February 2010 Franchising World
Developing a social media plan or company guidelines is quickly becoming the key discussion topic at franchise meetings and conferences around the country.
Fifty years ago when International Franchise Association was just beginning, communicating with multiple audiences happened either by the mail, advertisements or in-person meetings. Fast-forward to today. The way we are now communicating and will be in the future will probably change more in a month than it did in the five previous decades combined.
Today, franchise businesses are quickly adopting the use of social media tools to communicate with customers, employees, vendors and existing franchisees and prospects. In fact, almost 75 percent of franchise companies are using these tools today, according to a survey by Franchise Business Review. Some 45 percent of those surveyed said that they have used the tools to increase brand awareness, 24 percent used the tools to gain new customers and 11 percent said they used the tools to recruit new franchisees.
But the same survey showed that only half of those companies surveyed had a social media plan in place. Developing a social media plan or company guidelines is quickly becoming the key discussion topic at franchise meetings and conferences around the country.
We asked three franchise business leaders how they are using social media tools and how they are guiding their franchisees in using these tools successfully. The leaders include AAMCO Transmissions, Inc. Vice President and General Counsel James A. Goniea, ComForcare Senior Services, Inc. Director of Compliance Stephen D. Greenwald, and Tasti D-Lite, LLC Director of Information and Social Technologies BJ Emerson. Below are some of their responses.
FW: How are you addressing the use of social media sites in your company, including among your franchisees? Do you have language in your FDDs?
Greenwald: At ComForcare, we are in the midst of drafting our social media policy. As for our current FDD, we do not have social media specific language but plan on adding it to our 2010 disclosure.
Goniea: We recently developed a written social media policy as part of a broader electronic media/Internet policy and distributed it to our franchisees. We put a lot of time and effort into developing the policies and solicited input from a broad base of franchisees. Our current social media policy contains general procedures for proper use of the AAMCO mark and general guidelines concerning appropriate content, relevance and behavior relating to social media communications that are associated with the AAMCO brand. So far, we believe that social media issues are adequately addressed in the FDD by the broad language identifying AAMCO’s right to control and approve the use of its trademarks. However, if a contrary consensus develops on this issue among regulators or the franchising industry generally, we undoubtedly would follow it.
Emerson: The new policy language is being submitted for our next FDD revision. Our operations manuals and training curriculum now include the guidelines, case studies and tutorials developed from direct engagement with end-customers. Items such as etiquette, naming conventions and logo usage are covered.
FW: What motivated the development of guidelines or a policy in your company?
Goniea: The initial concern we were seeking to address was coordination of search engine pay-per-click advertising. While considering that issue we quickly realized that the company needed to update and expand its policies and guidelines for all types of electronic advertising and media. The development of a social media policy was an offshoot of this larger process.
Emerson: We found out very early that our customers were already creating great content related to Tasti D-Lite. At that point, not engaging in the discussions would be socially negligent. The need for developing the policy came out of a desire to effectively communicate with customers as well as with potential franchisees. Done incorrectly, there is a risk of alienating the very customers who are having the conversations about the brand.
Greenwald: We realized that we needed to create a policy when we discovered that a number of our franchisees have already been using social media to promote their business themselves. This became a particularly important issue to me when earlier this year, I found an article/blog on a site that quoted the “Director of Operations” from one of our franchises. No one in the corporate office knew who this person was. Essentially, an unknown person was representing our brand in the community. Encouraging the use of social media has been a more difficult discussion within our company. All of our research indicates that, so far, the actual return on investment for companies that do social media networking has been very low to zero. Moreover, we have learned that especially in service-based systems, when you allow franchisees to use “easier” ways to market, the more traditional, and more effective, face-to-face marketing suffers.
FW: What process did you go through to develop the policy? What resources did you use?
Emerson: Numerous examples and templates are available on the Internet, but these will require modification for use in any given organization and industry. Our case studies and tutorials were developed internally.
Greenwald: We began by attempting to determine exactly how we (our specific system) should define “social media.” From there, we began researching what social media providers best matched this definition. As for resources, our main research methodology has been traditional Web searches.
Goniea: We hired an outside consultant with demonstrated experience in addressing both electronic advertising/ media and the particular needs and challenges of franchising systems. We felt it was important to have an experienced outside voice providing input into the process. Not only did we benefit from the expertise the consultant brought to the table, but the consultant’s credibility and perceived neutrality helped smooth over conflicts between franchisees with differing opinions or interests. We also were very active about soliciting input and participation in the process by key interested franchisees. The goal here was not only to develop the right policy but to do it in a way that was perceived as fair and resulted in buy-in from a broad base of franchisees.
FW: Do you see benefits in having official policies or guidelines? Are they working?
Emerson: With the rapid changes in technology and constant emergence of new online communities, I think our franchisees appreciate the structure and examples that the guidelines provide. Within this framework, our franchisees are given the freedom to engage in creative ways. Effective management of social media campaigns at the corporate level supplies fresh content and ideas as well.
Goniea: Most definitely. Franchisor/ franchisee and franchisee/franchisee conflicts are avoided when everyone know what the rules are and how they are going to be applied and enforced. In addition, by leading on these issues and articulating clear policies and guidelines, we are facilitating and encouraging the use of social media by our franchisees to expand brand presence. Hopefully, use of social media sites will help AAMCO and its franchisees reach audiences that we might not otherwise reach.
Greenwald: Absolutely. Though we question the return on investment, we knows that maintaining consistency, across all media, is one of the most important responsibilities of any franchise system. Everyone must convey the same message. Too much variance creates confusion in the marketplace and is detrimental to the entire system.
FW: How are you enforcing the guidelines or policies? Do you provide training for your franchisees on social media in general, as well as your guidelines?
Emerson: For us, the expectation begins at Discovery Day where we demonstrate the opportunity for real time engagement with Tasti D-Lite customers. So when it is time for training, new franchisees know that this will be covered and opportunities will be identified for the given market. By this time they are excited to get started building a community of energized customers before they even open. Our guidelines and training empower them to do just that.
Greenwald: It is relatively easy to implement policies and guidelines regarding the proper use and application of social media marketing. However, we realize that by the very nature of how social media Web sites work, it is extremely difficult to ensure that our policies and guidelines are being adhered to. Part of the solution, where possible, is to establish main corporate accounts with the social media sites. The main corporate account will then be able to assign individual franchisees their own social “pages” within the corporate site. Additionally, once the main corporate account is established, the social media sites will not allow an entity, which we do not approve of, to use our marks without our permission. When the policies and guidelines are ready, we will provide training and guidance both through intra-office e-mail and webinars.
Goniea: Since rolling out our social media policy we have not had to deal with any enforcement issues. I would like to think that including our franchisees in the process of developing the policy has helped in this regard. So far, we are not providing specific training to franchisees on use of social media but if we find that abuses are occurring, or if we conclude that prospects for use of social media to promote the brand are greater than we currently anticipate, we will provide further guidance and training to our franchisees on these issues.
You can reach BJ Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org, Jim Goniea at email@example.com and Stephen Greenwald at firstname.lastname@example.org .