To say that social media has become an increasingly important element of cultivating your brand and marketing your business would be an understatement. Social media is arguably the most dominant and crucial element of a business’s consumer-facing efforts. If your brand is deficient in its social media presence, you have fallen behind the rest of your industry, almost without exception.
In franchising, a variety of complications and specific issues arise around social media. Franchisor management must identify the specific platforms they want to use, the limitations and best practices of how each platform should be managed, and what levels of control there should be across all participants and stakeholders. Here are a few tips we’ve found particularly useful for our clients in the past few years.
What level of control will work for your brand?
This is a crucial question for all levels of a franchise system, and as with much of franchising it is a system-specific question. There is no universal right answer, even within industries or between direct competitors. In many instances there may be different approaches within a single franchise system depending on any number of factors, including the particular social media platform, the intended audience or participant, the level of sophistication or training level of the user, the brand’s personality, and the ultimate goal of the particular type of activity. Generally we look at four broad levels of control.
1) Previous franchisor approval. A typical catch-all provision allows the franchisor final say over social media activity. However, this can be costly, time-consuming, and hamstring some of the benefits of social media that revolve around quick, personal interactions where content relevance is short-lived.
2) Central content library. Franchisees can use pre-approved material from a central library, which they can often personalize or localize. While this may be cheaper and less time-consuming for the franchisor, it can also strip the franchisees’ social media activity of any interactive element.
3) Complete franchisor control. This allows the franchisor the greatest level of control, but it can be extremely costly and time-consuming to any sort of relevant local interaction (if that is desired), or it can leave a brand’s social media presence bland and uncompelling to their consumers.
4) Complete franchisee control. This provides the greatest capability for individual locations to interact and engage with a brand’s customer base. However, it opens the door to an incredible level of risk for the entire brand from the actions of a single franchisee or franchisee’s employee.
As usual, it depends…
In reality, there is often a great deal of movement between each level of control depending on the varying factors discussed above. Thinking about these levels as more of a spectrum has been helpful for our clients, particularly where there are competing interests.
For example, home services providers and typical “trades” concepts do not normally have frequent, consistent social media engagement with their customer base (outside of complaints and reviews, which have their own systems and methods for resolution that are separate from other social media interactions).
Conversely, in the boutique fitness industry, a significant draw for consumers is often the specific instructors who often become “personalities” of their own, typically through heavy social media engagement and interaction. A franchisor likely wants to encourage the engagement and excitement generated this way, and therefore might allow more leeway or autonomy on the part of the franchisee or its employees. In a situation like this, a franchisor might require additional or specific social media training, a provisional period where the franchisee or its employees are limited in their social media use, and likely will retain the ability to edit or delete any of the content of these accounts.
A franchisor may try to require that franchisees’ employees use only franchisor-owned and controlled social media accounts, and restrict the use of any marks or discussion of the franchised business on their private accounts. These types of restrictions and controls raise all sorts of potential co-employment issues and should always be discussed with legal counsel before being implemented.
What key areas should be addressed?
Social media on a broad level can serve a variety of purposes for your brand, for your individual locations, and for the individuals involved at every level. To help ensure that your brand’s social media presence is best serving the brand, we’ve identified three key areas you want to make sure to address.
1) Platform. Which platforms do you want to allow (or require) franchisees to use, and what limitations will be placed on the use of those platforms? Most franchise systems will have a presence on what can be viewed as the more “traditional” platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram. These platforms can serve as a fairly static presence and can provide basic identifying information such as location, hours, menu items, and updated information. Depending on the system, brand, or industry, a franchisor may want to engage (or have franchisees engage) with customers on a more interactive level, whether through posting images and/or video content, or in some instances communicating directly with consumers through comments and posts.
2) Content and interactivity. Choosing the appropriate platforms is directly affected by which type of content and level of interactivity your brand prioritizes. While the more “dynamic” platforms such as Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube allow for unique styles and types of content and interactivity, the “traditional” platforms continue to adapt and add similar features. Therefore it also is important to identify which specific features on each platform are available or mandatory for franchisees to use.
For example, a family entertainment center concept might want its locations to feature videos of consumers jumping and climbing to showcase how much fun their brand is – but they may not want to allow users to freely comment on those videos to avoid any inappropriate discussions or content being associated with the brand. While comments on videos and other content can often foster excitement and engagement among consumers, employees, and within the brand itself, the cost of monitoring those discussions might not be worth the potential benefits. Further, as discussed earlier, the level and methods of control the franchisor has set for the franchisee, its employees, or the franchisor’s central social media team will also factor in.
3) Ownership. Be sure to identify who owns the accounts. This goes hand in hand with the question of control. But even where a franchisor allows a franchisee or its employees to have some level of control over the social media accounts, the franchisor will almost always want to maintain ownership of those accounts. This can get somewhat tricky when it comes to situations such as the fitness instructor with their own personal following. But even in that situation, the franchisor will likely want to maintain ownership and, ultimately, the ability to delete specific content or the account itself. As with any interaction between the franchisor and the franchisee’s employees, consult your franchise attorneys to make sure you do not fun afoul of any co-employment issues.
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for all businesses, and a franchise system should prioritize the creation of a thoughtful and robust social media policy to help ensure they maximize the positive effects while minimizing the very real risks associated with it.
Andrew Seid is senior consultant at MSA Worldwide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-523-4257.