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Getting Started with Social Media: Using Today's Tools to Engage Your Customers

Social media is an ingrained part of people's everyday lives. How many people? Well, according to Facebook, there currently are 350 million active users. And by active, Facebook is for those who log on to the site every day. eMarketer anticipates the number of U.S. Twitter users in 2010 to jump to 26 million. That's 15.5 percent of all adults online--and that's huge. What do these digits have to do with growing your franchise? Close to everything.

Thanks to "blended search," social media channels now appear in the same list of results as your website. That is, blogs, Facebook pages, maps, videos, Tweets, and more are being indexed by search engines. This is critical to multi-unit franchisees, because when it comes to attracting and retaining customers and driving sales social media should be behind the wheel.

Grow your business

People are going online now more than ever to chase the best bargains, read customer reviews, and ultimately, engage with one another before making a purchase decision. The emergence of social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter has created ample opportunity for franchisors to reach out and engage with their audience, communicate their brand values, differentiate themselves from the competition, and, ultimately, attract new customers.

For example, let's say you're a franchisee. When someone searches for your online, what do they see? Since blended search results now include social media channels, it's essential that you place these things directly in front of potential customers. The static, one-way communication format of a website is no longer enough to attract and retain business. Therefore, it's essential to provide your potential customers with a variety of information when they come looking. Maps appearing in the search results showing your nearest location mean one less step potential customers must take to find your business. Posting videos to YouTube is a great way to share customer testimonials, or videos that are both interesting and relevant to your industry. Tweeting about special offers and promotions provides yet another incentive to draw customers into your franchise.

Retain customers

Social media sites have helped bridge the communication gap that once existed between brands and consumers. Establishing an active presence on social networks is a critical step toward becoming a part of the conversation surrounding your brand. Social networks provide a unique way for you to communicate directly with your audience, exchange ideas, and most importantly, receive valuable customer feedback.

Domino's Pizza is a great example of a business that has consistently leveraged the power of social media and customer feedback. In 2009, Domino's became immersed in a social media crisis after two employees filmed themselves doing nauseating things to customers' food--and then posted the video to YouTube. Just two days later, Domino's USA President Patrick Doyle issued an apology and response on YouTube that included a comprehensive outline of steps Domino's would be taking to ensure a similar event never occurred again. According to the Logos Institute, the video had amassed more than 538,000 views the very next day. The company also started a Twitter account to listen and respond to public concerns about the crisis.

Domino's has more recently harnessed the power of social media in a different way. Rather than hide from the consistent negative feedback the brand was receiving from customers about the taste of its Domino's used the power of consumer response to their advantage. The result? The Pizza Turnaround. Inspired by their harshest critics, Domino's decided to reinvent their pizza "from the crust up"--and document the whole process.

The company released a video that addressed the issue (the taste of their pizza) and showed exactly what steps they were taking to fix it. More importantly, Domino's integrated its social media campaign directly into their plan. "The Pizza Turnaround" microsite includes the original "Pizza Turnaround" YouTube video Domino's had posted, as well as a live Twitter feed featuring Tweets that include the campaign's unique hashtag, #newpizza. So how far did their social media efforts take them? Right onto The Colbert Report, where Domino's was said to taste "like an angel giving birth in your mouth." It doesn't get much better than that.

Social media provides a valuable forum for customer feedback. And whether positive or negative, intercepting and responding to these responses is a critical step toward retaining customers.

Get started

Here's a quick rundown of the steps you should be taking to ensure that your franchise is making the most of its social media presence

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  • Evaluate your social media presence. Is your business where it needs to be? Or, could your business expand its social media presence? For example, you may have a Twitter account, but what about a YouTube page? Does your company maintain a blog? A Facebook page? If not, these are all possibilities to consider. Because the more ways you can place yourself in front of your customers, the better.
  • Spark conversation and engagement. Once you've established your social media presence, it's critical to keep your content fresh and respond to customer feedback in a timely manner. Additionally, rather than fearing negative feedback, use it to your advantage. Choosing to ignore negative feedback won't make it go away. And you can't fix anything until you know what the problem is. On the upside, chances are good that you'll receive more positive feedback than negative.
  • Integrate. Be sure your social profiles are easy to find. Here are a few quick and easy ways to start incorporating your social media marketing efforts into your daily regime to build your network of brand advocates. Post links to your social profiles wherever possible. Be sure they're in obvious places like your website or company newsletter, and that they're very clear and easy to find. This provides customers with quick and easy access to your social channels and increases the likelihood of sparking the coveted two-way conversation.
  • Monitor and respond. It's imperative to monitor what is being said about your brand at all times. If you don't know what's being said, you can't respond. So locate these conversations. And, rather than sitting on the sidelines, become an active part of them. Answer any questions people may have, and appreciate and use the feedback social networks provide.

The nitty-gritty

Establishing and maintaining a well-optimized social media presence can work for you in more ways than one. And most importantly, your customers are looking for you and looking to engage with you as never before. So harness this opportunity. Consult a skilled digital marketing agency to ensure you're getting the most from your marketing dollars.

Lisa Wehr is CEO and founder of Oneupweb, a digital marketing agency. To contact her, visit OneUpWeb.com, email to info@oneupweb.com, or send her a tweet @LisaWehr.

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