Social Networking & Franchise Lead Generation Revisited

In light of discussions at this year’s International Franchise Association Convention about “new” ways of generating franchise candidate leads, and as I continue to field an influx of questions from start up and emerging franchisors trying to find a “silver bullet” to jump-start franchise sales, I am again sharing the following article I wrote back in 2011 as the principles continue to apply to this day. Actually, they may apply even more today as more and more have adopted social networking platforms as major sources of securing information and for communicating.

Social Networking and Lead Generation

We’re often asked if social networking can be utilized effectively for franchise lead generation purposes. Well, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

When working on a lead generation project, establishing objectives is paramount to the success of the overall strategy. Assuming the strategy has been developed, complete with establishing an ideal candidate profile and identifying specific geographic areas for expansion, we typically proceed as follows:

First, we focus on networking groups that include individuals that best fit our client’s ideal candidate profile. From there we drill down to individuals in the geographic area we’re targeting per our plan. Let’s say teachers fit my candidate profile. we would search out networking groups specific to teachers, education, etc. Then, we would participate in discussion groups to get a feel for the group and to be noticed and subsequently accepted within the group. There’s always a spin one could use to achieve this objective.

Next, we seek out members from the specific geographic areas we’re targeting and begin communicating what we’re ultimately trying to accomplish… to generate interest in a specific franchise opportunity. Sometimes there’s interest right there in the group. Often, it’s a referral that we get that makes the effort within that group worthwhile.

We also focus on groups that can provide me with referrals such as insurance agents, realtors, financial planners and attorneys. Again, if you’re proactive within networking groups it’s relatively easy to enlist support and gather information. Again, there has been some interest from members of these groups but it’s amazing how many times we’ve been referred to an interested party who lives in another part of the country that is willing to jump at an opportunity in my target area. You see, the fact that it stems from a referral is key!

Lead generation through social networking takes time and effort no doubt. However, once you’re proactive within networking groups, you almost end up with a snowball effect as the leads come in bunches. Some leads start out by simply posting a thought provoking discussion with some back and forth interaction with a responder and the responder saying,”what is it that you do?” Next thing you know, you’re discussing an opportunity and the door is wide open.

Most times however, it takes considerably more effort, but we’ve found people are networking online and participating in discussion groups for specific reasons. They’re all looking to expand their business, improve their position, seek out various types of opportunities, and make money. Attracting these individuals online sure beats running an ad in the local paper and waiting for the phone to ring!

Financial Performance Representations in Digital Space – Friend or Foe to Franchising?

At what point do you believe a Financial Performance Representation crosses the line outside franchise disclosure requirements?

As discussed at various break-out sessions during the recent IFA Convention, social media has created many opportunities to present and discuss franchise opportunities across and through multiple channels, often linking from one social media platform to another. As many franchisors jockey for a competitive edge and increase their social media efforts, it’s important not to lose sight of franchise disclosure requirements.

The practice of embedding financial information within online press releases, blogs and even within Facebook posts, appears to be growing. Certainly, publishing this information by itself doesn’t create an FPR. But, directly or indirectly referring candidates to the information is an FPR, and if the information is not part of a franchisor’s Item 19, it becomes an improper FPR.

Considering the linking capabilities within social media, often to the point of creating a cross-platform, multi-tiered effect, some so-called, self-professed industry professionals apparently believe they can get away with improper FPRs. Especially, as social media is still “relatively new” and growing into new areas, misunderstood by many, and virtually under the radar of most authorities.

It appears the thought is, if enforcement of franchise disclosure is lacking in traditional areas, social media has become the new wild west!

Beyond the obvious illicit practices and potential ramifications to unsuspecting franchise candidates, what also causes reason for concern is the impression it makes upon start-up franchisors that follow suit – often, not even realizing the practice may be improper. After all, they see it being done by individuals who they believe are reputable franchise professionals. So, why not follow the same practice that they unsuspectingly come to believe is actually a best practice?

Sure, everyone is responsible for their own actions, and ignorance is not a legal defense. However, if these illicit practices continue within franchising, more and more will participate to the point of it becoming a common practice, with many believing it has become a best practice. Momentum picks up with so-called thought-leaders promoting the practice as an effective lead generation strategy, influencing even more franchisors. Some will be unsuspecting. Some will just jump on the bandwagon.

At what point will these practices be considered to be out-of-control and intolerable, and detrimental to franchising?

Can you handle the truth about your social media efforts?

Wow. Talk about a loaded question! To quote the late-comedienne Joan Rivers, “Can we talk?” – I believe the key here is really being honest with yourself. Yes, we need to hear the truth… that is, unless, again quoting another famous person, Jack Nicholson as Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men, “you can’t handle the truth!”

Well, and I’m quoting again here, this time from one of my all-time favorite movies, The Godfather, “Let me be more frank just to show you that I’m not a hard-hearted man…” Do you feel you could be doing better in social media? Ah heck, let’s ask the real question and stop dancing around, Does your business suck at social media? Below is a really great article as posted on Business2Community.com that may shed some light and maybe even open your eyes… to the truth!

4 Reasons Your Business Sucks at Social Media By , Published March 9, 2012

Social media networks were supposed to be the promised land for small businesses. They were supposed to be the great equalizer, the marketing tools that finally gave start-ups the same exposure as the industry leaders. But if that’s the case, why does your company still only have eight friends on Facebook?

Running a successful social media strategy is not as easy as many small business owners think it will be. Your company’s online success depends on several factors, and if you don’t account for all of them, you could find yourself stuck in the social media wastelands.

That’s not something many business owners like to hear, but the good news is that getting out of the Internet desert is simply a matter of redirecting your efforts. While thousands of businesses struggle to establish a presence online, they all tend to have trouble with the same four issues. So if you’re not getting poked as often as you deserve, use this guide to troubleshoot your social media strategy.

The articles goes on to list the 4 reasons as…

  1. Stop trying to build Rome. Build relationships.
  2. Be more than active. Be hyperactive. 
  3. Aim for a social media strategy that matches your value propositions.
  4. Stop looking for love in all the wrong places.

To learn more about these 4 reasons, click HERE.

 

Social Media: Looking Back to 2010 – Has Anything “Really” Changed?

Four years ago, I submitted an article for the International Franchise Association publication, Franchising World. The article was about capitalizing on what was then a relatively new but increasingly mainstream technology, social media. When looking back at the article I quickly realized that not much has really changed from my philosophy in effectively utilizing social media, and especially in a franchise environment. Sure, some of the platforms have changed and some social media have gone by the wayside while new ones have popped on the scene, but from a strategic standpoint, my philosophy remains in-tact as does the [potential] value social media brings to franchise organizations. But, I’ll let you decide for yourself as you read on and I look forward to your feedback…

Simplifying Social Media for Optimum Results
As published in Franchising World – August 2010

The key to effective technology usage is developing an integrated plan, choosing the most complementary tools and implementing well-planned strategies.

Integrated Franchise MarketingSocial media technology is evolving at a rapid pace. New tools enabling increased communication with various constituencies are being introduced on a frequent basis. While the franchising community is not yet embracing social media at the levels of the public-at-large, its members are beginning to understand the multi-tiered value that social media participation can provide to their firms. This value includes:

• Creating or improving brand awareness that drives business to franchise locations,

• Creating interest in franchise opportunities or franchise-candidate lead generation, and

• Establishing or improving communications and information-sharing throughout the franchise organization.

A frequently-cited impediment to the franchising industry’s adoption of social media is the perceived time commitment required to achieve optimum results. There are many implementation methods and technology tools that can be utilized to execute a firm’s social media program in a way that will maximize ROI, minimize time requirements and achieve complete integration into its overall marketing strategy, all of which will serve to achieve optimum results.

Saving Time

A big part of the challenge with building a substantial brand presence on social media is the need to ensure that a brand is reaching its target audiences on the various social platforms where it is participating, and since the number of social media platforms now numbers in the mid-hundreds, it’s obvious why this can be perceived as a daunting process. Participation on any platform necessitates building a profile there and then adding new content on a regular basis to keep the brand’s audience interested and engaged. While firms do exist that will concurrently build a company’s profile on up to several hundred sites (for a fee, of course), these tend to be very generic profiles that will not serve to attract the interest of a target audience and are therefore not recommended.

A better plan is to begin by identifying the top 10 social media platforms where a franchise will find the audience it is seeking. Typically this will include one or more of the top three platforms: Twitter, a micro-blogging platform with wide and diverse appeal; LinkedIn, a networking platform for a business-oriented audience; and Facebook, which began as a way to communicate with friends and family, but has evolved into a leading marketing platform for brands large and small to communicate with a potential audience of over 400 million members.

Many other social-media platforms exist including those that are targeted to specific geographic areas and those that appeal to specific demographic targets. A good place to start reviewing platform options is the blog, “Marketing with New Technology.” After a brand has been established and built a following on the originally selected platforms, then it can consider whether it wants to begin exploring additional social platforms to broaden its base of followers.

The second step will be to build the firm’s profile-corporate pages on each of the selected top 10 platforms and to concurrently authorize the development of any employee or franchisee-managed profiles that will be linked to the franchise account.

The third step is where the franchise will begin to achieve significant time-savings by using social media. This is to incorporate the use of a social-media aggregator into the social media program (see list on Page 14 of the digital August 2010 Franchising World).

A social media aggregator will allow a firm to attach the selected social platforms to one account and then upload content only once, but publish it to all of the selected platforms, thereby avoiding the need and the time to move from platform to platform to make posts.

The best aggregators will allow a firm to be very selective about which platform each piece of content publishes to, enable the attachment of multi-media content such as photos or video, permit the identification of a specific date and time that the item will actually post and finally, allow a franchise to incorporate multiple levels of authorized access so that several people can post content, but only certain ones can actually authorize it to post to the social media platform.

This type of tool allows the workload to be distributed while ensuring compliance with franchisor branding and messaging guidelines. Aggregators are available at costs and functions ranging from free, with very basic services, to more than $25,000 per year for enterprise-level programs which provide the highest levels of functionality and security. Some of the aggregators even incorporate the ability to post blog entries, e-mails and text messaging.

Read the complete article HERE.

Franchise Candidates: A Changed Mindset

This article was originally posted on August 13, 2009 as Franchise Candidates: A Changing Mindset. Well, I guess we can revise the title slightly to reflect candidates’ current views – A Changed Mindset. Nevertheless, the article may be even more relevant today as franchising attempts to rebound from the economic downturn and continues to explore more viable lead generation strategies that will attract today’s franchise candidate. Many continue to explore social media and have realized its position as an integral and effective component of these strategies… of course, when utilized according to a plan.

caution-01A look at today’s franchise candidates will reveal they are more sophisticated, better educated, and more technologically advanced than ever before. In addition, and even more so because of the economic downturn, they are extremely cautious.

Today’s candidates are spending more time researching opportunities, and doing so at a much slower pace. In order to be diligent in the process, more time is spent online pouring through page after page of information, constantly bookmarking, and moving back and forth from new information to saved information. They’re comparing notes with other franchise candidates on social networking sites. As well, they’re gaining invaluable insight monitoring online discussion groups and forums.

Ultimately, today’s franchise candidate desires and needs to be certain the franchise opportunity is as close to perfect for his or her situation, as humanly possible. In the past, and especially after previous recessions, franchise candidates took their capital gains and invested in a franchise opportunity. Many times leaving the principal investment untouched. There was a sense of throwing caution to the wind because they were investing profits. Many times ungodly profits, at least by today’s standards. Does anyone remember when money markets kicked out 17% profit margins?

Unfortunately, many individuals looking at franchise opportunities today are looking at things differently. They have to. Many are transitioning corporate executives staring at the back end of illustrious careers trying to squeak out just ten more years before retirement. Facing the challenge of younger talent, new technology, and a rapidly changing business environment, many opt to “buy” a job and explore franchising and small business ownership.

What Changed?

Here’s the difference between today’s recession, and of those in the past. As huge fortunes have been lost, and large gains have not been realized in current financial markets, today’s candidates are forced to invest all or part of their remaining nest egg in order to enter the world of business ownership. Of course, everyone knows and fully understand the risks involved in owning a business. But in yesterday’s business environment, many franchisees and business owners were “gambling” with profits.

Certainly, no one wanted to lose money in a business venture. But, many had fallback positions with funds still in retirement accounts and of course, if they had to, employment. For many of today’s candidates, failure is not an option because fallback opportunities are fast becoming non-existent. Actually, I believe many of today’s candidates might not have even considered franchise or small business ownership in the past.

So, as many individuals explore their options, they will focus more and more of their efforts online. Franchisors must embrace this fact, and dedicate more resources to the internet and look to social media to complement, not replace, their traditional franchise marketing strategies. By doing so, they’ll realize multiple benefits for their entire system including:

– Creating or further developing brand awareness with franchise candidates and consumers alike
– Generating franchise leads that are genuinely interested in exploring what franchising and small business ownership has to offer, and how a particular concept may be the vehicle to achieve their goals and objectives
– Establishing an interactive environment of communications and information sharing that will become the backbone of future franchise relationships throughout franchise systems

Last, many franchise candidates previously viewed franchising and small business ownership as a way of achieving their wishes, hopes and dreams, regardless of what those may have been. Today, it’s more about goals and objectives, and necessities. We, as an industry need to fully realize this, and understand the mindset of today’s franchise candidate.

CEOs & Social Media – There’s Still a Disconnect for Some

I’ve recently posted in the Franchise Executives group on LinkedIn with the discussion question, “Why are CEOs and other top executives [still] not buying in to Social Media.” I’ve included a few of the responses below. Please share your thoughts and perspective as well…

imageSocial media is certainly a primary means of communication that has quickly become a fundamental requirement to businesses just like the telephone, the website, or email. You could choose not to use any of those communication methods too, but it would be a brave person that tries to succeed without them. As a forward-thinking, open minded executive, how can you embrace social media in all of its glory to enhance your brand perception and be more effective in your leadership role?

“Social media is a good CRM tool for customers that are on it. Like any marketing tool it’s also demographic specific on the users. Also there’s the negative side of Social Media when a company cannot control it. Remember the Australian Subway franchise incident when a customer measured and posted a foot long sandwich on their Facebook page which wasn’t exactly a 12 inches long?”

“Sounds like I am preaching to the choir here, but here is my thought. We work with a few large franchisors. The difficulty they run into with social business generally falls into two distinct categories. 1. Brand protection. and 2. Return on investment. Things have changed, and continue to change every day as it relates to social. The measurement seen as success by a community manager vs. a CEO are vastly different. While likes and followers can, at times be a legitimate key performance indicator, the “C-Suite” is saying “show me the money” and “protect our brand identity”. There are options, and they get better everyday. The things we are able to deliver to our franchise clients today vs. 2 years ago would have been unthinkable. We can now control the brand pages on Facebook from one central location for an unlimited number of Facebook pages. We can change images, push offers to all pages at once, create and deploy tabs, etc. This removes the risk of brand sabotage by well meaning franchisees, yet still allows them to have a local Facebook presence. It took a lot of time and resource to develop, but we couldn’t have even imagined doing it two years ago. Funny thing is, I came to this exact group and asked in an open forum if there was anyone that would like to take a look and give feedback. Do you know how many replies I got? 0. Yep, ZERO. See, most folks don’t get it, or don’t yet understand the value. Even those who are commenting in this thread. 🙂 In reference to ROI – Another area with drastic change. The analytics technology is available now to measure all the way from a specific Tweet, Facebook, or LinkedIn post, clear to the web call to action. This shows a specific and clear path to purchase, or action, aka, a proven result. This is what the “C-Suite” wants to see. We do this every day. Its not magic, it is hard work and using the right approach. And yes, content wins and will continue to. But – Context trumps content all day long.”

“In addition to all the offers you can put to your audience we now offer a product that enables our Franchisees to push instant feedback back to the owner and the sites so that the people who really love the franchisee can share that more readily. This advocacy is a far more compelling tribute to the hard work franchisees offer to keep their clients happy! If you have a veracious appetite for growth you can get it in these channels.”

“CEO’s, other than the disruptors, like their position and want to protect their status. New ideas especially as it pertains to the increasing accelerating world of social media are threatening to those who don’t embrace and encourage leadership @ all levels within the organization. Top down is “OLD School.” Embracing existing media vehicles is “OLD School.” By the time I complete this comment 10 new social media ideas will have been hatched somewhere in the world, and it doesn’t have to be Silicon Valley!”

True Social Media ROI – Relationship & Community Building

Social-Media-ROICertainly, return-on-investment (ROI) is important but too many miss the boat by trying to make social media a line-item on their financials. First, social media is not advertising. So to think there will be a definitive ROI based entirely upon revenue generated against dollars invested is absolutely off-base.

One needs to look at social media as the glue that can hold several key functions of the business together such as bringing the customer experience to marketing complete with sharing operations role in making the experience positively memorable, and letting the end-user know about its objectives. Complicated? No, but not without proper planning and a long-term vision. Further, social media is vehicle that transports information from one function to another – it’s a conduit.

Social media is the communications tool that should lend itself to truth, trust and transparency in establishing or strengthening the business relationship. Last, social media is the tool that enables a brand or business to earn the right to “ask” for business from customers, clients and investors alike as it provides the platform for them to virtually see how your business operates, how it communicates and how it is perceived. The key here is in establishing community. The necessary steps are relatively simple to follow… Share, Interact, Engage and then, only then have you earned the right for a Call-to-Action. Yes, that’s when the right has been earned.

It does take training for social media to be utilized effectively at any level. But even more so at the local level as franchisees typically cannot afford the luxury of adding human resources to handle their social media. So, training and guidance is paramount. As is open communication and interaction between franchisor and franchisee in managing and monitoring social media. Yes, working together with common goals and objectives, as should always be the case in the franchise relationship. This is just another component of what I believe should be the everyday goal of working towards a truly interdependent relationship. The same should be said about all relationships in a business [and franchise] environment – franchisor/franchisee, employer/employee, business/customer, etc… Yes, it should be the norm, and not the exception.


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Value-added Discussions – A Linkedin Best Practice

In a recent discussion within the LinkedIn Franchise Executives group a question was asked about how best to present products and services to group members. The question stemmed from a revision in group rules put in place to keep the group focused on its objectives of exchanging ideas, sharing information, and promoting best practices within franchising. By attempting to eliminate the clutter of self-promotion, MLM opportunities, and even franchise opportunities, revising the rules was seen as the most practical way to retain group members and increase participation.

Here’s the question and my response regarding value-added discussions…

Question: “Outlining some guidelines is an excellent way to embark and start bringing a format or platform to enhance value to the group, congratulations on your initiative.

Please tell us at what point information and value added discussions should be introduced to the group in your mind. I think anyone here is interested in gaining value and as well, sharing value, but it all sooner or later leads to developing new business, directly or indirectly, that is mutually beneficial. There is a fine line between “advertorials” and “value exchanges”. Are you able to define further what format, discussion or response you think would serve the reader and the writer (group members) best? ”

Answer: “I believe value-added discussions can be introduced at anytime. However, I do believe it’s a social networking best practice to “earn the right” to do so by getting to know group members, participate in group discussions, and contribute to the same.

Then, based upon a perceived group or industry need, I suggest initiating a discussion about that need (or challenge / issue). Certainly, one can lead into presenting within the discussion details of their product and how it could satsify the need, address the challenge or resolve the issue. The key is not to immediately shove the product or service down members’ throats.

I believe what is often overlooked or ignored, is that group members, especially ones being sold to, have knowledge about franchising, are aware of the needs, challenges and issues the industry is facing, and may actually be aware of the companies providing services and products in the area of concern. What they may not be aware of is the person presenting a company’s products and services. And, people buy from people, right?

So, I recommend anyone with the objective of selling products and services be a person first, by developing relationships with group members. Then, be perceived as an expert in your field by sharing knowledge and experience through participation. I believe sales should follow…

As an added note, I believe the same process works within other social media including Facebook and Twitter, with platform appropriate modifications to plan.”

This post originally published January 2011.


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Personal Branding and the Power of “YOU”

YOU1This is the final post in a week-long recap of my 2012 interview with Renee Bailey of Franchise Direct. The title of the post in Franchise Direct was “Marketing, Media and Franchising – An Interview with Paul Segreto”. The full interview may be read HERE. But if you’ve been reading along this week, the following represents my final answer along with some parting advice for prospective franchisees.

In August of 2011, HubSpot explored why every franchisee needs their own website (story link: http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/bid/22027/). Does this relate to your philosophy that individual brands enhance the overall franchise system?

Yes. I don’t think that it can be argued that a franchise organization with franchisees with strong personal branding wouldn’t be significantly stronger than a system with franchisees that just stand behind the counter.

Now, I’m not degrading the efforts of franchisees that strive for 100% customer satisfaction and are willing to put in long hours to ensure the same. But with a strong personal brand that reaches into the local community, franchisees would be more successful driving the business. I refer to this as “GOYA marketing” – Get Off Your Ass marketing. Here’s the great part of GOYA marketing… in today’s digital world, much of the personal branding can be done online!

Are there any additional insights you would like to share with prospective franchisees?

It doesn’t matter what your level of investment, or visibility and strength of the brand, the key to your success is YOU! Yes, I am a firm believer in location, location, location, and I always stress not to fall so in love with a brand that you accept a secondary location because that is a recipe for failure. But as important is for me to stress: You, you, you.

Until next time, this is Paul Segreto, wishing you the best, the very best, in this great thing we call franchising!


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The New Media Effect on Franchise Sales & the Franchise Relationship

This is third post of this week based upon my recent interview with Renee Bailey at Franchise Direct. In this part of the interview our focus turned to what many within franchising look for day in and day out… the silver bullet to increase franchise sales. When social media became more and more popular, many franchisors wanted to use social media to attract franchise candidates. Many thought, incorrectly that social media was a form of advertising. My response to the first question below sheds a different light on social media in the franchise sales process.

In the second question the focus was media’s affect on the franchise relationship. My answer was short, but to the point.

Finally, in the last question below we discussed a new trend in media – Social Mobile Local or SoMoLo.

New Media

How are franchisors utilizing social media to connect with prospective franchisees throughout the prospecting process?

Great question because many are not connecting with prospective franchisees. Social media is not the silver bullet many want and expect to make the sales process easier, or even to generate leads on its own.

Instead, social media for franchise development should be looked at as a vital complementing component in the traditional lead generation process. That means it should provide a support mechanism that candidates can be directed to and that candidates can find on their own in their own due diligence. Today’s candidates are also more diligent and cautious than ever before. Social media allows them to virtually stand next to a brand and experience how that brand interacts with its customers, franchisees, etc.

All that being said, social media can be utilized in the franchise development process as a way to drive candidates to a specific event like a webinar, where the concept can be explained in detail. The key here is that one-size-fits-all strategies with social media do not work effectively.

One more thing: it’s critical to ask questions at the onset of utilizing social media related to expectations and desired results. This is crucial in evaluating whether or not the program worked. As important as click-thru’s, insights, impressions, etc. are in analyzing the process and program itself, looking at desired results against actual results is really the true Social Media P&L.

Have new media options available altered the franchisor-franchisee relationship?

Of course, but they don’t need to. New media is all about truth, trust and transparency. Really, isn’t that what the franchise relationship should be built upon?

New media is a wonderful way of keeping in communications at all times. Embrace and adapt is what I typically advise. It’s important to receive proper training to fully understand new media and all its capabilities and features.

How does a personal brand enhance the overall brand of a franchise system?

The new trend in digital marketing, or better stated, in attracting today’s consumer is referred to as SoMoLo, or Social Mobile Local.

  • Social, we’ve touched upon above.
  • Mobile is just the way consumers are choosing to access and search information, and communicate.
  • Local, well, that’s all about the “personal side” of the business transaction.

People want to do business with people. They buy from people. Sure, the brand may get them in the door, but it’s the person representing the brand that they want to business with. So, as consumers technologically advance, it’s not uncommon for them to check out the local franchisee’s Facebook page or LinkedIn profile, perform a Google search of the franchisee, etc. What they hope to find is a person of experience and integrity. [Even] the banking industry is leaning towards utilizing a social reputation score for business loan applicants that will rival the credit score.

Tomorrow, in the last post in this series we’ll wrap up the discussion with a questions about local websites and a word of advice for prospective franchisees.


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