Social Studies: How 5 brands are using social media in 2021
If 2020 accelerated social media prominence as the place for brands to stay connected with consumers, the future is about capitalizing on its power with a digital-first mindset. Consider these numbers:
- At last count, there were 4.2 billion active social media users worldwide, up 13% from early 2020 (Statista).
- In the U.S., more than 7 out of 10 people (72%) look to social media to connect, engage, share information, and entertain, according to estimates from the Pew Research Center.
- The average time per day spent on social media is 145 minutes, or nearly 2½ hours (Statista).
- A recent Harris Poll found that 80% of customers expect companies to interact with them on social. The survey, conducted on behalf of Sprout Social, also found that after a positive experience with a brand on social media, 78% of consumers are more willing to buy from that brand, and 77% will choose it over a competitor’s.
No matter how you slice it, social media’s infiltration into daily living, alongside the migration to mobile and the continuing rise of e-commerce, has changed the way franchise brands interact with customers and prospective franchisees.
“There’s a ton of opportunity for brands to get in front of new and existing customers—and a lot of noise and competition for eyeballs on social media, meaning brands need to stand out with engaging and authentic content,” says Christy Barnes, vice president of marketing at Camp Bow Wow.
The good news: Innovative storytelling and stellar customer service offer brands an array of digital opportunities to maximize brand engagement, while technology adoption and accessible tools save time, create buzz, personalize and localize campaigns, and help manage and optimize social media efforts at scale.
We asked five industry pros about the state of today’s social media landscape, smart tools, and strategies being used in franchising, and the value of a well-defined brand promise.
Camp Bow Wow
Social media is an incredible way to build awareness, drive customer acquisition, and foster fierce brand advocates, says Barnes. Understanding your target customers and knowing where they are active on social media is the first step to achieving those goals.
“We’ve done a lot of customer research over the years to understand the demographics and lifestyle attributes of our customers and what social media networks they use regularly so we can better focus our efforts,” she says. “It’s more successful to do fewer channels really well than to spread yourself too thin trying to have a presence on every new network that comes onto the scene.”
With more than 185 pet care locations nationwide, Camp Bow Wow looks to drive leads, engagement, and brand awareness as a trust-based business. The brand has a vibrant corporate presence on all major social networks, while franchisees at each location actively manage their own local “Camp” page on Facebook and other sites, such as Instagram. And the franchisor offers plenty of support with a social media and review platform featuring a library of previously created on-brand and (hopefully) engaging social media posts, images, videos, and curated monthly campaigns owners can use to supplement their local posts.
“They can also use the platform to easily view and respond to comments, messages, and reviews from a singular place to maintain a two-way conversation,” says Barnes. Camp Bow Wow also has an online design tool franchisees can use to create their own branded social media content at any time.
Creative content varies, catered to the audience and purpose of each channel. Cute dog videos and funny memes, for instance, are shared for entertainment on Facebook and Instagram. LinkedIn serves up the brand’s latest business news aimed at potential business-minded prospects interested in owning a franchise.
“Being able to effectively communicate your brand’s values helps people connect the dots between your product or service and your mission,” says Barnes. “We exist to make dogs happy, which is a really fun story to tell on social media.”
And it shows. Camp Bow Wow’s recent March Madness-inspired “Mutt Madness” social media tournament bracket continues to hit the right notes with followers. In its second year, the Instagram Stories campaign used the Poll sticker to crown one winning pup among 64 dogs in a tail-to-nose tournament.
In 2020, the brand saw a whopping 590% increase in profile visits on Instagram, opening the door for visitors to head to the brand’s website, learn about its services, and find a local camp. The 2021 campaign resulted in a 150% increase in impressions, a 111% increase in website clicks, and a 49% increase in accounts reached. The Mutt Madness campaign also earned a recent nod as the Best Social Media Campaign in Franchise Update Media’s 2021 Franchise Innovation Awards.
For Celebree School founder and CEO Richie Huffman, social media success is not about the platforms or tools. It’s about the message.
“We grow people big and small—that is our brand promise,” says Huffman, president and CEO of the Maryland-based daycare franchise. “When you understand your brand promise, you can promote the brand promise and live on that brand promise. And then you can look for opportunities to drive this promise throughout the entire organization.”
That distinction is at the heart of its fine-tuned social media philosophy, which emphasizes the importance of developing children and their families in their care, along with teachers, staff, and franchisees. Huffman not only founded and continues to lead Celebree, he also is the face of the early childhood education brand. Founded in 1994 and franchising since 2019, Celbree has 28 schools in 9 states and is on pace to surpass its goal of 100 schools by 2025.
“Even before the pandemic, we were using social media, and continue to use social media, as part of our strategy, especially around the ROH brand, which is me,” says Huffman. (ROH = Richard Olen Huffman.) “Getting me out in front of the brand was one of our original strategies, so people weren’t just looking at the industry or the franchise. They were really getting to know the CEO who was leading this company and what he stood for.”
Backed by its 27 years of childcare experience, the brand uses custom videos and landing pages on its franchising site to inspire and drive traffic to Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook, all cohesively linked and used for various remarketing campaigns. Real-time photos, ads, graphics, and content created by an in-house graphic designer and a videographer/photographer provide a consistent presence across every social media channel.
“Using custom videos and landing pages for state-specific leads is what we are doing with Google Ads, and it’s awesome,” says Ali Kraus, manager of franchise development marketing. “We are targeting seven states. Each landing page addresses the industry demand in the state and includes a video of Richie saying that we are bringing the Celebree opportunity to those areas.”
Huffman is serious about staying true to his word, recently creating a corporate committee charged with ensuring that Celebree maintains its brand promise as it grows.
And while there are many high-tech tools to measure social media’s reach, sometimes it’s the little things that resonate the most. Take Huffman’s recent discovery at a “Meet the Team Day” exchange with a prospective franchisee.
“He said, ‘You know, I feel like I already know you because I see so much of your stuff on social media,’” recalls Huffman, still wowed by this interaction. “When you’re creating it, you don’t realize the impact that you’re having or the people who are getting to know you. But that’s the point—people have to know you.”
Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Social media is no longer defined by a few networks or a single strategy. Facebook, followed by YouTube, may still reign in popularity, but apps for chat, messaging, photo and video sharing, and forums based on user interests are redefining social media.
No social media app is making a bigger splash right now than TikTok, the first non-Facebook app to hit 3 billion downloads worldwide across iOS and Android, according to Sensor Tower. Bolstered by a lockdown that found users stuck at home and looking to their phones to entertain themselves, users downloaded the short-form video sharing app a staggering 850 million times last year alone.
Early adopters like Tropical Smoothie Cafe (TSC) are finding TikTok a perfect fit to engage in a fun, casual, and organic way with those coveted Gen Z and Millennial sets. The fast-casual franchise launched on TikTok in 2020 after social listening efforts revealed fans were already actively creating content around the Atlanta-based brand known for its smoothies and food with a tropical twist.
“We also saw this as an opportunity to own a new platform that other brands weren’t pursuing,” says Jenifer Perrett, TSC’s vice president of integrated marketing. “We created a challenge-focused campaign to garner awareness, then began tapping into TikTok trends, consistently posting, and engaging with our community.
The move is paying off. TSC has experienced a significant increase in followers and higher engagement than its competitors since going “all-in” on the channel. Currently, there are more than 51 million views of TSC hashtags on TikTok, says Perrett.
TSC uses paid and organic social media to drive business goals for its 975 cafes in 44 states. Paid strategies on Facebook and Instagram focus on building awareness, increasing online orders, and on crew member recruitment.
In addition to TikTok, organic social efforts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter aim to deepen the brand love, engage with fans, and stay culturally relevant, Perrett says. TSC also uses Facebook and LinkedIn for prospecting and remarketing purposes. With LinkedIn, for instance, posts can include fresh blog and media content, videos, grand opening announcements, awards, and quarterly success results.
Perrett sees the future of social media trending in two ways: video on platforms such as Instagram Reels, TikTok, and Triller, and audio-focused content with the rise of Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse.
“We’ve seen success in the short-form video space and are currently exploring how the concept of a bite-sized getaway can translate to an audio format,” she says. “We continue to keep our eye on Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse, but we currently don’t see the value in our brand joining those platforms.”
Mosquito Authority carefully crafts its social presence to educate, inform, and authentically share the brand story as the industry authority in pest control and “the place you want to be” in franchising, says Chris Buitron, Mosquito Authority’s president and CEO. He says most of the brand’s new franchise owners have come from social media advertising.
With 500 territories across the U.S. and Canada, Mosquito Authority has opted for a hybrid approach to social media with its franchisees. The franchisor provides software that allows franchisees to create their own posts through an approval process that provides local flexibility, yet ensures that all posts are on-brand. The corporate team handles national brand content.
“We want to control brand messaging as much as possible, but we understand the importance of having our franchisees engage with customers in real time,” says Buitron. “It truly is a balancing game to protect the brand and encourage social engagement by our franchisees.”
Tech-fueled software tools to monitor the brand’s online reputation and manage all its social media interactions and profiles for engagement also are used to ensure that its digital efforts meet the mark. An outside company responds to all Google reviews for U.S. locations, while comments and reviews on Facebook are addressed internally within 48 hours.
“We create reports and use KPIs to track everything,” says Buitron. “This gives us an objective view of what is working and what isn’t, so we are not wasting manpower or money. We typically know within a few days if a campaign is working or not. You can’t be afraid to make changes quickly to maximize your return on marketing. The key is always to be trying new creative and A/B testing to ensure you are moving forward.”
Facebook lead generation became one of the top ways Mosquito Authority acquired new customers in 2020. “The power of Facebook advertising is unmatched, and you can test out many different messages for a moderate advertising budget,” says Buitron. “Facebook advertising focused on aggressive promotion versus brand awareness. For our new franchisees, this has been the best way to get them up and running.”
No matter the network, social strategies are aligned with services and seasonal demand based on the time of year and region. “From a corporate level, that keeps us ahead of the game by always knowing what is coming next,” says Buitron. “It is important to have the year outlined to ensure nothing is missed. Partnered with our social media guidelines, this ensures we have a solid social media strategy.”
Looking ahead, Buitron aims to build on his brand’s social media momentum with more video content to show the brand’s “personality” in ways not seen using traditional social posts.
World Gym International
Just a couple of weeks after Justin Mills signed on as digital marketing director of World Gym International, the brand was forced into emergency mode because of pandemic-related lockdowns.
The first order of business for the Southern California-based franchise and its more than 200 locations in 22 countries and territories was to evaluate the idea of an on-demand digital fitness platform for gym-goers that would keep its franchisees going during the pandemic.
“I knew this was the direction the world was going, and if fitness is going to keep up, you have to provide an online/offline experience that helps people manage their health at all times, versus just when people come into the gym,” says Mills, who brought a background in digital acquisition and franchise marketing to the position.
In December 2020, the brand launched World Gym Anywhere, an on-demand training platform featuring an ever-expanding collection of exclusive workouts from top World Gym coaches, trainers, and instructors around the globe. And the recently introduced All-New World Gym Athletics program provides members with a complete virtual health and training solution built for the everyday athlete.
“Starting an on-demand channel is like building your own social network,” says Mills. “If I can pull people from Facebook and put them onto my on-demand channel and they’re using it and having conversations there, that’s where we win. And if we can collect emails and data on our audience instead of giving it to Google and Facebook, I think that’s where you really win the game. Then we don’t have to rely on other people to communicate with our fans.”
The World Gym brand, founded in 1976, continues to evolve its social media presence in the rapidly changing fitness industry. Mills is also evaluating the use of social media management software for franchisees to monitor their local profiles and listings and deliver deep social media listening and analytics on the corporate level.
“Any social listening device you can use to pull in comments across the Internet is super helpful,” says Mills. “From a corporate standpoint, we can look at all the comments that are coming in across every profile, which gives us a good sense of what’s going on in our social channels from a macro level.”
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