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!

Social Media Policies & Procedures – What’s to Debate?

I agree local opportunities within social media are huge and I project it will continue to expand and improve as more tools and technology are introduced. Just think, it wasn’t all that long ago we didn’t even know about Foursquare and now it’s growing like crazy!

And, yes, franchisors should not “manhandle” social media and content marketing as some have dictated, but it is vitally important to have very detailed social media policies and procedures so that everyone within an organization participating in social media is afforded the opportunity to be as active as they so desire. That being said, their activity must be in line with the guidelines that are determined to be in the best interests of the brand. After all, utilizing the brand within social media should be deemed no different than using the brand name on signage or in traditional marketing. Ultimately, it is the brand’s trademark and use of the same, in any manner, still must comply with the franchisor’s authorization to use the same.

Social media should not be considered one-size-fits-all. Instead, a strategy must be developed in line with the goals and objectives for utilizing social media and all that goes along with the strategy including resources available to execute the plan, identifying targets and where they congregate and communicate, the types of social media that may be best suited for sharing information and in some cases calls for action, and of course, how the results are to be analyzed and quantified.

For instance, from a very simplistic point of view, how would anyone propose a chain of 500 franchise locations each be active on Twitter considering there are limitations on characters in the profile name? It’s one thing for each location to have an individual presence on Facebook by using the brand name along with a geographic acronym of sorts (XYZ Finest Pizza – North Hollywood, CA). But, how could the same be accomplished within Twitter especially to maintain consistency in the brand name? In this case I would recommend a corporate Twitter account for the brand only. In other situations, each location having a Twitter account may be feasible. But even then, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate. Only proper strategy development will make that determination.

Certainly, mapping out the strategy and overall web presence, then planning out the role social media will play is the correct course of action. and will make implementing a social media policy must easier. Not to mention providing defined reasons for specific parts of the policies and procedures that can be used to “convince” franchisees to abide by the policies and procedures as opposed to unsubstantiated reasons which may cause franchisees to feel they’re in a “demand” situation. Convince rather than demand always wins out!

*This post was originally published on this site March 2011

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Can Franchise Organizations Benefit From Social Media?

The following is a reprint of article that appeared in the January 2010 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine.

Franchises Go Social
Can your franchise benefit from social media? Find out how the best franchises used this medium to their advantage.
By Gwen Moran | Entrepreneur Magazine – January 2010

In April 2009, after a buy-one, get-one-free e-mail promotion bumped up his business by 40 percent on a single Tuesday, Zpizza franchisee Michael Blank of Alexandria, Va., decided that he needed to do more digital marketing. As he started to look into social media, he realized that using Facebook and Twitter would give him an opportunity to inform his customers about deals and specials and allow him to begin conversations with them. He persuaded the company’s headquarters to move forward with social networking, and now the Zpizza Facebook page has more than 1,700 fans while his region’s Twitter presence has nearly 600 followers.

Although the return on tweeting coupon codes and sharing specials on Facebook hasn’t reached the 40 percent mark he had experienced earlier, Blank is sure that it will as more people learn about Zpizza’s presence. To get there, he’s working with local mothers to encourage them to blog information about and reviews of the restaurant. “It’s an incredibly cheap way to brand and market yourself,” he says, because most social networking sites and blogs are free.

Franchisees are smart to take advantage of social media, says Paul R. Segreto, founder of FranchisEssentials, a franchise consultancy in Houston. But it has to be done strategically. “What you don’t want to do is sell too hard. It’s like walking into an in-person networking event and saying, ‘Here I am. I sell such and such,’ ” he advises.

Instead, share information that your customers want. It may be specials and price promotions, but it also may be news about product offerings, industry updates or tips that will help them with their lives or businesses. That’s what Mike Heffner, a Greenwood, Ind., Express Employment Professionals franchise owner, does. He capitalizes on the robust corporate website that Express has, which includes information for jobseekers and/or companies seeking employees.

But Heffner wanted to have a place where he could customize content for his local market, so he worked with an intern to build a website that includes area job listings. He also uses Twitter to tweet those listings and finds that his office gets an average of 50 job applications online, with a marked increase when a job listing is tweeted. Heffner is still trying to figure out how to measure the number of individuals he reaches each month through social networking–including a blog he writes about leadership–and his website. But the tracking of customer origins has shown him that 25 percent of job applicants found his franchise through one of its online marketing vehicles.

Express Employment’s communications and social media manager, Tiffany Monhollon, says that marketing via social media is gaining momentum among her franchisees, but it isn’t exactly mainstream yet. She estimates that, of the company’s roughly 600 franchises, no more than a handful are on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Those who are benefit, she says. One franchisee used LinkedIn’s question-and-answer feature to showcase her expertise on human resources topics and landed a job through the site. “That’s unique in the staffing industry. But she got involved, answered questions and built trust,” Monhollon says.

Tasti D-Lite is another franchise making bold moves in social media. When the company began considering a social networking presence, B.J. Emerson, director of information and social technologies, was surprised to find that one already existed. “Customers were already creating great content on different sites, like Facebook groups for Tasti D-Lite ‘addicts.’ So, it’s just a matter of jumping in and joining those conversations,” he says.

It’s also been a way to seed the market. One of the company’s franchisees launched a Facebook fan page a few months before its launch and scored nearly 600 fans before the franchise even opened its doors, which she says built a great deal of buzz in the market.

Emerson and his team have incorporated social media training into the overall Tasti D-Lite franchise training program. They teach franchisees how to use the vehicles available to them and instruct them in the social media policy, which ensures that franchisees maintain the brand’s message and look.

The Tasti D-Lite Twitter account, which has more than 2,160 followers, poses trivia questions and awards prizes to followers. Franchisees send mobile coupons in text-message format that can be redeemed at specific locations for product discounts.

When FranchisEssentials’ Segreto helps franchises develop social media strategies, he has a few secrets to success:

Diversify your messages. Go ahead and give coupon codes, announce sales or specials and the like. But also give your fans, friends and followers something more. For example, if you own a transmission franchise, you can talk about what’s going on in your franchise, but also sandwich those messages between information about things like National Car Care Month and tips on how to maintain your car and make your transmission last. “Make sure your content has real value for the reader,” he says.

Stay on brand. Social media may be a brave new frontier, but going rogue isn’t a good idea. “You still have a brand to maintain and a franchisor to answer to,” Segreto says. Some larger franchises, such as Tasti D-Lite and Express Employment, actually have managers working in social media. Emerson encourages franchisees to get involved in social media, but to repurpose content that is developed by the company’s headquarters. The social networking policy details how to communicate on the sites, right down to the proper tone to use. “We’ve gotten a good response because there is absolutely zero tolerance for the hard sell in these communities,” he says. By coaching franchisees in how to share deals and information in a way that benefits the customer, they don’t encounter backlash.

Get in the game now.
Unfortunately, Segreto says, too few franchisees are devoting the time to learn and use social media. And even those who are have been taking it slow and not aggressively testing new messages or measuring what’s working best. But there are good opportunities for those moving ahead with social media, he says. By developing a presence, your franchise will be able to capture the audience that your competitors are ignoring.

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The Many Faces of Social Media

Many within business circles, including franchising, initially believe social media is only LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and have a difficult time grasping the many other forms of social media that are alive and well. Certainly, very valuable resources when integrated with each other and then integrated with (and within) traditional marketing. The following is an excerpt from that includes links to various Wikipedia pages relating to the many different forms of social media.

Social media can take many different forms, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures, video, rating and social bookmarking. Technologies include: blogs, picture-sharing, vlogs, wall-postings, email, instant messaging, music-sharing, crowdsourcing, and voice over IP, to name a few. Many of these social media services can be integrated via social network aggregation platforms like Mybloglog and Plaxo.

Examples of social media software applications include[citation needed]:

Reviews and opinions

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[E-IDEA] Five Steps to Social Media Success

Over the past two months, I have presented in several webinar series and have spoken to various groups about using social media within franchise organizations. Specifically, about [E-IDEA] that was originally posted on LinkedIn and on this site in June 2009. As I’ll be completing the Frantelligence Webinar Series with Franchise Business Review this coming week, I thought it appropriate to repost the original [E-IDEA] article.

[E-IDEA] Five Steps to Social Media Success

I recently responded to a LinkedIn discussion post on one of the franchise groups. The discussion was “What do you see as the biggest challenge this year in franchise sales and development growth?” I thought this the perfect opportunity to present my five steps to social media success and responded accordingly.

The biggest challenge will be to capitalize on the influx of interest generated through social media.

As today’s franchise candidate has become more sophisticated, educated and technologically advanced than ever before, many will spend a great deal of time within social media, exploring franchise opportunities.

To effectively capitalize on this interest, franchisors will need to embrace social media as an integral component of their overall franchise marketing and development strategy, and integrate the same with traditional strategies. A firm commitment of time, money and other resources must be dedicated to the initiative.

ideaOh, don’t think it would work by having someone play around with Facebook or Twitter without a strategy in place. That definitely won’t work. Instead, it’s going to take a concentrated focus, or as I fondly describe as [E-IDEA], the acronym for franchisEssentials five step process to social media success.

1. Exploring different aspects of Social Media, including Social Networking and key Web 2.0 technology that creates excitement and brand awareness within your industry segment.
2. Identifying primary and secondary targets – Who will be targeted to purchase and/or visit your franchise locations? How deep do the target groups go and are there collateral groups that can be tapped?
3. Developing a Strategy and Plan of Action – Customized to specific targets in accordance with franchise development goals and objectives?
4. Executing the Plan – Putting the plan in motion including monitoring, managing the process including new content and updates. Keep it fresh!
5. Analyzing & Quantifying the Results – Is it working? Do you continue straight ahead or repeat the process from the beginning? What are actual results in franchise sales and system revenue?