Social Media: Looking Back to 2010 – Has Anything “Really” Changed?

Four years ago, I submitted an article for the International Franchise Association publication, Franchising World. The article was about capitalizing on what was then a relatively new but increasingly mainstream technology, social media. When looking back at the article I quickly realized that not much has really changed from my philosophy in effectively utilizing social media, and especially in a franchise environment. Sure, some of the platforms have changed and some social media have gone by the wayside while new ones have popped on the scene, but from a strategic standpoint, my philosophy remains in-tact as does the [potential] value social media brings to franchise organizations. But, I’ll let you decide for yourself as you read on and I look forward to your feedback…

Simplifying Social Media for Optimum Results
As published in Franchising World – August 2010

The key to effective technology usage is developing an integrated plan, choosing the most complementary tools and implementing well-planned strategies.

Integrated Franchise MarketingSocial media technology is evolving at a rapid pace. New tools enabling increased communication with various constituencies are being introduced on a frequent basis. While the franchising community is not yet embracing social media at the levels of the public-at-large, its members are beginning to understand the multi-tiered value that social media participation can provide to their firms. This value includes:

• Creating or improving brand awareness that drives business to franchise locations,

• Creating interest in franchise opportunities or franchise-candidate lead generation, and

• Establishing or improving communications and information-sharing throughout the franchise organization.

A frequently-cited impediment to the franchising industry’s adoption of social media is the perceived time commitment required to achieve optimum results. There are many implementation methods and technology tools that can be utilized to execute a firm’s social media program in a way that will maximize ROI, minimize time requirements and achieve complete integration into its overall marketing strategy, all of which will serve to achieve optimum results.

Saving Time

A big part of the challenge with building a substantial brand presence on social media is the need to ensure that a brand is reaching its target audiences on the various social platforms where it is participating, and since the number of social media platforms now numbers in the mid-hundreds, it’s obvious why this can be perceived as a daunting process. Participation on any platform necessitates building a profile there and then adding new content on a regular basis to keep the brand’s audience interested and engaged. While firms do exist that will concurrently build a company’s profile on up to several hundred sites (for a fee, of course), these tend to be very generic profiles that will not serve to attract the interest of a target audience and are therefore not recommended.

A better plan is to begin by identifying the top 10 social media platforms where a franchise will find the audience it is seeking. Typically this will include one or more of the top three platforms: Twitter, a micro-blogging platform with wide and diverse appeal; LinkedIn, a networking platform for a business-oriented audience; and Facebook, which began as a way to communicate with friends and family, but has evolved into a leading marketing platform for brands large and small to communicate with a potential audience of over 400 million members.

Many other social-media platforms exist including those that are targeted to specific geographic areas and those that appeal to specific demographic targets. A good place to start reviewing platform options is the blog, “Marketing with New Technology.” After a brand has been established and built a following on the originally selected platforms, then it can consider whether it wants to begin exploring additional social platforms to broaden its base of followers.

The second step will be to build the firm’s profile-corporate pages on each of the selected top 10 platforms and to concurrently authorize the development of any employee or franchisee-managed profiles that will be linked to the franchise account.

The third step is where the franchise will begin to achieve significant time-savings by using social media. This is to incorporate the use of a social-media aggregator into the social media program (see list on Page 14 of the digital August 2010 Franchising World).

A social media aggregator will allow a firm to attach the selected social platforms to one account and then upload content only once, but publish it to all of the selected platforms, thereby avoiding the need and the time to move from platform to platform to make posts.

The best aggregators will allow a firm to be very selective about which platform each piece of content publishes to, enable the attachment of multi-media content such as photos or video, permit the identification of a specific date and time that the item will actually post and finally, allow a franchise to incorporate multiple levels of authorized access so that several people can post content, but only certain ones can actually authorize it to post to the social media platform.

This type of tool allows the workload to be distributed while ensuring compliance with franchisor branding and messaging guidelines. Aggregators are available at costs and functions ranging from free, with very basic services, to more than $25,000 per year for enterprise-level programs which provide the highest levels of functionality and security. Some of the aggregators even incorporate the ability to post blog entries, e-mails and text messaging.

Read the complete article HERE.

Technology As The New Norm – Are We There Yet?

As we’re at mid-year, it’s essential we look forward to the second half of the year and review our goals and objectives. But, too often we don’t take into consideration how we’re going to make certain we achieve those goals and objectives… understanding what’s involved, doing the necessary prep work, learning about technology that will help, etc.

As the world rapidly moves towards “everything digital” it is vitally important, and absolutely essential we stay on top of technology. This cannot be stressed enough! It is reality and is paramount to any type of business success. The key is not to look at this from a negative perspective. Instead, embrace it for what it is, and for what it can do to help grow your business. Technology is not the enemy. It truly is your friend and one that can help you in more ways than you could ever imagine.

Imagine doing business today without computers? Without the internet?

Many business owners in the late ’80’s were reluctant to embrace computers and many thought the internet was a fad and would wither away. Many of today’s business owners have the same thoughts about social media and digital technology. Heck, many are still complaining about Web 2.0, when Web 3.0 is already here!

I guess the most important thing to realize, and probably quite different than looking back at technological advances in the ’80’s and ’90’s is the fact that today’s consumer has embraced technology and has incorporated it into their daily routine. Of course, let’s not lose sight of the younger generations that utilize technology because, quite frankly, they don’t really know any other way of doing things. It’s the norm to them. Actually, many in the younger generations don’t even look at it as technology!

So, back to today’s consumer… As they have embraced technology at a quicker pace than in the past, they demand, correction, expect, brands to have embraced it as well. They also expect brands to be ahead of the curve, and at the very least, ahead of where they are as consumers using technology. I guess a key question to ask at this time is, “At what point does today’s and tomorrow’s consumer meld together and eliminate the transition stage?” I ask that because the transition stage is today’s business owner’s comfort zone. It’s the comfort zone relied upon that minimizes the sense of urgency to embrace technology. It’s the comfort zone that has many business owners stating, “I have time. I’ll check it out next year.” or, “Our customers are older. They don’t use this new stuff. I’ll worry about it when I have to.”

Understand, today’s consumer, regardless of age, has embraced, or at the very least, accepted technology. Their expectations are growing by the minute, and most have ventured far beyond their own comfort zones. Add to this the influence of younger generations that in the past would have been considered to be bringing up the rear, that are now pushing forward, and pushing hard. Before you know it, the transition stage, the comfort zone, will be gone, and business owners that have not embraced and accepted technology will not survive.

Franchise Candidates: A Changed Mindset

This article was originally posted on August 13, 2009 as Franchise Candidates: A Changing Mindset. Well, I guess we can revise the title slightly to reflect candidates’ current views – A Changed Mindset. Nevertheless, the article may be even more relevant today as franchising attempts to rebound from the economic downturn and continues to explore more viable lead generation strategies that will attract today’s franchise candidate. Many continue to explore social media and have realized its position as an integral and effective component of these strategies… of course, when utilized according to a plan.

caution-01A look at today’s franchise candidates will reveal they are more sophisticated, better educated, and more technologically advanced than ever before. In addition, and even more so because of the economic downturn, they are extremely cautious.

Today’s candidates are spending more time researching opportunities, and doing so at a much slower pace. In order to be diligent in the process, more time is spent online pouring through page after page of information, constantly bookmarking, and moving back and forth from new information to saved information. They’re comparing notes with other franchise candidates on social networking sites. As well, they’re gaining invaluable insight monitoring online discussion groups and forums.

Ultimately, today’s franchise candidate desires and needs to be certain the franchise opportunity is as close to perfect for his or her situation, as humanly possible. In the past, and especially after previous recessions, franchise candidates took their capital gains and invested in a franchise opportunity. Many times leaving the principal investment untouched. There was a sense of throwing caution to the wind because they were investing profits. Many times ungodly profits, at least by today’s standards. Does anyone remember when money markets kicked out 17% profit margins?

Unfortunately, many individuals looking at franchise opportunities today are looking at things differently. They have to. Many are transitioning corporate executives staring at the back end of illustrious careers trying to squeak out just ten more years before retirement. Facing the challenge of younger talent, new technology, and a rapidly changing business environment, many opt to “buy” a job and explore franchising and small business ownership.

What Changed?

Here’s the difference between today’s recession, and of those in the past. As huge fortunes have been lost, and large gains have not been realized in current financial markets, today’s candidates are forced to invest all or part of their remaining nest egg in order to enter the world of business ownership. Of course, everyone knows and fully understand the risks involved in owning a business. But in yesterday’s business environment, many franchisees and business owners were “gambling” with profits.

Certainly, no one wanted to lose money in a business venture. But, many had fallback positions with funds still in retirement accounts and of course, if they had to, employment. For many of today’s candidates, failure is not an option because fallback opportunities are fast becoming non-existent. Actually, I believe many of today’s candidates might not have even considered franchise or small business ownership in the past.

So, as many individuals explore their options, they will focus more and more of their efforts online. Franchisors must embrace this fact, and dedicate more resources to the internet and look to social media to complement, not replace, their traditional franchise marketing strategies. By doing so, they’ll realize multiple benefits for their entire system including:

– Creating or further developing brand awareness with franchise candidates and consumers alike
– Generating franchise leads that are genuinely interested in exploring what franchising and small business ownership has to offer, and how a particular concept may be the vehicle to achieve their goals and objectives
– Establishing an interactive environment of communications and information sharing that will become the backbone of future franchise relationships throughout franchise systems

Last, many franchise candidates previously viewed franchising and small business ownership as a way of achieving their wishes, hopes and dreams, regardless of what those may have been. Today, it’s more about goals and objectives, and necessities. We, as an industry need to fully realize this, and understand the mindset of today’s franchise candidate.

Franchise Sales Process: Consistent or Flavor-of-the-Month?

Occasionally, I take a look at some of my posts from a few years back just to compare my thoughts and perspective from then to now. I always ask myself if I’m consistent so as not to confuse anyone. But more importantly, am I focused for the long-term or for just the here-and-now. Well, below is a post from June 2009. I’m sure you’ll agree that I have been consistent and have not jumped on any flavor-of-the-day bandwagon… It really is about fundamentals and best-practices!

Franchise Sales During the Recession

WSJRecently, in one of the franchise groups on LinkedIn, there was some discussion about the Wall Street Journal article, “Franchise Sales Pull Back During the Recession.” Several franchise professionals posted their comments and, of course, I added my “two cents” as well. Okay, I was definitely long-winded compared to the others, but as most of you who read my articles are well aware, I have a passion for franchising and franchise success and tend to go on and on to share the same with all who will “listen.”

“I too, believe there are many well-qualified candidates exploring franchising. Some as a career alternative, and also, in the case of already being a small business owner, as a business expansion strategy and/or an income diversification plan.

No doubt, the number of overall franchise leads has diminished quite a bit. But I believe many of the “tire kickers” have gone by the wayside while the more qualified candidates continue to search, inquire and ultimately decide franchising is right for them to achieve their goals and objectives. However, in order to fully realize this trend, one must realize that the candidates’ approach has evolved.

Today’s qualified franchise candidate is more sophisticated, educated and technologically advanced than we have ever seen before. Add to the mix, a sense of extreme caution, and their process in exploring franchising and specific franchise opportunities has become more of a detailed, well-thought out strategy.

Always understanding that there is risk in any entrepreneurial endeavor, today’s candidates explore franchising because it may provide even the slightest edge against failure. Their mantra has become, “failure is not an option” and they now live it by doing everything humanly possible to dot every “i” and cross every “t” and then rechecking only to do it over and over again until they have full, complete confidence in their decision.

To that end, the overall process from initial inquiry to franchise award is much longer than in years’ past and that is something franchisors must be prepared to effectively handle. It’s a primary reason I believe social media works so well in the new era of franchise sales as it creates an environment for today’s candidates to research organizations, share information, communicate with individuals at all levels of the franchise organization from franchisees to corporate executives, view photos, audio and video, etc. And, they can do so at their own pace and to their full understanding. That is the key.

Understanding and adapting to today’s qualified franchise candidate will help franchisors ride out this current economic downturn. Putting their heads in the sand and just complaining about the poor economy and the franchise candidate pool drying up will only incorrectly prove true that their negative thoughts are correct.

All that being said, certainly there are challenges in securing financing and other variables that must be contended with and addressed accordingly. But as the franchise candidate pool diminishes and many of the tire kickers aren’t around to waste our time, we should now have more time to explore all options, use our creativity and innovation, network beyond our comfort zones and seek out alternative solutions. I believe those solutions are out there and many are capitalizing on them as we speak. They will not only survive, they will thrive as others have done in other recessionary periods.”

Value-added Discussions – A Linkedin Best Practice

In a recent discussion within the LinkedIn Franchise Executives group a question was asked about how best to present products and services to group members. The question stemmed from a revision in group rules put in place to keep the group focused on its objectives of exchanging ideas, sharing information, and promoting best practices within franchising. By attempting to eliminate the clutter of self-promotion, MLM opportunities, and even franchise opportunities, revising the rules was seen as the most practical way to retain group members and increase participation.

Here’s the question and my response regarding value-added discussions…

Question: “Outlining some guidelines is an excellent way to embark and start bringing a format or platform to enhance value to the group, congratulations on your initiative.

Please tell us at what point information and value added discussions should be introduced to the group in your mind. I think anyone here is interested in gaining value and as well, sharing value, but it all sooner or later leads to developing new business, directly or indirectly, that is mutually beneficial. There is a fine line between “advertorials” and “value exchanges”. Are you able to define further what format, discussion or response you think would serve the reader and the writer (group members) best? ”

Answer: “I believe value-added discussions can be introduced at anytime. However, I do believe it’s a social networking best practice to “earn the right” to do so by getting to know group members, participate in group discussions, and contribute to the same.

Then, based upon a perceived group or industry need, I suggest initiating a discussion about that need (or challenge / issue). Certainly, one can lead into presenting within the discussion details of their product and how it could satsify the need, address the challenge or resolve the issue. The key is not to immediately shove the product or service down members’ throats.

I believe what is often overlooked or ignored, is that group members, especially ones being sold to, have knowledge about franchising, are aware of the needs, challenges and issues the industry is facing, and may actually be aware of the companies providing services and products in the area of concern. What they may not be aware of is the person presenting a company’s products and services. And, people buy from people, right?

So, I recommend anyone with the objective of selling products and services be a person first, by developing relationships with group members. Then, be perceived as an expert in your field by sharing knowledge and experience through participation. I believe sales should follow…

As an added note, I believe the same process works within other social media including Facebook and Twitter, with platform appropriate modifications to plan.”

This post originally published January 2011.

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