Canadian Franchise

Using Authentic Voice to Harness the Power of Social Media

from Emily Ward and Jess Hunichen, Founding Partners, Shine PR.

It was not that long ago clients would consciously choose to avoid the social sphere, thinking they were taking charge by actively remaining silent. Soon they all found out that whether your brand is playing a primary role online or not – social messaging is everywhere.

Now, this development can be seen as a positive or negative – it is all about perspective. By managing proprietary platforms on social channels and dedicating time to social listening, brands are able to hear more of the customer commentary. Before this feedback was generally accessed through customer satisfaction surveys or the rants of disappointed guests. Having the ability to “hear” commentary online also means you have the ability to respond. Not such a terrible inside scoop to have after all.

In the franchise industry there has been a common theme of wanting to harness complete control of social channels for the fear that franchisees won’t represent the brand properly or not be able to quickly react to a negative situation. This mindset has to change. The successful social brands have authentic voices. And that voice, in general, is not one that can be fabricated from a higher level. Social Media is a sacred lens for our customers. For most, it provides validation of a service, the ability to have dialogue after digesting the experience, and even the fame of being affiliated with a hero company in their lives. That said, our social “butterflies” are savvy. They can identify the difference of a fabricated brand voice versus an overly marketed one just as quickly as they can detect an ad versus editorial in a magazine. You can surely guess the ones that resonate with them.

So, how do you be the authentic voice?

In our opinion, it starts with authentic experiences. Those real, every day pictures and stories that take place at the local store level… now take a deep breath. We are by no means suggesting you scream social freedom and let every franchisee take over and run wild. Like many good things, there has to be structure to allow the creative genius to take place.

Our six simple steps approach below:

1. Social Inventory:

What we are suggesting is a change – and when things change they often come with a level of risk. Before starting, work with your team to take a social audit of what has been working and what has not. Develop an overarching plan for the messages the company wants to convey and a solution for how to handle potential situations that are negative. This approach is not to dictate, but to be an informed guide who can help navigate the path to success.

2. Elect Local Social Media Champions:

This person is likely not the franchisee owner, but someone who is front-of-house, connected and dedicated (think of a head-cashier or floor manager). This should be positioned as an honour. A project given to someone who you want to know his or her potential is valued.

3. Start a Social Committee:

A variation of the high-school version, but instead of prom planning, you are having bi-weekly calls to discuss social strategy, share successes and solve problems with your champions. The social committee should be led by your marketing team or agency that has the education and resources available to create parent-child pages, assess analytics and drive niche targeted social ads (…highly suggested for Facebook and Twitter success).

4. Teach:

Your social committee is an investment in your brand and your people. You can identify the employees who will be your social champions, but to set them up for success, they must be first given the tools, boundaries and language to get there. This is best done through a kick-off workshop and then followed up through the ongoing committee calls.

5. Reward:

Not your followers, but your social team. Create benchmarks for success and offer something of value to that person when they reach it. Rewards are a simple and often inexpensive tool that allows those in authority to give praise and instill confidence through a tangible act.

6. Stay Nimble:

Social Media is exciting because it is constantly changing. What worked one day, or for your competitor, might not work the next. View social as a template test market and don’t be afraid to change course if something doesn’t seem to be working. Where this new social structure does relieve agencies and head offices from being the “community managers” it is here where their expertise are valued by being able to digest page analytics and make recommendations as an ongoing consulting arm.

Think this can’t be done successfully?

We recently met the owner of DriverSeat Inc and were delighted to hear how his company has been flourishing using a similar structure with social. Co- Founder Luke Bazely takes the approach of coaching versus policing. “If our franchisees understand the why, they will uphold the expectations of the brand, and embrace the kind of content that we feel is appropriate. We also encourage them to push the limits, and “walk the line” now and then, as there is no silver bullet to making your social strategy successful.”

At it’s core, social is all about people and communication flowing in two directions. As a franchise, we must be able to do that using an integrated approach at the local level, and therefore cannot push content from a corporate desk. The result for DriverSeat has been organic growth at each franchise location, and content that is relevant to the community. Grace Hopper, a remarkable female pioneer in computer programming  said “The most dangerous phrase in language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” By taking this approach, you are maximizing your resources and truly providing the inside experience customers are seeking online. Take the plunge and make a move to show your team you trust them and further involve the people who are investing their time daily with your brand.

Emily Ward and Jess Hunichen Shine PromoEmily Ward and Jess Hunichen are the Founding Partners of Shine PR – a boutique agency specializing in influencer and media relations for multi-layered companies. For more information on Shine PR and the agency’s franchise experience contact: [email protected]