Q I’m relatively new to the online world. What exactly is social media?
Social media takes the Internet from a mere resource and turns it into a channel through which the visitor interacts with other people online. For example, instead of reading an article online, you have the ability to discuss topics and ideas interactively with other visitors. These interactions can vary depending on the social channel. Twitter, for example, is a website that allows members to build relationships by sending out short messages called ‘tweets’ to the general public and their ‘followers.’ Facebook, on the other hand, provides a channel through which people—or businesses—can share experiences, ideas, photos, videos, promotions or contests with their friends, ‘fans’ or customers.
Before social media, word-of-mouth marketing was usually limited to a specific geographic locale. With the emergence of social media, word-of-mouth marketing has become potentially instantaneous and global. There is no limit to the reach someone can have. Social media has become the modern day version of the water cooler, providing an opportunity to meet new people, share ideas and build on existing relationships.
Q How can I use social media to build my business? Does my franchisor have input in how I use this resource?
Like it or not, people are going to be talking about your business online, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. Social media allows you to build new relationships—or patch up established ones—with people who are talking about your franchise. What better way to help you gather market intelligence and customer insight? Social media has also become a way to share promotions and exclusive content to early adopters and people loyal to your brand. Through location-based channels such as Foursquare and Facebook Places (which allow users to post exactly where they are through their cell phones), you can reward local customers. Think of it as a more modern, technologically savvy loyalty program.
With the emergence of social media, most franchisors should be developing individualized social media policies. The franchisor has an obligation to its franchisees to maintain a consistent brand identity. To that end, when speaking to prospective franchisors, ask them if they have a well-written social media policy.
Q How much time should I devote to social media activities?
That depends on how much you want to get out of social media. Timeliness is vital, so it is best to create a schedule that allows you to make consistent updates for your customers, followers and friends. This schedule will differ between different franchise brands, strategies and goals. If you are focusing on becoming a resource through ‘blogging’ (short web-only articles on different subjects), you might want to commit to writing new content two or three times a week. If you are more interested in monitoring online conversations regarding your business, there are e-mail alert systems in place to notify you when you’re being talked about.
Rob Lancit is president of CANAM Franchise Development Group, a franchise development firm with offices in Vancouver and Montreal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (866) 730-5553.