Many Outlets, One Voice

Many Outlets, One Voice

Sarah Needleman WSJ

 

Write up by Jon Scharf

 

In this article http://preview.tinyurl.com/84qnrmz in the WSJ the issue of how should a franchiser manage the digital content that the franchisees put out into the public domain. The brand that the company projects is extremely important and difficult to maintain when it is one sole entity; when there is additional business units in multiple locations this task is much more difficult. A business that is west coast based may have units on the east coast. The east coast unit may have different clientele and what is seen as important for blogging, tweeting, facebook posting, etc for one may not make sense for the other. This can possible create confusion and drive customers away because the brand of the company may become blurred.

There is also a legality issue; franchises and business units cannot misrepresent the parent company. This technically can happen if a tweet is sent out that the franchise doesn’t necessarily agree with, etc. Data from the Intl Franchise Association shows that franchisers in general are frequent users of social media daily and weekly. It is extremely difficult to build parameters that are legally effective to protect the franchise while benign enough so that the consumer can casually interact with the franchise to increase their user experience. The article mentions how companies such as Naked Pizza and Birds Unlimited Inc. use social media. Naked Pizza tends to give guidelines for how the franchisees need to interact with the customers through social media outlets and they oversee the process. Birds Unlimited uses software that allows headquarters to make additions automatically to the social media that the franchises put out on the Facebook page. They also have their own what to do/not to do rules and regs, best practices with using social media for the company. Another company, College Hunks Hauling Junk has somebody in the corporate office that is solely focused on responding to customers’ posts as well as monitoring the franchisees posts. So this position serves as a safety net and backstop to policing the social media of the firm.

The issue which stuck me is how can the firm get the most out of social media with putting generic parameters on what the franchisees can and can’t do (outside the obvious)? This is certainly unchartered territory for many businesses. Social media could be very rewarding to a company in terms of adding to a customers experience with a product or receiving feedback on how the company can improve or what problems to address. If the company knew what the problems were upfront, they would fix them obviously before they became problems but that is not how the game works. Customers want to be told the truth and not bogged down with nonsense. In my youth I had been in a position in a job that I could give the customer the answer they were looking for but held back by very conservative archaic rules that prevented me from giving the customer the best value added experience. That being said with whatever one tweets, blogs, etc it is going to exist forever; how should a firm structure the rules to use the social media interaction the best for both the firm and the client and the overall brand?

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2 thoughts on “Many Outlets, One Voice

  1. I can see that there are rules to resolve this and rules that could cause more issues. One thing for certain, regardless of the strategy chosen, is the necessity for communication. The need for communication is paramount between the franchiser and franchisee (in line with “Down to a Science” side note). If the franchiser works to communicate their social media plan with their franchisee’s, it should become clear what the overall message is, what the parameters are and how individual franchisee’s can go about contributing/participating with the overall social media campaign. This does involve creating guidelines for what can be said when interacting with customers because sometimes people just don’t know. This is necessary not just so the firm’s image is uniform but also because we live in an extremely litigious society and when nothing can really be deleted.

    This communication would not be one way, but would be a two way conversation where ideas should be encouraged to not just come from the top but also from the bottom up. By having this discussion, franchise’s should have more of an input and would feel less encouraged to go “rogue”. In instances of a larger corporation, I would also advocate for the implementation of regional SM strategies – this may mean having separate (ex.) Facebook pages for different regions targeted at specific offering for those areas, maintained mainly by the franchisee’s in those areas. This allows for both the overall franchiser’s message and more focused franchisee’s message to be communicated to their target markets which could reduce the chances of customer confusion.

    Since this area is very much developing, communication needs to be part of the larger plan that will help the parties to evolve into their roles together. While these suggestions are just a small portion of what would be a larger social media strategy, it will help to align practices and expectations thus lessening the chance alienating customers and that having that dreaded “oops” moment.

  2. I’ve worked with a startup franchise parent company and we had to deal with this on a weekly basis. The franchisees put so much pressure on the parent company to allow them to create their own facebook pages and twitter accounts. The parent company finally allowed them to do so because they felt that each store did have different customers. It took a lot of trust from the parent company to allow the franchisees to do this but they felt the reward would be worth it. It also took the pressure off of an already small group at the parent company to keep up with each store’s social strategy.

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