Transitioning Interested Parties to Franchise Candidates

In continuing your journey of Franchise Development via Social Media, it’s important I point out that social media for typical business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C) purposes is much different than social media for franchise development purposes. In a typical B2B or B2C scenario, social media efforts would be directed to the entity or individual you’re attempting to do business with. Your business with them may be a single transaction, or as with restaurants, it may include repeat business where you’re seeking customer loyalty. Regardless, your position is strictly focused on attracting and keeping your customer, and the transactions are usually relative to a specific, tangible product or service. They buy. You sell. And the cycle continues the same or it abruptly ends.

intangibleIn the franchise development arena, your social media efforts will be considerably different as your objective is different. The franchise sales transaction consists of a substantial upfront fee for an intangible item, franchise rights. The transaction is only the beginning of the additional cash outlay or credit commitment, that’s triggered by the initial fee and signing of the franchise documents. Yet, the relationship is not one that’s just based upon that one single transactional experience. Instead, it’s only a small step in an ongoing relationship where the new franchisee becomes dependent upon the franchisor and the concept. Buyer’s remorse is not an option. The social media efforts must progress and build upon each other with the objectives gradually changing and progressing “as” the relationship builds, and not just “because” the relationship builds.

Yesterday, we discussed establishing the Virtual Party Room. Today, we’ll discuss how to interact with the individuals within the room and with the new people we’re introducing to the party. Our objective will be to learn, through utilization of powerful Web 2.0 technology and tools, how we can transition interested parties into franchise candidates by just “holding their hands” and letting the experience guide them along until they’re ready to make a decision. Easier said than done? Well, it’s not rocket science, but I’ll still try to be as fundamental as possible in my explanations.

Transitioning Interested Parties to Franchise Candidates

When the interested party enters the Virtual Party Room, he or she is basically just tire-kicking. Oh, they may have expressed significant interest in your concept, or maybe they’re just inquisitive. It really doesn’t matter at this point. Your objective was to introduce the individual to the party. That’s it. It wasn’t to push them immediately towards the franchise sale. It’s wasn’t about discussing the fine points of the franchise concept. It certainly wasn’t about closing the deal. Your only objective at this point was to introduce the individual to the party so he or she could learn more, interact with others in the party and gather enough information to make an informed decision at their own pace. Remember, social media is not about selling!

hostessAs with any popular party, it’s important to have a host or hostess. In your party room, this person is essentially in charge of accepting member requests, posting new information, updating various features and keeping the “conversations” flowing. I think you now fully understand the party analogy so let’s transition to reality and make reference to specifics with respect to your franchise concept.

The host or hostess is the person you install as being in charge of your social media efforts. This person is key to making your social media efforts a success or failure as this individual must be on their “A” game. They must pay attention to detail and exhibit a sense of urgency when necessary. Starting at the very beginning, this individual will set up the company page in a specific social network. I highly recommend utilizing Facebook, but it can work in other social newtorks as well.

In Facebook there are general, basic information sections that need to be completed. Once completed, you’ll need to start building your site with information about your franchise concept. Videos, a strong Web 2.0 tool, work extremely well in conveying messages to individuals interested in your concept. The founder’s statements about vision and passion for the concept goes a long way towards generating excitement. A few video testimonials from franchisees, placed strategically within the site, provide a balance between the concept as a franchise opportunity and the concept as a consumer experience.

Photos, placed throughout the site along with comments, are a great visual affect as well. These photos may be of franchise locations, the equipment used in daily operations, the original locations from which the concept was derived, the founder, personnel, the product or service sold at the franchise locations, etc. All should include comments with each post explaining the photo. Additional comments from other group members will enhance the experience behind the photos.

A media section should be established to include press releases, audios and videos of important speeches, photos of company spokespersons, online and print news and feature stories, highlights of community events, etc. Comments about each must accompany the posts. Again, additional comments will further enhance the experience.

All individuals having anything at all to do with the franchise concept should be invited to join and participate in the group. These should include company executives, managers and personnel at all levels, franchisees and their personnel, franchise customers, company vendors and suppliers, and all interested parties in the franchise concept. In place, and participating, this group creates the buzz and excitement of the group.

Now, when individuals that have expressed interest in your franchise concept join the group, they may interact with group members, asking questions and seeking information. They’ll start to “experience” the concept from all angles as if they were at the franchise locations or within the corporate office. At any time they can jump into the conversations and add their own comments. Sometimes in the forms of questions and as they get more comfortable within the group, as their own personal comments and views.

Over a short period of time, and through monitoring the group’s activities, it’s relatively easy to “see” which individuals are interested in becoming franchisees of the system. Their questions and comments will dictate their interest. This is where the individual in charge of the social media efforts increases their interaction with the interested parties and provides even more information that moves them along in the process. This is usally done through site messages, or responses or comments to their comments. Ideally, the best way is a timely instant message as provided on the Facebook page.

The system basically moves itself up to a point. From there it needs to be guided and ultimately directed towards the latter stages of the franchise sale. Now, don’t get me wrong, an email or phone call throughout the process helps, but only as a guide or reference to a real person. Another Web 2.0 tool that works great in this regard is a video email (vidmail) program that brings a real person right to their desktop. It’s both a professional and effective use of Web 2.0 technology.

Okay, the site is up and running, you have interested parties joining the group, they’re interacting within the group and all is going according to plan. What next? Certainly there’s more to this social media thing, isn’t there? Yes there is. Ever hear about Twitter? Do blogs sound familiar? How about You Tube and Flickr? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

twitter-logoOn Twitter you’ll post frequent bits and pieces of information about franchising and entrepreneurship in general and along with a few “personal” tweets, yes they call them tweets, you’ll post links to various parts of your concept including the Facebook group page, your website which will have a link to your Facebook page and to your blog, which will also have links back to your Facebook page. So you see, all activity will ultimately be directed back to your concept’s Facebook page because that’s where you can monitor and control the flow of information and interest because it’s interactive. There, that answers the question of why shouldn’t everything be directed to the website? Let me clarify. Facebook is interactive. Websites are not.

Remember the videos you developed for the Facebook page and the photos you posted to the Facebook page? Well, you’re now going to post the videos on You Tube and the photos on Flickr. Each post will have a desciption, and guess what, a link back to your Facebook page! This way, you’ll be able to direct individuals from your Twitter and Blog to these sites as a redirection to your group page or you may be able to generate interest in your concept by individuals exploring these other Web 2.0 sites. Keep in mind, I’m only scratching the surface on the different Web 2.0 sites as there are hundreds. Using as many as possible in cross-referencing and click-throughs will enhance your efforts many times over. By the way, it won’t hurt your search engine optimization either.

Additionally, you will take your Facebook group identity and join other Facebook groups where individuals with interests in franchising, entrepreneurship, specific business type and that may have the criteria of your ideal franchise candidate, congregate and share information. During the course of discussion and sharing of information, it’s relatively easy to guide these individuals to your Facebook group page and the cycle begins on your “turf” with them. The same holds true with LinkedIn groups, Twitter groups and other social network groups.

As you can see, the limits of social media are endless and are only limited by discouraging imagination, holding back creativity and not dedicating ample time to administer, execute and monitor the process. The potential benefits are far reaching throughout the organization including creating brand awareness with franchise candidates and consumers alike, generating qualified franchise leads and subsequent franchise sales, and establishing an interactive environment of communications and information sharing at all levels of a franchise organization.

In tomorrow’s third segment of Franchise Development via Social Media, we’ll discuss how to integrate social media with traditional franchise marketing and development strategies, and some non-traditional strategies as well. In the meantime, please submit any and all questions below, and I will respond accordingly prior to posting the next series segment.

Establishing the “Virtual Party Room”

In the recent article, Enter the Fourth Horsemen, published in the April 2009 issue of Franchise Times, Mark Siebert, Chief Executive Officer of the iFranchise Group identified Social Media as the next internet [franchise] lead generation site. In the article, Mark wrote, “The problem is that far too many franchisors view social media like guerilla marketing on steroids – easy opportunities for free publicity that can drive leads. But marketing on social media is neither free nor easy – and the shear number of people using the social media will not dictate the size of the opportunity.”

Let’s see what else has been written about Social Media and Franchising. Actually, in the same issue of Franchise Times, where Mark’s article was published, Nancy Weingartner, Franchise Times Editor wrote about it in her article, Citizen Marketing. At the end of the article, was a text block with the title, “The Top Five Social Media Mistakes” from Nick Powills of No Limit Media Consulting. The mistakes, clearly with franchising in mind, but applicable to other business segments as well, were identified as follows:

Five1. Not changing your franchise agreement to cover social media. Just like franchisors took control of their Web sites a decade or so ago, now they need to control what’s being said about the brand in social networking sites. In addition, start now to secure your company’s name in conjunction with YouTube, etc., just like you did URLs just a few years ago.

2. Not maintaining and updating your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or blogs. Once you train the public to visit your sites for updates or to post a comment, you’re obligated to follow through. Nothing is worse than ticking off the new citizen journalists.

3. Thinking you can do social marketing on your own. While you may have a marketing team in-house, they’re also charged with traditional advertising, PR and marketing. “You need someone to do it daily,” contends Nick Powills. And you also want someone who knows what they’re doing. Social media is not just PR in a trendy wrapper. You need someone who knows franchising and the “social” lingo.

4. Overpaying to outsource this service. Since it’s still fairly new, it’s hard to quantify how much a lead from social media actually is worth. Are you looking for franchisees or long-term customers? Do your due diligence – sound familiar?

5. Thinking Facebook, etc., are just for kids. Facebook may have started as networking for younger people, but take a look at who’s on it now. Some of the original kids’ grandparents are living their lives on their Facebook pages. Powills describes it as “LinkedIn on speed.”

So, does all this have your head spinning yet? Well, it should unless you take the journey of Franchise Development via Social Media one step at a time. You see, the real beauty of social media is the ability to start slow and progress at your own pace. And, there’s opportunity to learn each step of the way. Unlike developing website content, where a mistake glares at you and is difficult to correct, a mistake or error in social media is relatively easy to correct, and usually provides enough time to make the correction. Okay, enough of that but I just wanted to put your minds at ease in case you’re phobic about new technology, and new methods and processes. As for the top five social media mistakes listed above, please keep those in mind and use it as a reference as you progress on the journey of Franchise Development via Social Media.

Franchise Development via Social Media – Part One

Most people believe the first step in social media is to start networking right away. That’s is not the case but is a mistake made by most individuals and companies attemting to use social media as a way to grow a business. The first step is developing the strategy to begin social media marketing of which networking eventually becomes an essential element of the same.

So, the first step is to establish objectives in what you’re attemting to achieve by venturing into social media. The common reason I hear from franchisors is their desire to generate leads so they have candidates in the franchise sales pipeline. Actually, the main goal is to increase franchise sales so let’s call it what it is. Let’s take it a step further and identify the primary goal and objective as “generating qualified franchise leads that ultimately will lead to franchise sales and at a level that makes the social media effort worthwhile.”

Step two then, would be to identify your concept’s ideal franchise candidate profile. Who would be most likely to succeed as a franchisee in your system? If your system already has a relative number of franchisees, a profile of the most successful franchisees would help in this regard. Once, it is fully understood what type of individual you’re looking for as a franchise candidate, we’ll need to explore where to locate these individuals online. Do not shortcut this step as identifying your ideal franchise candidate is critical to the process.

The next step, will find you exploring various social networks and establishing company pages and profiles. Remember, you’re not networking yet. You’re just working on developing your social media infrastructure. Establishing company pages and profiles are key elements to the overall strategy because one of these sites will ultimately be your concept’s “virtual party room.” This party room, or “meeting place” or “landing page”, as I’ve referred to it in the past (“meeting place” is not exciting and “landing page” is too technical), is the place where all your social media efforts will culminate and turn an interested party into a franchise candidate. (For another perspective, may I refer you to another article on this site “Franchise Sales & Space Mountain: An Odd Comparison?”)

Group of peopleIt’s in this virtual party room that you’ll encourage attendance and participation by interested parties, franchisees, franchisee personnel, franchise customers, franchise company executives and personnel, and the concept’s vendors and suppliers. The goal is to establish a party where conversations about the concept, and its products and services, are happening all over the place. For instance, a discussion is started by a franchise candidate and is addressed by corporate personnel. A question is posted by a franchisee and several answers are submitted by various individuals. A video by the CEO is posted and is viewed and commented on by various individuals with different interests in the group and concept providing distinct perspectives. Positive comments (testimonials) are posted by customers. There are a hundred, two hundred, four hundred or more members of the group. There’s an information section listing the concept’s website, blogsite and other pertinent links. There may even be a media section with recent press releases or news stories about the concept and the franchisees.

Imagine now, directing your qualified franchise candidates, one at a time, to this party room. Picture it in-person as opposed to virtual and think about the conversations, the buzz in the room, and the excitement generated. The same is true in this virtual party room. Except, the virtual party continues to grow and grow over time and franchise candidates can visit over and over again, interacting with group members, developing key relationships and sharing information. All key components towards making an informed decision about your franchise concept. Mind you, we’ve jumped ahead and explored what the party would look like down the road a bit. But for now, we’re just establishing the place to hold the party.

The next step is to locate where the ideal franchise candidates are congregating online. For example purposes, let’s identify your ideal franchise candidate as female, with mid to upper level management experience within the financial services industry, and with school-age children. Now, let’s assume a few things. Individuals meeting this criteria may be re-entering the workforce after five or six years as a stay-at-home Mom. She may be exploring entrepreneurship as opposed to working in Corporate America once again. By virtue of her mid to upper level management experience it’s most likely safe to assume this indiviudal is well-educated and may have an advanced degree. Using these assumptions and criteria let’s find your ideal franchise candidates.

facebook_v_linkedinUsing LinkedIn or Facebook, you can explore various groups consisting of executives and relating to the financial services industry. You can also explore groups that pertain to startups, entrepreneurship and small busines ownership. Now, you will join a few of these groups and monitor the discussion groups. Again, you’re not networking yet but you are starting to participate in discussions, answering general questions, getting a feel for the “land” and exposing the group to small busines ownership, entrepreneurship and finally, to your concept. Once, members in the group start to request to connect, that’s when the actual networking begins. This is key. The networking only starts when individuals request to connect with you or your company, not the other way around by you asking them.

As you connect with individuals, you have access to their profile which includes work experience, level of expertise, recommendations, education, hobbies, etc. This host of information will provide you with the missing pieces to the ideal franchise candidate profile. It will also provide you a snapshot of other groups they’re involved in and may even include other social networks. If not, a Google search provides a wealth of additional information that can be explored. (When you have an opportunity, perform a Google search of Paul Segreto and you’ll see 10-12 pages of search results with 8-10 results on each page – you’ll be able to determine how I spend my time, who I’m working with and where I’m involved)

Over a short period of time, you’ll start referring individuals to your virtual party, asking them to invite their connections and so on. Simultaneously, you’ll introduce these individuals to your website and ask them to follow you on Twitter because you’ll already have established a Twitter ID. They’ll see how you promote other people on Twitter interact with you and will be exposed to how you promote yourself and your concept in that social network. At some point, you’ll have established a blog and will be referring individuals to your blogsite, and be able to track their interest and activity.

You’ve now built this multi-level web of social media activity that connects from one point to the other, backtracks to other relevant points and eventually winds up at the party. While enroute to the party, you’re learning a great deal about these people individually and they’re learning a great deal about your concept. As all this is occurring, you’re also increasing your concept’s search engine optimization but that is another story for another day. But it is an added benefit.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss interacting with the individuals within the virtual party and explore various methods of generating further interest in your concept while basically just “holding hands.”

I encourage you to leave any and all comments and questions below. I will respond accordingly prior to posting tomorrow’s segment in this four part series that is scheduled to run through Thursday.

Social Networking and Business Growth: A Winning Combination

Social Networking is the perfect answer to growing your business, economic downturn or not.

networking-photosOver time, personal interaction within a social networking environment creates trust. In turn, it develops relationships, shares information, provides two-way communications, and provides points of reference for follow up. It creates a multi-tiered platform of information that benefits both business development and customer generation efforts alike. Often, simultaneously.

How are you using social networking (and Web 2.0 tools) to grow your business? Are you using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to full benefit? Need some questions answered? Post them below and we’ll be sure to answer them. If we don’t have the answers you need, we’ll get them for you as soon as possible.