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Franchisees and the Challenge of Social Networking

Posted on Date: Dec 2, 2013


Social media marketing is almost a requirement for businesses nowadays. More and more businesses are discovering that social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest can help them connect to customers, address complaints and turn casual customers into loyal fans.  These sites can also let a small business show its personality in a unique and memorable way.

For franchisors and franchise owners alike, social networking presents a risky conundrum. Franchisees are beholden to the brand of their franchise, and many franchisors are loathed to allow their franchisees to experiment with the freedom and flexibility that these sites allow. The potential calamities are clear to see.  What if a local franchisee creates a Facebook page for her franchise location and then posts a controversial political opinion or an unflattering image of the company’s product?

Franchisors, especially large franchisors, tend to demand consistency as much as possible. Order a burger at any McDonalds across the country, and it will taste almost exactly the same. This consistency spills over into marketing. Sophisticated franchisors usually try to control all branding and marketing on behalf of their franchisees, controlling the creation and approval of all television and radio ads aired in local markets and providing or mandating all point of sale signage to be displayed in the franchised facility. If a franchisee does want to do some local advertising, virtually all franchisors retain review and approval rights.

Savvy franchisors are aware of the value and importance of social media, but struggle with effective engagement. The process of controlling brand imaging doesn’t  mesh well with the fluid, constantly-updating world of social networking, where fans may expect multiple updates a day from their favorite businesses or organizations. A franchisor can’t possibly review and approve a dozen or more Twitter and Facebook posts a week from each of their franchisees.

So, what is the solution? Should franchisees just give up on the idea of having a social media presence for their specific location, or should franchisors risk giving their franchisees a little freedom?

There is no perfect solution, and a lot will depend on the size and resources that a franchisor can provide. Large and well-moneyed franchisors likely have a dedicated social media expert on staff (or a social media team) who can craft a specific policy for the entire franchise organization. It’s possible that this team can handle all social media marketing on behalf of all franchisees or provide coaching and oversight to individual franchise owners.

Smaller franchisors may not have a dedicated social media employee or be able to offer a lot of marketing coverage. In these instances, franchisees may be allowed to take on more marketing responsibilities for themselves, including social media. In these situations, it is still important for the franchisor to provide clear guidelines on how franchisees can usual social media channels and what they can or cannot express. This will help avoid controversial posts or images that could reflect poorly on the entire brand.

Overall, the realm of social media is still a gray area, and the best results happen when the franchisor provides strong leadership. If a franchisees is allowed to captain their own social media campaigns, they should do so with the awareness and support of the franchisor – never on their own.

How do you handle social media for your franchise business? Does your franchisor have a clear social media policy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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