Social Media: Are you Ready?

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.

Train & Educate.

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, have successfully used Twitter, Facebook and external blogs to post customer promotions and drive brand excitement.

Establish Rules & Guidelines.

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.

  • Remind franchisees that they must comply with their obligations under their franchise agreements at all times. Franchisees should not disclose confidential system information on social media platforms. Additionally, trademarks, logos and brands must be used properly, including use of the proper trademark designation.
  • Require your franchisees to be transparent and clear about their role. Social media posts should not create the impression that a franchisee is speaking on behalf of Consider requiring your franchisees to use a disclaimer such as "the postings on this site are my own and do not represent the franchise company's positions, strategies or opinions."
  • Be honest, respectful and add value. Social media platforms can provide a unique, personal way for franchisees to provide information on the services or products they offer. Social media platforms, however, are not the place to conduct business with an existing customer or client. Instead, engage consumers through content that is open-ended and invites a response. Ask consumers about their experience with your product or service. Be respectful in disagreeing with others' comments and promptly respond to comments when a response is appropriate.
  • Identify the consequences of misuse of social media platforms. Put franchisees on notice that a violation of the social media policy constitutes a default under the terms of the franchise agreement.

Build Flexibility into your Policy.

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.

Monitor Social Media Platforms.

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 - dcaron@faegre.com; (612) 766-7593.

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