Social Skills: Social Media as Local Marketing Tool
Social media marketing has evolved from the new kid on the block to its more proper place as a part of a brand's overall marketing strategy--a large part that is still expanding--much as the Internet did since business first "discovered" it in the mid-1990s.
Social media is still a moving target--as are its mobile customers. But franchises are learning to use it in their advertising and marketing campaigns more effectively with each passing year. We asked a dozen brands what they're currently doing with social media, their plans for 2018, and how they educate and train franchisees to uphold brand standards as they employ it as a local marketing tool. We broke out two mini-case studies from forward-thinking franchisees, along with comments from marketers at those dozen brands (see page 44).
In researching this story, we received more responses than we have room for here. In the months ahead, look for in-depth stories from each brand in our Franchise Consumer Marketing Report newsletter. (Subscribe at franchising.com, Newsletters.)
Let's get to it!
Training, training, training
"Social media is a big part of our marketing strategy for all our franchisees," says Patrick Conlin, senior vice president at Wayback Burgers, which has 135 units open in the U.S., 6 more overseas, and 20 under construction. Social media training for new franchisees begins during their week-long initial training at Wayback University. The training includes all the usuals--operations, accounting, etc.--with marketing as a day-long session. "The feedback we get is that day is most enjoyable part," says Conlin.
"The first thing we do is set up a Facebook page for each restaurant, and we act as administrator," he says. New franchisees are shown how to add a post on their own, and franchise coordinators (30 stores each) are in contact with them at least once a week. "Once they open their restaurant, the coordinator goes over what the franchisee wants to post. The coordinator can do that for them or walk them through it if they're capable on their own. In addition to what the franchisees do, we do national Facebook posts at least 3 to 4 times a month." The brand also uses Instagram nationally, but doesn't push franchisees to do it themselves.
Locally, franchisees are encouraged to do fundraisers and participate in their communities--and post about it. If they don't feel comfortable doing it themselves, "They can send us the pictures and we can do Instagram for them," says Conlin. "We want to make sure it happens, because it's a really important part of our marketing."
Digital asset management
"Our corporate strategy for social media is that the local voice is really the most important for driving foot traffic to our franchise locations," says Monkee's Marketing Manager Nicole Powell. Monkee's, with 25 locations and plans to add four more in 2018, is a ladies boutique selling shoes, clothing, and accessories. With the brand's focus on fashion, she says, "Instagram has really been the driver of our business for the past few years."
Powell, who joined the brand "before social media hit the franchise world by storm," says that corporate only recently recognized the need to rev up its social media game to meet its franchisees' local needs. Previously, franchisees would submit requests for social media materials, which were handled in-house. "With social media so ephemeral, there's a sense of urgency, and they can't necessarily wait a few days for our branded graphics," she says.
To become more responsive to franchisees' requests, Powell began to research digital asset management (DAM) systems. "We discovered a lot of amazing, robust ones, but the one key thing for us was simplicity," she says. "We wanted something that would be very easy for our store owners to use, even on the go. Our franchisees are boutique owners so they travel a lot."
She selected We Brand, which she described as a "very new" company. The upside was that the company was willing to partner with her before the public release of its DAM product, allowing her to provide feedback as its features were finalized. "It gives us the ability to provide branded assets so our owners can show their local spirit and personality, but make sure they do it within our guidelines," says Powell. "It's perfect for our small-business owners."
One thing she found is that Monkee's customers value authenticity over slickness. "Our local social media may not always have professional pictures and may not always be perfect, but that authenticity is what's always important to our customers," she says. And for the franchisees, so is speed, and the new DAM makes it possible to provide real-time branded graphics that franchisees can customize--and it's accessible on any desktop, laptop, or mobile device, 24 hours a day.
The new system was launched September 1 to franchisees with a wide range of comfort (and discomfort) levels with new technology. The brand was founded in 1995, well before social media was even a thing. Powell's solution was to train them individually, which is possible in a smaller system, as well as by recording a webinar and some mini-training videos: 30- to 60-second clips showing how to perform a specific task, from changing a font to changing a photo. That's also available any time.
"We spent a lot of time testing and building out the system. It seems to be working very well for our owners," she says. "This is a very big change, a disruption to how we've supported our franchisees, so it was very important to make sure they were comfortable with the new system." It also helped to show them how it will positively affect their business. "They're savvy business people--scared of technology or not--and can see how it will improve their bottom line."
Changes afoot at Saladworks
"For reasons that are readily apparent, social media plays an increasingly important role in the marketing mix of any branded foodservice concept with multi-unit operations, and Saladworks is no exception," says CMO Steve McMahon. He says the role of social media at Saladworks is not only expanding, it's also evolving to support the emerging needs of both guests and franchisees as the brand evolves.
The brand recently began franchising again after an 18-month hiatus, following its acquisition out of bankruptcy by Centre Lane Partners in mid-2015 for about $17 million. "We just started actively pursuing franchising again," says McMahon. Most of the brand's franchisees own single units, but that's about to change if all goes as planned.
"While we're not as far along from a franchisee standpoint, we are making changes in social media capability and capacity that reflect a strategic shift in our franchisee target," he says. "Going forward, we're focusing on larger, better-capitalized, multi-unit operators with multiple concepts, many of whom are Millennials. Like their consumer counterparts, they tend to be heavier users of social media themselves."
To support this new mix of franchisees, the brand is consolidating all its social media pages, as well as its Google business listings, under a single corporate umbrella. This strategy, says McMahon, "will allow us to create a single look and feel consistent with our brand positioning, while allowing for customizable content by those franchisees who have the capability and capacity (and marketing sophistication) required to establish relationships with consumers in social media."
The brand also has reallocated all of its non-promotional spending to reach a redefined consumer target, "leading with social media messaging and allowing other media, like digital display, paid search, and even loyalty marketing, to play supporting roles," he says.
Specifically, within the brand's social media mix, he says Saladworks leverages different types of posts with different creative content to either build the brand or drive guest visits. It also uses continuous boosted posts on its pages to build the brand by activating different aspects of its brand positioning--for example, reinforcing choice and customization by showcasing the number of salad combinations guests can create from 65 ingredients and 17 dressings.
The efforts are already paying off. "We more than doubled our new loyalty member sign-ups this summer by promoting a special offer for new guests in dark posts in social media," he says. "As with all of our digital media, we collect and capture the metrics we need from social media to make fact-based decisions, including impressions, CTRs, and in some cases, conversion rates."
For thoughts from more marketers on how they use social media for local marketing and how they enforce brand standards, see below.
"I'm Sandy from Saladworks!"
In 2010, Sandy Webb left the corporate world to become a Saladworks franchisee. Two years later she opened her first in Dover, Del. She closed that one and today has one open in Middletown, Del., another about to open in Dover, and plans a third by 2020. She's become one of the brand's social media enthusiasts. "I had no background in using social media before," she says. "People who know me were surprised how I embraced it."
In August she created a Facebook page for her new store. Her first post "did okay," she says, but her second one, with paid boost, really took off: 61,000 impressions--about 57,000 to 58,000 organic--and more than 8,000 post clicks. The paid boost, she says, produced only about 400 post clicks.
"I do think a lot of it is our crazy little state. People were sharing left and right, and that's where the organic growth came from," she says. "People are really excited. We were in the Dover Mall previously and people were singing our praises."
Although she had a Facebook presence for her Middletown store, it was only in the past year that she really embraced it as a local marketing tool. "Before, I did some things just to keep up my visibility." Now her Facebook feeds are integrated with Instagram, automatically feeding into that platform. She mostly posts visuals of salads and the salad case, has online contests, and gives away free food. "Customers love it," she says.
Webb works hard to make social media work for her. She's attended Facebook training; attends monthly meetings of a local think tank for women entrepreneurs; and learns every day from her employees, customers, and people she meets, both online and in person. "I kind of do random conversational surveys when I talk to people," she says.
She also follows local feeds from towns, neighborhoods, and other groups in the area. "I stay on top of all of them. I can have a conversation with somebody I don't even know and I can become a part of their lives on a real, personal level," she says. "I've won business by staying up and following feeds. Everybody knows I'm 'Sandy from Saladworks.'"
The other side of the coin, she says is the chance to field negative comments. "Even on my post that was so overwhelmingly successful, I had maybe five negatives," she says. "Even when people post negative stuff, I love it. It gives me the opportunity to give a public response in a public forum so others who may be thinking the same thing can see it."
Looking ahead, she'd like to do more with Instagram and Snapchat. "It's critical for the Millennials and younger Gen Z," she says. "What's helped me really to embrace it is my employees. I've learned so much from them, and translate what I learn from them to my customers. If I can put a picture on their smartphone of a salad or a turkey sandwich, they'll go for it--and will like us, and their friends will see that. What really grabbed me was that it truly is how our customers communicate and interact. It's how they relate to the world around them."
Local Posts Are the Best!
At Amphibious Holdings, which operates six Rockin' Jump trampoline parks, the focus is on local postings--but with centralized training, guidance, and the goal of creating a consistent brand message across all its parks.
Like most, the company's social media involvement began with Facebook, and later added Instagram, says Monique Perretti, vice president of sales and marketing. She will be introducing Snapchat geofilters this quarter and into 2018. The target demographic is two-pronged: parents (especially mothers), and the kids themselves. "Kids are on Snapchat. It's about generating awareness," she says.
Each month, a central team creates a monthly social media calendar that includes what she calls "generic posts." For example, since there's a frog in the brand's logo, the parks celebrate National Frog Day in June. While the central team creates tweakable materials all the parks can use, "Local posts receive higher engagement than brand or generic ones," says Perretti. Posting local events, she says, builds on what the central team does and produces better results in local communities.
She encourages local franchisees to get involved in street fairs, ballgames, and other community events. "We want the local parks to go social themselves. Social media for family entertainment centers is not about just posting content, but engaging with guests as well," she says.
On the local level, each park is responsible for events like birthday parties or other group activities. "We encourage the parks to take pictures and share them locally," she says. This also goes for videos. Each park has a rock climbing wall, and one posted a video of kids climbing and shared it with the other parks. The key for local success, however, is not for other parks to use that video. "We really encourage people to make their own. The families and kids in that video tag it, so all of their friends see it and like it," she says.
To keep everyone on the same page, Perretti created a best practices document to guide each park in the most effective ways to use social media. It establishes guidelines on how to maintain the same voice, respond to online reviews, handle complaints, and tips on how to share photos and videos. For instance, if a video is great--or not so great--she will let them know. "If they're unsure, they'll share it with me first," she says.
To keep everyone current, she holds a weekly marketing call with all the parks, makes site visits, and has additional calls during the week with individuals. "So many of our parks are new. There's a learning curve," she says. "The sharing of information between the parks is what's most beneficial," she says. "I'm in constant dialogue with them."
How are you using social media at the local level?
- Scott Iversen, Vice President of Marketing, Toppers Pizza -- As of today we control all social media profiles for our local markets at the national level. Our franchisees aren't really engaged on a local basis in terms of execution. That said, just today we extended an offer to someone to join our internal marketing team in the newly created role of director of social media and PR. This person will bring all leadership and execution of social media in-house vs. how we currently use our lead ad agency for strategy and execution. We believe very strongly in the power of localized social content--so much so that we are making a big investment in this new person to lead it.
- Justin McCoy, Vice President of Marketing, Cousins Subs -- We are currently active on three platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These channels are managed by my internal digital and social media team and myself. Over two years ago, we made the decision to partner with a vendor that would allow us to manage local Facebook pages for our system. Today, we distribute national, regional, and location-specific messaging and advertising not only to our brand page, but also to optimized local pages for all locations.
- Jason Van Acker, Marketing Manager, Breadsmith -- In recent years, we've put additional emphasis on our digital marketing efforts, including social media. We've helped our franchisees publish content on a more frequent basis, regularly engage with their guests, and maximize any advertising dollars they spend to drive traffic to the bakeries. We've also educated them on the importance of online guest reviews and the role they play in shaping guest perception.
- Todd Sanning, Vice President of Marketing, Scooter's Coffee -- We provide franchisees with a toolkit/guidelines for local store marketing. We are also exploring online location management service programs. We continue to enhance our mobile app to increase customer engagement. We use local Facebook pages, Snapchat filters, and Twitter and Instagram.
- Jodie Conrad, Vice President of Marketing, Fazoli's -- At the local level, we use our restaurant location pages and geo-targeting to drive awareness and engagement with our fans. We share news about new menu items, local fundraisers, and events we are involved with in the community. Outlets like Facebook have been a great tool to connect with fans in communities about where and when we will be opening new locations, and they are among the first to know the details and updates around grand opening activities.
- Brittany Johnson, Marketing Executive, Our Town America -- We run social media on a national level, and encourage our local franchisees to follow suit locally. For 2018, we will put a strategic social content calendar into place to ensure that we are keeping our clients (sponsors) engaged.
- Laura Rea Dickey, CEO, Dickey's Barbecue Pit -- We use social media to promote our brand both nationally and locally. We have a "social media sentiment listening room" in our corporate offices that tracks our brand fans, reviews, and generates online conversation across social platforms. We use our proprietary BI platform, Smokestack, in conjunction with Chatmeter, to measure online sentiment. We actively use social channels such as Facebook and Instagram that support the brand as a whole, and provide guidance for all owners on their local Facebook and Instagram pages.
- J. Patrick Galleher, Partner & Managing Director, sweetFrog -- We use NUVI for posting to multiple stores and for monitoring sentiment. We post social-only offers, and we have #sweetthoughts and #sweetfacts every week. We use Facebook for mom messaging, Instagram for kids, and Twitter for a mix. We have started using local Snapchat filters.
How do you enforce brand standards at the local level?
- J. Patrick Galleher Partner & Managing Director, sweetFrog -- We let franchisees manage their local social media accounts but require admin rights.
- Brittany Johnson, Marketing Executive, Our Town America -- We provide downloadable, customizable marketing materials on our CRM. We also allow zees to make materials on their own, so long as they run it by us to ensure it meets all brand standards.
- Justin McCoy, Vice President of Marketing, Cousins Subs -- Given that we manage these platforms for the system, the controls are already in place. In the rare instance that one of our franchisees is working with us, we monitor any activity and have policies in place that require the approval of any posted material to ensure brand standards are met and social media best practices are being followed in terms of interaction with our guests.
- Emily Schafer, Marketing Technology Manager, Paul Davis Restoration -- Our cloud-based marketing hub, PDConnect, is the central resource for all our marketing initiatives. Our franchisees integrate their social media profiles to the platform, which allows us to post on their behalf and monitor their content streams to see what they are posting. PDConnect is also where we post all marketing assets. We post a mix of content they can customize and some pieces that are non-editable. It's a great tool to see what content is resonating most with our followers across all local pages, and where we may need to make some changes in our messaging or address any concerns shared by customers. Our in-house graphic designer is an invaluable resource for our franchisees to create custom pieces unique to their market, while still maintaining brand standards.
- Jodie Conrad, Vice President of Marketing, Fazoli's -- The brand handles management of all social platforms for our franchisees. We have open lines of communication, sharing our social plan for every promotional window. Franchisees connect when they want to do posts around hiring or a community event or offering/special. We are partners in the process. We have an in-house team whose sole focus is on social media and engaging with fans.
- Laura Rea Dickey, CEO, Dickey's Barbecue Pit -- All our locations have the option to sign up for our Fall Off the Bone program, which is a parent-child relationship between the national Facebook page and the local pages. These posts, which go out daily, are a great example to our owners of how to create their own social posts and stay consistent with brand standards. We provide guidelines, guidance, and posts, but certainly encourage our franchisees to use their own authentic experiences to talk to guests as well.
- Jason Van Acker, Marketing Manager, Breadsmith -- We stress the importance of understanding that social media is part of our overall brand messaging platform and should be treated as an extension of their guest's in-store experience. Before proceeding, franchisees must sign an agreement to adhere to our brand's social media guidelines. They are then given access to a library of downloadable promotional materials. Many also take advantage of our brand's marketing and graphics support services to request special materials for use in their local market. Brand enforcement is never easy, but we do our best to monitor our franchisees' efforts and partner with them to make adjustments when needed.
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