It’s a brave new world, and like a visit to the final frontier it may feel like social media success is out of reach to all but a select few skilled experts. But never fear, it’s far easier than you might think to develop a social media strategy to give your company the online presence it deserves.
So where to start?
Our experience with franchise businesses suggests there are three ways to successfully implement a social media strategy.
Command and Control: centralised
Franchisors take all of the control. They run a single centralised marketing page for the entire network and proactively prevent franchisees from having any independent social media presence.
The main pro for this implementation method is that it helps to protect the brand values and avoid the dilution of your key messages. It also relieves the franchisees from having to manage an additional marketing channel. However, it also prevents them from creating a tailored on-line presence with their own personal touches to best reflect the needs and interests of their geographical local community. This can stop them being perceived as the local area experts by potential customers.
Franchisors take a ‘hands-off’ approach. They give franchisees the autonomy to run their own ideas, promotions and pages as they see fit.
The main advantage of this method is that it excludes the franchisor from all social media responsibility and frees the franchisee to do what they please. However, this can also be a disaster for a brand depending on how well the franchisees run their pages. Where there is limited training, platform understanding, guidance or guidelines, the brand can be left looking somewhat less than stellar.
Empowered: a networked matrix
Franchisors support franchisees to professionally run their pages independently. Support can be in the form of training, content guidance and provision, templates and brand guidelines; plus regular social media audits to ensure quality and consistency.
This approach reduces the burden on franchisees so they can focus more on the day to day running of their core business. It also allows franchisors to be confident their franchisees each have a professional online presence that is aligned with the corporate brand.
The network matrix approach optimises the franchisor’s investment costs by allowing the sharing of best practices and economies of scale. It also ensures that franchisees are engaged with a sense of ownership for their presence that they can then craft and shape to best engage their target customers.
Although all three methods have their time and place, our experience suggests that the networked matrix approach tends to be the most successful.
So, how could this work in practice for you? Here are five tips.
1. Basic Training
Training is essential to ensure your franchisees choose the most appropriate platforms and know how to professionally use them to grow their business. The rules of social media, the tools available and their functionality are very different from running a personal social media page. Providing targeted training about the specific platforms (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) that your franchisees are on, or you would like them to be on, will ensure they can competently (and confidently) manage their online presence. You should also consider providing complementary skills training such as copywriting and the basic legal aspects of copyright and content publishing.
Franchisees need easy access to practical support during their training, particularly during the early days as they create and learn to manage their bespoke online presence. Longer-term, providing regular updates ensures franchisees stay at the forefront of this fast-evolving marketing arena. Delivering this could simply be an online Google Hangout/chat, allowing them to ask questions and receive guidance; or it could be webinar, or a day seminar, or a presentation at your annual conference. Support in a networked matrix can be provided internally as well as externally.
3. Vision and Direction
Create an online vision for your franchise that can be shared with your franchisees. Decide where you are going and then develop and communicate your implementation strategy. If they can see your vision, feel empowered and supported by you and have ownership for their personal contribution, then they will work proactively, with you, to deliver it.
4. Guidance, Tools & Templates
To ensure your franchisees move in the same direction, roll out best practice brand guidelines, templates, scheduling tools, visual calendars, content calendars and monthly post requirements. You can also provide brand-aligned content such as posts, blogs, images, articles, competitions, promotions and videos.
An annual audit and/or reporting system is a great way to review your overall social media presence and ensure quality standards and brand alignment. You can give each of your franchisees tailored feedback on their pages, including highlighting missed opportunities and general guidance and advice to assist business growth and development.
This may sound like a lot of work for franchisors initially, but once the franchisees are trained and empowered they share the workload and everyone benefits. This initial investment will pay dividends long-term by generating business and positively impacting upon your corporate brand.
Celina Wilde is the founder of Cinch Social, which works with franchisees and franchisors to increase their social media impact