Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Erica McClenny, Director of Enterprise Accounts at Expion, a social media software provider and SME client. It originally appeared on Franchise Update.
In July 2011, Facebook announced a major enhancement for businesses regarding brand Pages and the ability to link to each brick and mortar location, creating a linked Facebook Place.  The functionality takes us a step or two closer to solving a major problem for franchise and multiple-location businesses who are trying to optimize the world of social media. The Facebook Place feature had yet to be fully developed to scale seamlessly across franchises, multiple-location businesses and even those with many separate departments with public-facing needs (think colleges and universities).

Before we dive into why this step forward is welcomed, let’s first understand some of the problems enterprises faced on the Facebook platform.

A Little History

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Since 2008, Facebook has allowed any business to build their presence with a branded Page.  Some Franchisors were slow in adoption but their Franchisees began to create regional or local Pages since they had a vested interest in driving awareness for their own bottom line.  Well, unfortunately this created fractured branding at the corporate-level and the lack of guidance from many franchisors caused confusion for Franchisees and consumers alike.

The confusion escalated in August 2010 when Facebook announced Places.  What is a Place, you ask?  When a user checks in via Facebook mobile to share where they are based upon their GPS search, the check in shows up linked to a Place.  The value of a check in is huge when you add up the organic impression made upon each users Facebook friends.  These friends can easily click on the Place that their friend is at and view information about that business.  Places also allowed a business the capability to offer a Check In Deal for customers who may or may not already Like the brand Page.    This all sounds great since free promotion and increased awareness about your business can’t be a bad thing, right?

However, many companies were not prepared with a strategy necessary to monitor branding or maintain conversations across all of these Places and Pages. Consumers started unintentionally creating Place pages as they tried to check-in and share where they were if a Place didn’t already exist.  Most businesses weren’t aware of it and, until the addition of the Place-Page merge functionality early this year revealed mulitple Places for one location!  Fragmentation continued throughout 2011 as consumers adopted this new sharing functionality through check in’s at a Place and businesses scrambled to figure out a plan.

Still with me, and up to speed?  I know you’re thinking to yourself, “Erica, this sounds like a ton of work and a big mess to clean up for my company.”  I promise, great changes are a coming.  As we move ahead, I want you to imagine your brand Page as the parent and any location as the child or Place.  It will help you visualize these changes.

Here are Facebook announcements of new features rolling out Summer/Fall 2011:

Parent-Child Linking:  Facebook will now expose a direct link below the name of each child Place to easily link back to your main parent or brand Page.  This connects the local level back into the branded Page and consolidates into a branded the view for consumers connecting at any level on Facebook.

The Locations Tab: A new tab will be available on the main brand Page to establish a map view of each locations Place, regardless of ownership. The Locations tab will dynamically load a list and map for individual users based upon their profile settings or IP address.  This tab also allows a user to search for locations by entering a zip code.

Check-in Aggregation: All check-ins across local child Places will be aggregated onto the parent Page.  Each child Place will maintain a unique count for that specific brick and mortar location.Mass Places Management: All parent Page administrators will have automatic access to their child Places. What does this mean? Franchise owners who are not already on Facebook locally will need to now work directly with their Franchisor to gain admin rights to the connected child Place for every location.  This also meas your company may have some “adoptions” to handle so all the children are properly organized with the parent.  Facebook is working steadily on the migration of existing Places into this new family structure but its not yet available.Mass Check In Deals Management: Even though some of the following features will not appear in native Facebook, it’s still an interesting and important change to be aware of.  The new API features will allow vendors to build tools to help create and manage Check-in Deals at scale.  This is very cool addition since businesses will no longer be restricted to run only one Check-in Deal across all their locations, and they don’t have to manually create Deals on an individual basis. Through the use of software, businesses can soon create different Check-in Deals based upon operational hierarchy or specific targeted campaigns across any variety of locations.  There will only be one Deal at a time per Place but the ability to regionalize based upon attributes is a huge step forward.

So what do all of these changes mean for you and the rest of the franchise world?  Facebook has now created its own virtual “yellow pages” for every brick and mortar location creating an ease of use for the 750 million global users.  If consumers connect with your business on a local level, will you be ready to answer the call?  Just as other marketing mediums, such at TV and radio are targeted around specific campaigns, Facebook is handing you the ability to target your brand and message like never before.  Don’t lose sight that Facebook is all about building relationships, not advertising.

Think of the possibilities for customizing marketing on a local level – new store openings, local promotions, the ability to regionalize offerings of varied franchisees or gather research on new products.  The linkage of your brand down to the real time local level can be an effective way to not only generate awareness, but drive relationships with your consumers to increase frequency and power more transactions.

At Expion, we’ve done a study over thousands of local Facebook pages studying fan engagement metrics and conversations through our social media management software.  The data shows that local Place fan engagement increases up to 50 times higher than on the large brand Pages.  Why not go local if you have the right tools integrated with your company and locations.  Facebook is giving the franchise world the nudge it needed to go local, stay organized and reach more consumers to drive sales.

The only question is, are you ready for it?

Erica McClenny is the Director of Enterprise Accounts at Expion, a social media management software and services company that helps businesses connect with customers through engagement. Her passion lies in educating executives about the functions and nuances of social media channels, while collaborating with marketing and IT departments to build successful strategies. Follow her @ericamcclenny or learn more about Expion SMMS solutions at www.expion.com.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Mark W.

    Just FYI – the screenshot in this post is not from Facebook’s native Locations app, it is from a third-party locations app built by “Where 2 Get It”. 

    • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

      Mark, good catch. Jason, here is the native Facebook tab.  https://www.facebook.com/applebees?sk=locations

      The interesting part is it also shows if my friends have been to any of the child Places.  See my screen shot from today.

      • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

        Fixed

  • http://www.jasonfpeck.com JasonPeck

    This is going to be huge. Glad you covered this. Anyone know when these features are going to be live?

    • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

      Jason, they are live for some brands now.  A company has to work with Facebook directly to set up the P-C relationship but its starting to emerge.  Walgreens Page has a great example of a locations tab but all the child Places are shut down for conversation.  http://www.facebook.com/Walgreens?sk=locations

      • http://www.DevelopSocially.com Justin Brackett

        Erica, great post! Do you know how to connect with Facbook to make this happen?

        • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

          Justin, Expion has contacts at Facebook to handle a Parent-Child set up or “adoption” but there’s a waiting line.  We’re told a faster public facing process is in development for the Fall/early Winter.  As an example, it’s not yet something that a dry cleaner with 10 stores can do on their own.  

          • andreamiller

             Erica, do you know if is there an update to this yet where a business with less than 10 businesses can do this on their own?

          • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

            Andrea, at this time it’s still only something you can do direct with Facebook.  However, with the Graph Search announcement you’re still very smart to set up a Page with correct address, phone and URL for each location.  You’ll be ahead of the game.

      • http://www.jasonfpeck.com JasonPeck

        Thanks for getting back to me!

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    I feel Facebook is  a great social media tool to get to local customers. Thanks for the share…

    Online Business
    Virtual Assistant
     

  • http://blog.socialmediahq.com Nick Robinson

    One of my clients is a regional hub of a franchise restaurant, so this comes as very good news to us! Way too many work arounds before, and corporate was always trying to stand over our shoulders like big brother. This new feature will now make all parties a little happier :)

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  • http://twitter.com/CarrCebSez Carroll Cebrian

    This is great. I know a lot of our clients will have less headaches as they bring their strategy local. This is exactly why Engage121 SMMS was developed. Giving franchisors or parent company’s a local voice. 

  • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

    Just wanted to chime in since there’s been some confusing info sent about Places being shut down by Facebook.  http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/23/facebook-location-tagging/  

    Facebook Places will still exist except they are phasing the terms and the mobile use into a stream lined view.  This was the information Expion received from our Facebook rep this morning.  “The articles that have been published around Places misinterpreted our gradual shift from a straightforward check-in style interaction to a location tag style interaction when sharing location on Facebook. Places, the product, is not going away. The term “Places” will be phased out eventually and they will likely be referred to as “Pages with location.””

    Hope that helps if anyone was concerned.

  • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

    Just wanted to chime in since there’s been some confusing info sent about Places being shut down by Facebook.  http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/23/facebook-location-tagging/  

    Facebook Places will still exist except they are phasing the terms and the mobile use into a stream lined view.  This was the information Expion received from our Facebook rep this morning.  “The articles that have been published around Places misinterpreted our gradual shift from a straightforward check-in style interaction to a location tag style interaction when sharing location on Facebook. Places, the product, is not going away. The term “Places” will be phased out eventually and they will likely be referred to as “Pages with location.””

    Hope that helps if anyone was concerned.

  • Anonymous

    I keep waiting for more news on the Franchise/Franchisee relationship issue.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I think it is, Scott. Facebook will always prioritize support for those who are paying them. But you can also work through vendors with strong Facebook relationships like Expion (client) which uses its platform to tie all the pages together nicely.

      • newlexington

        I guess we’re still waiting :-(

  • http://www.facebook.com/rkcell Roman Karasev

    You mentioned Summer/Fall 2011 for rolling out this feature – but as I see it’s still unavailable. Am I right?

    • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

      Roman, this is available for companies who have direct connections into Facebook.  It’s still not publicly available.  Expion has worked with small groups with 40+ locations all the way to companies with 11,000 locations to establish their parent-child.  

      There’s also been some new enhancements with timeline that now allow people to back date places that they have been.  This will be interesting to watch in the few months.

      I’ll see if I can find out if there is a potential date for public access.  If not, give us a shout!

  • RB

    Is this available now?  I cannot find any help on this topic that is current.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I do believe so.

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