(This is a guest post from my friend, Suzanne Vara.)
It’s a new year and with that comes new sales projections and goals that are based upon the heightened expectancy that economic recovery is imminent. The franchise industry has long been the survival of the fittest. A franchise’s brand needs to be powerful. The customer expectations have been set and the stakes are high to succeed. While franchisees do not have the same hurdles as a startup/single location mom and pop, the challenges of effectively and consistently providing customers with a product and experience that meets or exceeds their expectations, are still present.
How we advertise and market a business has changed over the years. A new paradigm in marketing exists. It is not the 80’s and 90’s where mass marketing was the game. We are going back to the old days and building relationships one customer at a time….one “fan” at a time.
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Social media has helped to facilitate this change to create a different way of thinking about business, customers and the competition. You are not only competing against your competitors on product and service, you are also competing in the 1 to 1 technologies and interactivity.
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As a franchise engaging in social media, you are not transforming the brand, you are evolving it. The popularity of the social media platforms cannot be ignored, and incorporating social media into your overall marketing plan is necessary to remain competitive. Gone are the days of not participating as we were able to do with traditional advertising. Companies elected to advertise on tv, radio, print, outdoor, etc. The customers may or may not have noticed. Not participating in social media, the customers will notice. They are looking for you on Google Places, FourSquare, Gowalla, looking for your presence on Facebook and Twitter. If you are not there, you are handing over business to your competitor.
1. Define Your Purpose. Why are you here? Are you here because you want to reach as many potential customers as you can, or are you seeking to increase your share of customers? Your share of customers is more really important, as it is how we keep customers longer and grow them bigger.
2. Define Your Voice. Define your voice by assessing who your franchise is. The core values that you bring, what makes you so much better than the competition (be sure that this is correct and also know what makes them better than you). How are you going to earn your share of customers through your social media marketing efforts?
3. Create Your Vision. Creating your vision is mapping out how you will go about taking the next steps to bring the purpose and voice to life. This road map is very important as it encompasses not only your voice and purpose, but also your customers themselves as well as the employees.
4. Establish a Plan. Establishing your social media marketing plan is crucial to the success of your efforts. What platforms make the most sense for your franchise(s), how are you introducing yourself to the online community (profile name), who is the voice behind the profile (is it one person or multiple people); do you employees have requirements to either support the efforts or not; where do your customers hang out? How do they like to be reached? What listening stations will you be creating to monitor franchise, industry, and even local mentions?
5. Develop Platform Profiles. Build your identity on the platforms by incorporating your corporate identity and focusing on that one thing that you do best. Cross check the platforms to ensure that your name (ie the franchise name with distinguishing characteristic) is available across the board. Consistency and the attention to detail avoids confusion.
6. Learn the Platforms. We all know now to post a status update right? That is beginning of learning how to use the platforms. How does your target engage? How do they wish to be contacted (ie in a direct communication or do they prefer to be more responsive where you ask a question and they respond?). Taking the time to learn this prior to implementing and moving forward with the plan is going to pay off in the long run.
7. Be There. Being there is not just limited to monitoring and responding to brand mentions. Being there is being answering questions, concerns and complaints, supporting the local community and consistently providing the customers that connect online with a user experience that supports not only the share of customer, but provides customers and potential customers with the reassurance that you are not just there to promote the business. Showing that you actually care and are responsive goes a long way.
8. Be Relevant and Timely. Being relevant and timely seems pretty elementary, however we see it over and over where either the updates were automated or the account was not given the proper attention and an update is put up that is out of date. The credibility of the business suffers as the attention to detail is missed.
9. Avoid Overexposure. Overexposure where you cannot deliver. When creating your plan, be sure that you know your limits. How much time or workforce is being dedicated to support the social media efforts? Are you able to be there on each profile and be an active community member? Are your employees aware of the profiles and how they are being responded to? It does not bode well when an employee is unaware of any special offers, events, etc. A customer knowing more than the employees about the offerings does not engender trust.
10. Avoid Over Discounting/Couponing. Discounting and couponing are very viable marketing techniques except when they are overdone and confusing. In social media the attraction is to offer something to gain the visitors. Offering a discount on each of your marketing efforts tells the customer that your regular prices are inflated and they should not have to pay regular price. This does not create loyalty to the brand, it creates loyalty to the discount.
Social media is not a fad. It is not a shiny new tool that people are playing around with to waste time. Social media is a viable marketing tool when used effectively. For social media to work successfully you have to incorporate it into your overall marketing plan. Social media does not control nor become the marketing plan. Traditional advertising and social media marketing need to complement one another. The ultimate goal in franchise social media marketing is to gain the attention and to bring the customers in. Utilizing the mediums collectively but yet understanding that the audience within the mediums are different and that the notion of “build it and they will come” is not what social media is all about.
(Suzanne Vara is the founder of Kherize5, a small business advertising and social media marketing agency. She provides innovative ideas on how to build a brand and manage brand loyalty and also how market your small business in today’s economy. Suzanne is a Twitter enthusiast and can be found @SuzanneVara.)