The Lice Squad.

"You can tweet and hoot and blog all you want, but is anybody reading?" she says. "To use it in a professional business setting, you really have to know what you're doing." Ms. Mucci attended seminars on the topic and researched various tools, such as Hoot Suite, which automatically pre-posts tweets and blog posts. But before she knew it, social media was taking up so much time she couldn't focus on her core business.

"I have had a lot of fun with it and it has proven to show some results for my company, but I'm not really doing the best job I can of it because there's a lot more to it than I was aware of," she says. "It's really time-consuming." Such is the case for most compa n i e s struggling to find the most effective ways to use social media to create communities of followers and expand their brand awareness.

For franchisors, there are additional considerations to take into account. How much freedom should individual franchisees have to post things about the company or service? That is a question most franchisors have so far decided should remain under their control.

Ms. Mucci encourages franchisees to post local ads on websites such as craigslist.comand has coached them on what they can do locally, but generally she retains control of what's said about her company. She's in the process of writing a formal policy. "If you have an incident where somebody is dissatisfied with you, it can gain traction very quickly," says Lorraine Mc-Lachlan, president and chief executive of the Canadian Franchise Association.

"By having the franchisor at the head of that conversation ... it helps ensure that any issue a consumer is bringing to the brand's attention, can be dealt with quickly," she says.

Speed matters when it comes to social media. The pace of this two-way conversation can move faster than a company's ability to respond. "With social media, the time available to give a considered response has been truncated, but a business is not well served by giving knee-jerk reactions to anything," Ms. McLachlan says.

Another consideration is that what a franchisor puts out on these sites is targeting relevant audiences -- a pizza chain might join communities of food enthusiasts, for example -- but there's a line among finicky bloggers where a company's posts can become annoying or a transparent sales pitch.

"A lot of us foray into it and get shut down because we're annoying people," Ms. Mucci says. "It's something that has merit and will improve my business, but I want it done properly." She approached Sacke and Associates Inc., a public relations firm that specializes in social media management, to take over her time-consuming online efforts.

"When you work with social media tools in conjunction with your traditional marketing, advertising, media and public relations, you've suddenly got quite powerful solutions working for your business," says John Sacke, president of the firm.

But results don't happen overnight and social media isn't for everybody. The lack of understanding many franchisors have about this relatively new business tool can go either way for the chain, just like any conversation with a consumer.

"We're finding there is a lot of reluctance from [franchisors] to jump into social media because they're scared," Mr. Sacke says. "It's an unknown." The bottom line is social media holds a lot of potential to connect with consumers, franchisees, suppliers and other stakeholders. And franchisors who shy from it, he says "are going to miss out on a key method to communicate with their stakeholders," he says.

"It's here and it's not a fad," Ms. Mc-Lachlan says. "It can be a very powerful and an extraordinary extension of the brand experience." Ms. Mucci, meanwhile, is eager to hand off her social media responsibilities to a third-party firm, but says she will maintain control and oversight of this experiment. "It's going to free my time up to focus on what I have to focus on -- selling franchises and maintaining the business because it really was sucking a lot of my time."

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