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Feature Story:

Get Your Social On: New Survey Suggests A 'Digital Gap' In Companies Is Growing  »

Multi-Unit Franchisee

A new international survey of companies identifies some unique and surprising social media trends. InSites Consulting recently queried 1,222 managers and business owners from companies (with more than 20 employees) in the U.S., Great Britain, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and France.

Among the survey's key findings:

Feature Story:

Made For Online TV: Empire Builders Tell Their Stories In New Video Series »

By Kerry Pipes

Burton W. Folsom uncovered something revolutionary about capitalism in 19th century America. And in his books, he debunks commonly held views about the role of capitalism in the social developments of the Industrial Revolution and the Gilded Age.
Nowhere does Folsom make his case more clearly than in his 1998 book, Empire Builders: How Michigan Entrepreneurs Helped Make America Great. In this book, he wrote about a number of great business leaders who made their state and nation into a great economic power by the end of the 1800s.
What does any of this have to do with franchising? Plenty. Folsom's understanding of the critical importance of entrepreneurs and how they affect their cultures helped frame the development of EmpireBuilders...

Feature Story:

Smart Patrol: Mobile Payments Fraught With Security Problems »

By Gary Glover

The rapidly expanding mobile payments market is attractive to merchants because of the low entry barrier to obtain a smartphone or tablet device. Dozens of companies, acquirers, and payment entities offer mobile payment solutions, and hundreds of thousands of merchants use them. Despite its convenient and futuristic qualities, the mobile platform was not designed as a secure application environment and seriously lags behind in payment security.
If I were a hacker, I would invest my time in devising ways to attack mobile smartphones. Think of the sensitive data stored or entered in your smartphone, such as bank login information, credit card numbers, and your personal information. Because it is connected to the Internet at all times, a smartphone is at great risk for malware designed to grab sensitive information...

Feature Story:

How Tweet It Is: Twitter Tips For Small Business Operators »

Multi-Unit Franchisee

There has been loads of media attention directed toward Twitter, the 140-character micro-blogging service that allows people and businesses to communicate with their "followers." In addition to being embraced as the next big thing for marketing your company, a number of small business owners have flocked to the blogs to explain how Twitter has helped them build customer relationships and add new names to their customer management database.
If you've never used Twitter before, you may want a few pointers for how to make the best use of the service. Here are some ideas:

What are your needs?
Just as there is no one-size-fits-all prescription for how to grow your business, there is no single method for using Twitter that will fit all companies...

Feature Story:

Online Only?: Don't Neglect The Personal Customer Service Experience »

By John Tschohl

No one I know would dispute the benefits technology--specifically the computer--has had on every aspect of our lives. It has put information at our fingertips and allowed us to communicate with others whenever and wherever we happen to be. Technology also has allowed businesses--no matter their size, location, products, or services--to compete on a global basis.
For many businesses, however, that technology has a downside. They have used technology to provide their customers with the speed and convenience of online shopping but, in the process, they have downgraded the importance of human interaction to the stage of near extinction. Many of those businesses don't even include an e-mail address or a telephone number on their websites so that customers can contact them...

Feature Story:

Under Lock And Key: PCI Compliance And Data Security Is Sound Business Practice »

By Paul Arceneaux

Every business that accepts credit/debit card payments must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Doing so is more than a requirement; it's a sound business practice that offers the protection your business needs against potentially devastating consequences from credit card data theft.

That protection is especially important to restaurant franchisees, as restaurants are the most popular targets of credit card thieves. According to Visa International, remote access by hackers was the source of 41 percent of all credit card data theft in 2010 - with Level 4 merchants the target of 96 percent of all hacking.

Many merchants believe that their merchant bank or ISO covers them for PCI DSS compliance...

Feature Story:

Gain An Advantage: Five Crippling Mistakes People Make With Technology »

By Scott Klososky

I often comment that technology is just a tool. It's not magic, nor mysterious, it is just a tool. I do admit that some aspects can be complicated, and if one adds together all the technology we face in life, it can get overwhelming. However, it is just a tool in the end, but a very powerful tool to be sure. Those who master it have a distinct advantage over those who do not. We all choose to what extent we invest time into adding technology skills to our lives - be that social tools, devices, software applications, or operating systems. The scary thing is that most people lack even the semblance of a plan. They just roll along grabbing at pieces when it fits in their lives, or when they are embarrassed into it.

In an effort to actually be helpful, and not just a critic, I submit to you the following list of mistakes that I see people make...

Feature Story:

Keeping Hackers Out: Simple Steps For Safeguarding Customer Data »

By David Ellis

Network systems attackers, as well as less-dangerous (though still nefarious) hackers, never rest in their ongoing quest to compromise franchise computer systems and capture a share of the billion-dollar bounty of stolen credit card data. When the final 2010 figures are tallied, the FBI expects that organized crime worldwide will net more illicit money from Internet fraud than from illegal narcotics trafficking.

Attackers' methodologies continue to evolve and grow more sophisticated. Franchises must do likewise to stay a step ahead and protect customers' personal information and their own hard-earned business reputations, indeed their very livelihoods.

Some quick definitions: "Attackers" break into franchise computer systems with specific criminal intent to steal and defraud, whereas "hackers" often do so for the challenge, the notoriety, or the thrill of the chase...

Feature Story:

New Technology Is Impacting Franchise Operations--and Profits »

By Amanda Richardson

Technology is always changing as new trends or new tools continually impact the way businesses operate. From the prevalence of automation innovations to the explosion of mobile offerings to "the cloud," it's hard to keep up with the changes.

Sorting through the noise is hard, but there are some key innovations that will help you to run a more efficient and more profitable business. We've been monitoring these trends, and we know that essential business services are improved by leveraging popular technologies in the name of saving you time and money.

Cloud Overhead
By far the biggest concept taking root with franchises is the prevalence of software services that are hosted in the cloud, or simply, software that isn't installed on a computer, but instead lives on the web...

Feature Story:

Checking In: Location-Based Applications Have Tremendous Potential For Franchisees »

By Scott Klososky

If you have not yet experimented with applications like FourSquare and Gowalla on your mobile device I suggest you load them and become familiar. I suspect that either, or both, of these companies will soon be acquired by much larger platforms like Facebook, or companies like Google. Either that or they will face competing services from the giants. These services have the potential to completely alter our relationships with retail locations in ways that will swing billions of dollars in revenues.

If you are not familiar with the new use of the vocabulary "check in" let me give you the fast version. With location-based applications like FourSquare you can identify a location (your office or store for example) and then associate a reward for people to check in while they are at this location...

Feature Story:

Is Your Data Secure?: One Misstep Can Hand A Hacker A Master Key To Your Network  »

By David Ellis

In case you haven't heard, franchises hold a place of honor in the world of data thieves. In fact, chains are the favorite target of hackers trying to steal payment card information. The most recent figures from Visa indicate that up to 97 percent of data compromises are suffered by smaller merchants and "specifically franchisees"--particularly those in the restaurant, clothing, sporting goods, and hotel industries.

The reason so many attacks are mounted against franchise operations is simple: a hacker who can penetrate one franchisee's computer systems can frequently infiltrate the entire network with little extra effort. Having this kind of "master key" to a larger enterprise is far more efficient--and lucrative--than trying to attack scores of smaller companies that have fewer cards to pilfer, as well as disparate security systems to break and enter...

Feature Story:

The Human Touch: How To Maintain A Personal Touch In Spite Of Technology »

By John Tschohl

There is no denying the impact technology has had on business. It has allowed companies to market and sell their products and services to customers in every corner of the world, and to do so 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

That technology has a downside, however. In far too many cases, it has replaced real people and become a barrier to customer service. When, for example, was the last time you called a company and a live person answered the telephone? And how many times, after making a purchase via the Internet, have you been unable to locate a telephone number for the company when you have a problem?

The popularity of the Internet clearly shows that consumers appreciate the ability to comparison shop--and make their purchases--at any time of day or night and to do so without having to leave home...

Feature Story:

Embrace Your Online Marketing Channel: YouTube Offers A Great Medium For Your Brand's Message (or Your Competitor's) »

By Lisa Wehr

Being a part of YouTube is no longer something franchise businesses can control. Chances are, you're there, whether you created the content or not.

First, how do you use this channel to your advantage? Second, and more important, how do you ensure consistent, positive branding when you are no longer exclusively in control of the messaging? And third, should you even try?

These are common questions. And while the first two don't come with black-and-white answers, there are proven guidelines to follow to make YouTube a positive and profitable marketing initiative for your business franchise. The answer to the third question, of course, is Yes.

It takes more than television commercials and crazy cat videos...

Feature Story:

Beyond Fundamentals: Technology Is Changing The Way The Game Is Played »

Multi-Unit Franchisee

Jim Sullivan keeps an eye on business trends and market shifts. His livelihood depends on it. In fact, the very mission of his organization, Sullivision.com, is to design and deliver operations and leadership training programs for companies - including many franchises. He's worked with brands like McDonald's, Panera Bread, Regis Corp., Jiffy Lube, Applebee's, Domino's, and Dunkin' Brands.

Sullivan has been particularly keyed in on emerging technologies that are changing the way businesses are operating today. We asked his to share some of his current observations and insight into how these trends could shape the way multi-unit franchisees do business in 2011 and beyond. Here's what he told us.

From your perspective, what are the key trends that will affect franchise companies in 2011?
JS: I think the biggest trend will be social media's impact on the way zees and zors market, train, recruit, and even sell...

Feature Story:

The Truth About Social Media »

By Lisa Wehr

Just the facts, ma'am--and how to use them

There are tweets and pokes, posts and check-ins, mayors, fans, friends, and likes. It seems as though every social media network has its own language and users--yet all of them are grouped together as the "shining light" of marketing for the year to come. Well, here's the truth. While social media is now a cornerstone for branding, sales growth, and PR, for multi-unit franchisees to successfully use social media to drive business into stores, you need to get the facts.

Facebook
The Facts: Facebook has more than 400 million active users, 50 percent of whom log in to their account on any given day. More than 45 percent of Facebook's audience is over the age of 26...

Feature Story:

Connecting With Social Media: How To Identify And Target Your Customers Online »

By Lisa Wehr

In April 2010, McDonald's helped cement the realization that if franchises want to continue succeeding in this consumer-driven world, they must get involved in social media.

According to Advertising Age, the hamburger giant ramped up its efforts by naming a director of social media, its first. The new director is tasked with using social media to build the business, manage customer problems, and beef up outreach to their target groups. This is exactly what every franchisee can--and should--be using social media to do.
Today your customers are online. They are connecting with their friends on Facebook, chatting up brands on Twitter, and spending quality time with companies through videos on YouTube. They are writing and reading blogs, listening to and participating in podcasts, and connecting on LinkedIn...



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