Consumers have an infinite number of ways and places to talk about your brand. Social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, online blogs, podcasts and YouTube are fundamentally changing the way we work and interact with each other, with an increasing blurring of business, commercial, social and personal communications. As a result, these social media platforms can provide beneficial (and inexpensive) ways for franchisors and franchisees to market and promote their products and services.
While social media can provide great brand promotion opportunities, it also can be very dangerous. Social media is often viewed as a fast and informal means of communication, and given the fast-paced nature of social media, one can easily get caught up in the rapid back-and-forth responses inherent in the social media environment. Remember, anything posted to the Web can reach over a billion people and cannot be unsaid.
In order to capitalize on the benefits social media can provide to your system, franchisors need to provide leadership in the area of social media. This does not mean that as the franchisor you need to have all of the answers. Instead, franchisors should lead their system through open dialogue and design and implement a written policy which addresses the proper uses of social media platforms, all with a focus on building and protecting brand awareness and integrity.
This article identifies the key issues and pressure points franchisors may want to consider when developing a social media policy.
Before venturing into the social media world, franchisors should understand the different social media platforms available and determine which platforms are best suited for their organization. Social media platforms include social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn®, multimedia sharing sites such as podcast and YouTube, and blogging and microblogging networks such as Twitter.
Franchisors should determine which social media platforms are most popular with their consumers and competitors. Given the constant need to monitor social media platforms and respond to comments, franchisors should target their efforts on a select group of platforms that will provide the greatest impact. For example, restaurant franchises have successfully used Twitter, Facebook and external blogs to post customer promotions and drive brand excitement.
A good social media policy outlines not only the rules and restrictions with respect to the use of social media platforms, but also identifies best practices and recommendations.
The social mediasphere is constantly evolving. Reserve the right to change, modify or delete the policy at any time. Seek input from your franchisees and consumers when developing a social media policy. A social media policy is intended to establish general guidelines with respect to the use of social media and is not intended to cover every possible situation.
Similar to other promotional activities in which franchisees may engage, require your franchisees to notify you of their intent to use social media. Franchisors should designate someone in their organization to monitor the use of social media platforms. Even if your franchisees are not engaging in social media activities, you should monitor social media sites to determine what your consumers and competitors are saying about you.
Given the popularity of social media and the ease with which consumers can be reached, franchisees will engage in social media regardless of whether franchisors promote the use of social media or remain silent. By providing franchisees with guidelines and parameters surrounding their social media activities, franchisors will make a positive difference rather than simply react to bad situations.
Danell Olson Caron is an associate in the Minneapolis office of Faegre & Benson LLP - firstname.lastname@example.org; (612) 766-7593.