Managing Your Franchise System’s Social Media Strategy

Franchise industry, franchisors, franchisees

Social media is no longer an “up-and-coming” method of brand marketing and customer interaction. It’s here to stay, and there are an increasing number of industry segments that are built on or completely rely on social media to do business. It is also constantly evolving, and any franchisor who refuses to at least evaluate his social media strategy is doing a disservice to his brand.

There are a number of potential issues surrounding a social media strategy, but at the base level a franchisor needs to determine what level of control it will have over the social media presence of the brand itself, and more importantly at the franchisee and individual location level. Below we discuss what can be viewed as the four broad levels of franchisor social media control. In practice, however, there is often movement between each level. A franchisor may often need to see it as a spectrum of control levels, particularly in systems that required a more nuanced approach.

Prior Franchisor Approval

Most well-constructed franchise agreements require prior franchisor approval for the franchisee to use its trademarks and logos in any social media accounts and will often go so far as to require prior approval regarding any and all content being put out on those social channels. In practice this might simply be a way to retain such level of control. This certainly will allow for the highest level of protection and control, but also is likely to be incredibly burdensome and may ultimately hamstring the very benefits of social media that revolve around quick, personal interactions where content relevance is short-lived.

Central Content Library

Franchisors can provide a library of social media content that a franchisee can use and often customize in certain ways so it becomes more relevant to their location or community. This can include a variety of generic marketing messages, standard responses for customer complaints or praise, as well as videos and images that a franchisee is pre-approved to use.

This allows a franchisee to more easily localize or personalize his social media content and quickly respond and interact with customers while still maintaining a consistent brand image across the system. However while this method allows for an active social media presence that is not encumbered by the constant need for prior franchisor approval, it still leaves a franchise system open to potential negative impact from a franchisee’s – or  his employees’ – inappropriate use of social media.

Complete Franchisor Control

The most conservative approach is to have all social media content and interaction at the franchisee level controlled by either the franchisor itself or a third party marketing or social media company. This allows a franchisor the greatest control over the brand’s social media presence, which minimizes the risk of going viral for the wrong reasons. It can take a great deal of resources on the franchisor’s end in terms of time, manpower, and cost, particularly as the number of locations grow. To ease those costs a brand can simply standardize all social media messaging across the board with limited to no personalization or local interaction, but that can severely impact the ability of franchisees in particular industries or brands to market themselves effectively.

This approach can be effective in industries or brands that do not inherently lend themselves to a lot of personal interaction on social media. Home service providers and typical “trades” concepts such as plumbing or electrical work do not typically have the type of consistent social media engagement with their customer base, outside of customer complaints and reviews which typically have their own systems and methods for resolving that are separate from other social media interactions. However in many situations a robust, innovative, personalized, and constant interaction with the customer base is a crucial element of a franchise system’s brand experience. In such situations, providing the franchisee with more control might be necessary.

Complete Franchisee Control

In situations such as those just described, a franchisee-centric approach might be the best solution, though it carries a great deal of risk. Allowing a franchisee complete control of his own social media presence will certainly enable him to engage directly with his customer base without delay or other limitations. In the right hands, high level social media content and customer interactions on the individual location level can elevate an entire brand.

It also alleviates the franchisor’s need to spend resources on developing and approving social media content, at least on the front end. On the back end, however, the cost can be incredibly great. A franchisee could simply not have the skill or available hours to use their social media channels effectively. Even worse, a franchisee’s social media output can negatively impact a brand, whether intentional or not.

Under this method, a franchisor should invest a great deal of time developing, training, and continually updating a robust social media training program and policy guide. How the franchisee, or his employees, interact on social media should be a brand standard that is taken as seriously as how the customer interacts with the product or service that the franchisor’s business is built around. Further, franchisors who choose to provide this level of franchisee autonomy should absolutely retain the right and ability to edit or completely remove any social media posts made by a franchisee or his employees.

While this approach may seem unnecessarily risky, some concepts heavily rely on the type of social media interaction that this level of franchisee control would allow. In many boutique fitness concepts, for example, the coaches or trainers at the location level themselves have incredibly active social media presences. Oftentimes the nexus of influence over a fitness studio’s customer base is controlled more by the individual instructors than the studio itself, or even the larger brand as a whole. This type of situation is complicated even further by the fact that these individual instructors are employees of the franchisee, or even sometimes independent contractors.

Developing policies, training, and enforcement mechanisms that balance all of the various legal, marketing, and operational issues surrounding these types of situations can be daunting but should not be overlooked. Time and money spent working with consultants and your legal team to develop an effective strategy for social media is critical, regardless of where your company chooses to fall on the social media control spectrum.

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Andrew Seid is an experienced advisor to franchisors and brings an important set of talents to MSA Worldwide. A litigator by training and a transactional lawyer from experience, Andrew put aside the practice of law to work in the firm his father founded. Blending a unique knowledge of franchise law with experience in business and consulting for franchisors gives Andrew a unique perspective when assisting our clients.
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