As with so many industries, the impact of digital marketing has become a huge focus in the restaurant franchise field. What role does social media, the “Instagramming of everything on the menu” have on the role of a potential franchisee?
Social media is important to incorporate with any industry and especially in franchising where branding is such a big component of how relevant a franchise system is. Social Media is the voice of the brand and when looking specifically at franchising, it is important to showcase that voice to consumers and potential franchisees. People want to invest in companies that they know and understand, and share in values for the service or product and business model. It has a low learning curve and could even be completely free to use.
Instagram, for example, has become one of the biggest platforms today that nearly any type of professional uses to promote their business, ranging from medicine to photography. This platform would be particularly useful for a restaurant franchisee because almost all consumers enjoy eating, trying new foods, and sharing photos of it. Food bloggers, critics, and foodies are all on there looking for new places to eat. Having an Instagram account where the content is focused on photography showcases the quality and creativity of the menu and allows consumers to have a chance to visit.
We asked one of the nation’s foremost experts on franchising, Franchise Marketing Systems co-founder Chris Conner for his perspective on best social media practices .
Should age scare someone from buying a franchise if social media appears so daunting? Do the better franchise systems teach and train that expertise?
There is definitely no age group that social media would be considered inappropriate for using social media. It has quickly become a platform that all generations can use and feel comfortable interacting with. Regardless if it does become tedious for a potential franchisee, there are an abundance of resources and professionals who can help. For this reason, Alan George came to me about a year ago and said, Chris, we need someone in house who can do this type of work, it’s too important to everything we are doing for franchise marketing. And so it was done, we brought in some really talented people who know stuff about digital marketing and can help manage these campaigns, the results have been incredible in a very short time period which again validates the entire concept of how relevant social media marketing is for not only consumer marketing, but also in presenting franchises.
How are successful franchise systems using the Internet to acquire new customers? Create brand loyalty with existing customers?
There are several ways to use the Internet to help gain new customers. There are five basic steps to doing so:
The first thing would be to have your company listed on Google and have a professional, engaging website created. This is going to be the home for your business online and in many ways, the storefront for the entire brand. This is what lets consumers and potential franchisees learn more about your company, services, and what you stand for.
The second step is to sign up for all the appropriate social media platforms and get a presence there for your brand. For example, if you’re a restaurant, then you would need to be on Yelp, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. If you’re a consulting company, being on Pinterest wouldn’t be relevant to your business because that platform is meant for artists and bloggers. Picking the right platforms is key to successfully driving posts from them to your website.
The third step is to create original posts and research other relevant content. You have to be consistent and transparent with the posts that will be shared. The posts should be relevant, informative, fun, and honestly tells the story of the franchise so that anyone who visits will see the company’s values and what is put into the services and/or products.
The fourth step is to let your customers feel included. This means creating occasional promotions involving their interaction with your posts online, signing up for newsletters for a certain discount, contests, raffles, and other similar events. Having someone respond to your customers’ concerns and questions gives a human touch and makes the customers build brand loyalty and proud to be a supporter.
The final step is to keep track of all the analytics for all visits to the website, contacts, and post engagements and this has to be done diligently and consistently to pull out results on how to improve. There are tracking tools for website and social media.
You can use all of these online tools to assist you at the start of your franchise and you will be able to see the improvement. It is important to stay consistent but to continually grow with new ideas and tools when all of these social platforms add new settings to their sites.
How about how you are seeing it used to reach out to FORMER customers?
The five steps outlined above would be just as helpful for reconnecting with former customers who lost touch because the internet wasn’t as big back then as it is now. Former customers are always nostalgic and when they find that you are online, they would become excited to learn more about how the company is currently doing and would want to stay updated with new products and services.
All we hear today is about BIG DATA this and BIG DATA that. What does it really mean?
Big data is a phrase used to explain the large data sets analyzed to track patterns between human interactions with the products and services of a company. The idea is to make great use of the data obtained instead of trying to gain a large amount of it. Tracking and analyzing it properly helps determining the causes of what works and what doesn’t, the habit of consumer shopping behavior. It’s different today than it was a couple of decades ago because now there is information coming in from various platforms online and in-person that can be tracked and used to help the company and it is cheaper nowadays with the immediate use of social media platforms and instant website makers.
How are you seeing the better franchisors capture data and utilize it?
The ones who are able to utilize this tool to their advantage are able to tell that there is a now a bigger window of opportunity to understand consumer behavior and how to react to opportunities. There is data being tracked almost anywhere from both online sources to offline sources and then using it to help create new products and services and promoting it correctly by interacting with consumers. Franchise Marketing Systems has seen this in a big way when it comes to promoting both to consumers and franchise investors.
I was at a tech seminar in which there was a spat between a rep of Yelp and a franchisee over who owned the customers’ information when an order was placed. Yelp said they wouldn’t share it. How are franchise agreements dealing with this?
It’s funny; this world of Franchising has been forced to adopt rules, regulations and legal standards for how to manage social media and web-based marketing. FDD’s and Franchise Agreements along with Franchise Operations Manuals not only make mention of how to interact with customers on social media and online, but list specific rules and regulations that pertain to how they are allowed to use these tools. Franchise Marketing Systems generally recommends that the franchisor keep control of these tools and maintain brand consistency across all platforms, it can be easy to have this get out of hand with a hundred franchisees all opening their own Facebook pages and putting anything and everything up they feel like.
While we are at the corner of DATA and ORDERING, I even had a caterer tell me that its goal is to close his retail and rely 100% on tech driven business. Could we see a franchise someday that has no front of the house?
Absolutely a possibility for a totally virtual franchise system – it’s happening. We get a lot of calls from businesses that are all web-based and in a lot of different industries. The reality is that this is where the consumer is choosing to buy goods and services, so it’s only a matter of time before we see more and more food service focus entirely on off-premise sales.
How can the technology piece of this streamline operations and a P&L? How are franchisors approaching implementing the right tech in the back end?
Franchise Marketing Systems has a couple of great operations for people who do a lot of work around this piece. Tim Conner, Sean Callaway, Scott McCarthy and Alan George all have great experience doing this work. The right tech can literally revolutionize a business model and in our case, when we are trying to find ways to scale a model and make the concept more appealing to investors, tech is many times the tip of the sword. People expect a brand to be operated with a strong core technology and operating system, they expect an App, they expect great social media and today’s younger consumers think guys like me are just OLD when I tell them I can’t understand Snap Chat. If you don’t have the right people in place to manage these things, hire someone who knows the field and can get you up to speed whether you are franchising or just building your business.
Today’s franchisee has new tech based apps coming across their desk every day. What do you see that successful franchises are utilizing?
There are an abundance of tech apps and tools being made every day. For the most part, there would always be an email system, a team organization/communication tool, social media, website, and analytics tool.
What’s the right blend of people/tech/social media for a franchisor and their franchisees to succeed?
Balance is always key so having professionals who are passionate about the products and/or services, the company’s vision, brand, and core values is extremely important. Technology and social media is important to incorporate in a franchise business to showcase that brand and it is important to show transparency and the human touch with consumers.
Christopher Conner is the co-founder of Franchise Marketing Systems. He works with business owners to oversee and implement sales and marketing campaigns. This includes product, service, and business opportunity sales. Conner has been in the development arena for almost ten years and has worked within a variety of different business segments and types of systems. His experience ranges from sales and marketing work to strategic planning and business development background. Conner currently focuses in the license sales segment of the industry.