Facebook Enables Franchisors To Go Local Effectively

Facebook recently announced a major initiative regarding brand Pages and the ability to map and link to each local Place, basically creating a Facebook Place for every brick-and-mortar location. Before we dive into why this is a good thing, I'm going to provide a little history of how we got here. Stay with me... If you didn't take social media seriously before, I promise you will now!

A little history

Since 2008, Facebook has allowed businesses to build their online presence with a brand Page. Some franchisees also began to create Pages for regions or specific locations, since they also had an interest in driving awareness for their own businesses. Sounds good, right? Well, unfortunately this created fractured branding at the corporate level and a lack of guidance from many franchisors, causing confusion for franchisees and consumers alike.

The confusion escalated in August 2010 when Facebook announced Places. What is a Place? When a user checks in on Facebook to share where they are (based on their GPS search), the check-in shows up linked to a Place. The value of a check-in at your Place are the impressions to each user's Facebook friends, who can click on the check-in to view information about that location. Free promotion and increased awareness about your business can't be a bad thing, right?

However, many franchise companies were not prepared with a strategy to monitor branding or conversations across all of these Places. Fragmentation escalated as users adopted this new sharing functionality and businesses scrambled to figure out a plan.

Another integral feature in Places was the ability to create a Deal for consumers who checked in. A Deal was Facebook's answer to the virtual coupon or punch card, but there were still missing elements to make this scalable for success in the franchise world.

Still with me? I know you're thinking, Erica this sounds like a ton of work and a big mess to clean up at the company level. I promise, great changes are a-coming. As we move ahead, I want you to imagine your brand Page as the "parent" and any location as the "child," or Place. It will help you visualize these changes.

Here are Facebook's announcements of new features rolling out this summer:

Parent-Child Linking: Facebook will now expose a direct link below the name of each child Place to easily link back to your main parent or brand Page. This connects from the location level back to the branded Page.

The Locations Tab: A new tab will appear on the main brand Page to establish a map view of each location, regardless of ownership. The Locations tab will dynamically load a list and map for individual users based on their profile settings or IP address. This tab also allows a user to search for locations by entering a ZIP Code.

Facebook Locations tab

Check-in Aggregation: All check-ins across local child Places will be aggregated onto the parent Page. Each child Place will maintain a unique count for that specific brick-and-mortar location.

Mass Places Management: All parent Page administrators will have automatic access to their child Places. What does this mean? Franchisees who are not already on Facebook locally will now need to work directly with their franchisor to gain admin rights to the connected child Place for every location.

Mass Check-in Deals Management: Even though some of these features will not appear in native Facebook, it's still an interesting and important change to be aware of. The new API features will allow vendors to build to help create and manage Check-in Deals at scale. This is very cool addition, since businesses will no longer be restricted to run only one Check-in Deal across all their locations - and they won't have to manually create Deals on an individual basis. Through the use of software, they can now create many different Check-in Deals based on operational hierarchy, or specific targeted campaigns across any variety of locations. This is a major complement to companies using social media management software (SMMS).

What this means for franchisors

So what do all of these changes mean for you and the rest of the franchise world? Facebook has now created its own virtual "Yellow Pages" for every brick-and-mortar location, creating ease of use for its 750 million global users.

If consumers connect with your business at the local level, will you be ready to answer the call? Just as other marketing media such as TV and radio are targeted around specific campaigns, Facebook is handing you the ability to target your brand and message like never before. Don't lose sight that Facebook is all about building relationships, not advertising.

Think of the possibilities for customizing marketing at the local level: new store openings, local promotions, and the ability to regionalize offerings of various franchisees or to gather research on new products. The linkage of your brand down to the real-time local level can be an effective way not only to generate awareness, but also to drive relationships with your consumers to increase frequency and power more transactions.

My company, Expion, has studied fan engagement over hundreds of local Facebook pages. The data shows that local Place fan engagement increases up to 50 times higher than on the large brand Pages. Facebook is giving the franchise world the nudge it needed to go local, stay organized, and reach more consumers to drive sales.

NOTE: Part of 3 of Erica McClenny's series on social media will continue next month.

Erica McClenny is director of enterprise engagement at Expion, a social media management and application company that helps businesses connect with customers through social media. Her passion lies in educating executives about the functions and nuances of social media channels, while collaborating with marketing and IT departments to build successful strategies. Contact her at emcclenny@expion.com or learn more about Expion solutions at www.expion.com.

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