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Achieving brand compliance on social media

Franchise organizations need to think about how brand compliance fits with the decentralized nature of social media.

 

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This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Franchising World – by Clara Shih (Author, The Facebook Era), Ben Smith (Interactive Marketing Manager, Dunkin’ Donuts), and Chris Andrew (Customer Success Manager, Hearsay)
How are Facebook and Twitter affecting your brand? In the world of social media, suddenly everyone from customers to franchisees has a voice. What they say can have a tremendous impact on your brand and the customer experience.
Where we are today with social media is like where we were fifteen years ago with the Internet. Yes there are challenges, but there is also a wealth of opportunity. The answer is not to cringe and ignore. With over 500 million active users spending billions of minutes each day on the site, Facebook is here to stay. The good news is that franchisors have an unprecedented opportunity to harness the local market knowledge, reach, and direct customer connection through the local social graphs of franchisees.
Although specific tactics will vary by company and industry, just about every franchise organization needs to think about how brand compliance fits with the decentralized nature of social media. In this article, we will explore these challenges and opportunities, as well as share best practices from the franchise world.
Social media presents corporate marketing departments with a new set of risks and challenges, especially when it comes to brand monitoring, compliance, and consistency. Many franchisors initially feel frustrated when they realize social network pages (such as Facebook Places, Yelp profiles, and Google Place Pages) are being auto-created for each franchisee location, or that franchisees themselves are creating their own Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts.
The big question for corporate marketers is how to take inventory of and monitor on an ongoing basis the universe of Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts, and other social media assets out there representing the brand. Here are a few recommended best practices from Dunkin’ Donuts and Hearsay:

  • Develop clear social media guidelines. Likely, you already have offline brand guidelines for franchisees. Update these to include new capabilities and use cases on social media. For example, you may wish to suggest a standardized Facebook Page naming convention. Your brand is your most important asset and it’s critical to ensure that a unified brand image is being presented across your brand’s various local social media presences.
  • Periodically perform a social media brand audit. Using the search functionality on Facebook and Twitter, search for any brand mentions, Facebook Pages, and Twitter accounts that have been created using your brand name. We recommend taking the time to do this in-house so you can stay close to the voice of the customer, versus outsourcing this particular function to a PR or digital agency. With many local presences there is a risk that certain pages which were created are now unattended. Gaining oversight of the local pages in your organizations helps to ensure that customers are responded to promptly and there are no negative effects on your brand.
  • Quickly address spam or inappropriate content. Spam and the occasional inappropriate remark are inevitable on the open web. It is imperative that franchisors be able to monitor, flag, and remove or otherwise address any inappropriate content including confidential information, profanity, non-approved marketing, competitor names, or negative comments.
  • Social Media is part of the marketing mix. While social media marketing should be treated as another channel in your local marketing mix, steer clear of blatant marketing messages (e.g., “Buy now!”). Focus on communications that provide rich and educational experiences about your Franchise, like local promotions, community involvement, or crediting a crewmember for exceptional customer service.
  • Develop a “Code of Conduct”. Having a “code of conduct” for your social media sites will help your employees and customers understand what’s appropriate to discuss on your social media channels. Every company will occasionally have users who violate their established code of conduct on their social media channels and having a clear set of guidelines allows them to be removed without too much disruption to the overall customer experience.
  • Be prepared for constructive criticism. Similar to the in-store experience, not all customers that visit your social media channels will be happy ones. When dealing with customer feedback online, listen and learn before interacting. Accept the feedback for what it is and take it as an opportunity to improve parts of your business, or credit a crew-member for a job well done.
  • Know when it’s appropriate to respond to customer inquiries online. Local franchises should answer questions from their local customers and keep their responses related to their specific business and not the overall brand. If you’re being asked a question that you cannot or should not answer, you should direct it to your corporate office, who can determine the appropriate individual to respond.
  • Address legal and compliance issues before they happen. In some industries such as banking and insurance, there is an added layer of regulatory compliance. For example, FINRA requires financial services organizations to archive any communications with clients or prospects for seven years in case of an audit event. For other industries, message archiving is just a matter of good corporate governance.

Given there is little which can be done to prevent or ban these local presences, the most important thing for franchisors is to recognize that localized content actually results in substantially higher consumer engagement, a huge net positive for the brand. While consumers identify with national or global brands, the actual customer experience happens at the local level through the physical locations they frequent and now check-in to via Foursquare or Facebook Places.

It then becomes a question of how franchisors can empower franchisees with the right tools, training, and messages. As you have likely experienced first-hand, franchisees and local establishments are eager to get involved with social media but they often don’t know what to say after they’ve created a Facebook Page or Twitter account. Worse yet, some locations say all the wrong things — eg, they are too salesy, they use profane language, or their posts contain misspellings — all of which can damage your brand. Some locations hit the ground running, pushing out top-notch content for two weeks and then it ends abruptly. A local page gone stagnant reflects poorly on the global brand.

The right solution requires a combination of business policy, tools, and training. Hearsay Inc., a Facebook Certified Partner, has developed a franchisor social media management tool to monitor franchisee pages, enforce a consistent brand experience across these pages, and measure the results.
Ultimately it’s about recognizing that as a franchise, your brand is local.  Just as you empower franchisees today with offline tools, materials and training, it is imperative to start thinking about how to empower them with online tools, materials and training.  By putting the right policy, processes, and tools in place, franchise companies can control brand image and still benefit from the power of an effective local presence.  As your organization begins to institute social media policies, keep in mind monitoring, compliance and consistency.

 

Clara Shih

A pioneer in the social media industry, Clara developed the first social business application in 2007. Her latest book, The Social Business Imperative, is a Wall Street Journal-featured bestseller. She is a member of the Starbucks board of directors.

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