Managing social media content and conversations can be difficult and time consuming. You’ve got a company blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube and Picasa accounts for multimedia, perhaps do some participating on industry message boards … even for a small business, the time and effort can be overwhelming. Now imaging you have five locations, each with its own distinct need for outposts and content. Or that you’re a national brand that needs to be consistent and efficient with social media content, but you have franchisees who want their own Facebook pages.

Social media management for the franchise or multiple location businesses can potentially be a nightmare. Gavin Baker, formerly of Ruby Tuesday, and I talked about the Franchise challenges not too long ago. My friend Joel Libava (a/k/a The Franchise King) recognizes the challenges of social media and the franchise business but says the desire for social media is changing there.

Organizational CHart - iQconcept on Shutterstock

“Last year, it was ‘well we should probably think about doing something with social media,’” he told me. “This year, it’s ‘Let’s do this social media thing!’ Franchise company executives are reaching out to me instead of the other way around.”

As those executives look to folks like Joel (or me, humbly) for help with strategy, training and implementation, they’ll also need help from a technology standpoint. I’ve been looking at potential stress relief for social media content management for the franchise business in enterprise-level management systems lately. Here are five tools I’ve found that make managing social media content in multiple-location and franchise businesses easier:

Valuevine

There are “enterprise” social media management tools and then there are “franchise business” social media management tools. Valuevine stands out as the clear leader in the franchise-specific space with regards to social media marketing management. It’s because that’s the segment of the enterprise they’re focused on. This tool, which actually releases a new version in the coming weeks, has everything a franchise or brand with multiple locations needs in a social media management platform. Then they go above and beyond and try to help those businesses get better by leveraging each client’s network of stores to help one another.

Valuevine offers clients the ability to setup and manage hundreds or even thousands of social outposts; load users and set permissions according to the organization’s hierarchy; post to Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and interact with those platforms from the tool and measure all the insights you typically would want from the interactions. You can create custom coupons, complete with branded landing pages, promote and track each of those and even govern the valid dates, expirations and so on to protect you from viral coupon onslaughts.

But they also allow each location to set up custom, location-based searches on Twitter (and soon Facebook) for potential customers talking about industry keywords that might trigger the store managers to reach out and offer a coupon or opportunity to invite them to come to the location. Someone tweets they just got done working out and are famished and your store manager can fire off a Twitter message with a $1.00 off coupon for a power shake at your health food store.

The newest version of Valuevine’s platform applies some of their newest collaboration and recommendation technology to insure that every user has instant access to successful social media content. (Yeah, what worked one place will be recommended to you, empowering less experienced social users within your organization.)

With the exception of the need for more social platforms (Foursquare, blogs, etc.), Valuevine has everything I would have on my checklist for a tool for the franchise. Then it makes my disparate store managers smarter by using the intelligence from across my organization to help them pick up their performances.

And that’s not all! Most company needs are different, so pricing is generally customized to your particular situation, but the average cost of ValueVine is in the neighborhood of $50 per month per location. The tool has it all and at a price I would even say is unfair for them. CEO Neil Crist doesn’t mind. “We know we’re leaving money on the table, but we’re okay with that,” he told me.

Expion

Expion is the other tool I found that was built specifically with franchise and multi-location businesses in mind. It is Twitter and Facebook focused, with integration for YouTube and Picasa for media. While more networks are promised on their website, there are more robust publishing options on this list. But Expion’s franchise business setup is outstanding and the Twitter and Facebook management is second to none here.

Brand managers and franchisors can manage the social outposts of hundreds of locations, disseminate company-wide picture albums, videos, events, content and updates or they can drill down at any level of their hierarchy and post to clusters of stores, making regional promotions and events easily manageable. Store managers also have access and permissions for their specific social outposts to allow for local flexibility while providing brand oversight.

Just looking at the Facebook Event and Photo Album management features of this tool made me think it was well worth the cost to use Expion. It’s powerful, allows for easy monitoring and response to posts on company pages from the platform and is simple enough in its design that store managers don’t even need to be on Facebook or understand how Facebook works to use it. Yes, they could be more robust with additional networks, blog posting and the like, but for $100 per month per location you are managing, you get great value and some media functionality most of their competitors don’t have.

Awareness

The Social Marketing Hub from Awareness really is the all-in-one dashboard for managing social media content and conversations. The Hub was built with big brands in mind, but more from a large team managing lots of content perspective. Still, the user permissions management offers exactly the granular level control brands and/or franchisors need.

The Hub allows you to publish content (blog posts, videos, images, tweets, wall posts, etc.) in many channels or multiple outposts on those channels. (The basics are covered – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Foursquare, YouTube, Flickr, etc.) You can manage the comments and responses right there in one dashboard. The sentiment scoring gets really granular, giving you overall sentiment by individual influencer if you want it.

All the power and functionality a franchise business needs is packed into the Hub and Awareness is a thought and action leader in the social space, so you can guarantee quality and consistent improvements with the tool, too. Pricing starts at $1,000 per month.

Spredfast

Spredfast is a tool with a lot of potential. It’s yet another enterprise platform that isn’t really positioned as a franchise-franchisee management tool, but can accommodate that need. You set up “initiatives” then attach business objectives to them. (C-Level folks will dig this.)

You can add as many social profiles as you like and manage posting to them rather intuitively. You can add team members and set permissions, so setting up store managers with limited publishing rights makes it franchise-friendly. You can also monitor and respond within the tool.

While Spredfast touts a robust reporting mechanism and one you would think ties into the business objectives you set, my cursory exploration didn’t find more than just some base metrics of friends, clicks, replies, etc., that are fairly common among these tools. But co-founder Scott McCaskill let me peek at a few items not too far from launch and a full set of powerful reporting mechanisms is close.

For franchises, there will likely be a painful setup process, (though I’m sure the bigger the need/budget, the easier Spredfast will make it … they’re not dumb) but the functionality and basic reporting is there. Plus, the tool is fairly well designed, intuitive and user-friendly. Pricing starts at $375 per month for five initiatives and a white label version of the platform is available at $1,000 monthly.

Vitrue

Vitrue‘s Social Relationship Manager focuses solely on Facebook and Twitter, so it limits you right off the bat, though those are the social networks most people are using. It provides unique Twitter-integrated pages where the links you drop drive fans to your more-than-140-character content, which is useful for promotions, coupons and other targeted calls-to-action.

The Social Planner portion of Vitrue’s offering allows you to add teams to your content management team, and the service bills itself as built for the franchise. While a Vitrue rep told me their costs can be as low as $50 per month per location, they are also focused almost solely on Fortune 100 companies. One potential customer (a large customer) who had reviewed the tool told me they liked the offering, but the price tag was, “five times what we’d expect to pay.”

Vitrue’s reporting appears to be solid. Even the snippets on their website appear to be attractive, but they’ve tied themselves so closely to Facebook and Fortune 100 customers that they don’t appear versatile or cost effective. And for a social media company, their responsiveness left a bit to be desired. Three days after filling out an online form requesting information I questioned their responsiveness on Twitter. It took people in my network who knew someone at the company to reach out before anyone responded to me. While I expressed no urgency, I would have expected a social media company to pay more attention.

Thoughts On Implementation

Keep in mind that all of these tools are just that: tools. How you use them is really the important factor in whether or not your social media content for the franchise or multiple-location business is effective. (Think about a hammer trying to drive a screw. The tool doesn’t make the decision to hit the wrong thing. You do.)

You still have to train local store managers, dealers or location content providers to be smart about communicating in social media circles, be good stewards of your brand and comply with your content strategies. You still need a content strategy that drives engagement, click-thrus or whatever ultimate goal you’ve set for your social media marketing efforts.

Paying to use one of these platforms thinking the platform alone will solve your social media marketing problems is a big mistake. You still need a strategy, content and a system in place to ensure the tools are used effectively.

There are other platforms out there that do similar things to the five I’ve listed. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list. In fact, I encourage anyone reading this who is aware of alternative solutions to jump in the comments and point us to similar platforms. But these five are contenders for your franchise social media management platform dollars. Each will be happy to demo their products for you so you can decide which is right for your business.

Thoughts on the platforms? Did I leave others out? What other considerations must franchisee-franchisor businesses focus on for social media marketing success? The comments are yours.

IMAGE: iQconcept on Shutterstock.com.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

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?

  • http://www.TheFranchiseKingBlog.com The Franchise King

    Jason,

    Great job on this really important and timely post.

    It's hard enough to manage social media marketing with a one location business, sometimes. Doing it for a 250 store franchise chain has it's challenges.

    Also, thanks for pointing out 5 tools that could go a long way in keeping things organized. Of course, they'll need to be able to do it economically, with a good ROI shown.

    (Thanks for the shout-out, too)

    Humbly,

    The Franchise King®

  • http://twitter.com/bryceraley Bryce Raley

    Thanks Jason,

    This was timely as I'm consulting with a franchise on their inbound marketing strategy. It's a different animal working with a franchise versus my traditional niche of small 10-20 employee businesses and mom and pop type businesses.

  • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

    Jason, thank you for the kind words about Expion. We're proud to be listed with these other top notch platforms in the SMMS space.

    We're really excited about the next 30 days and the growth we're already seeing with our clients. Their feedback has been praise for a simple tool that takes less than 10 minutes a day for a busy store manager. It is our focus and we're achieving it.

    It doesn't matter what size the business is…the concept of allowing employees to “speak” on behalf of their location is the shift that must happen to reach true local engagement. The ROI right now is the comfort level of the executives allowing this strategy to work. The next phase is going to be long term interactions to keep the customers coming through the front door of each location. I think it will also be an internal HR tool for companies to track employee performance. Facebook currently doesn't have traceable administrator activity logs. Pages with multi admins are all lumped together and this can be a big issue when it comes to reprimanding employees based upon a company's SM policy and procedures.

    You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the strategy and training for the local staff.
    Part of our implementation process is Social Media 101 and Sharing of Best Practices for success. It's teaching simple techniques like: don't slap back to back posts on a Facebook wall and then call it good for the day or talking about drink specials at 9am doesn't make sense to customers. We stress relevance and value…the software is just a simple way to get the word out and still keep Facebook and Twitter access turned off on the store servers. Business conversation only on the business clock.

    • http://twitter.com/KristenDaukas Kristen Daukas

      Erica.. I just submitted a request to demo your product. I'm evaluating for a client of mine and am very interested in seeing this concept in action. Added bonus, we're both in NC! Good job!

  • http://blog.fmidm.com steve olenski

    Thanks for sharing this valuable data Jason… it is mucho appreciado… steve o

  • michmski

    Thanks Jason, I wasn't familiar with any of these

  • Dennisdavis6688

    The restaurant I work for uses Expion now. I was skeptical at first when they 'took over' my Facebook page. I thought that I would lose too much control. But, the exact opposite is true. I kept my control and I am still able to tailor my page to my guests and community. In addition I gained new tools to help me reach my local customer base. Expion is always updating and keeping me in the loop. Couldn't be happier!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Wow! Thanks, Dennis. Great to hear directly from people using the
      tools and potentially affected by their use/misuse. I wonder if you
      might share a bit more about how your corporate team disseminated and
      trained your group, etc. Just would be great to hear how it went from
      a store perspective, especially since you're happy with the product!
      Thanks for chiming in!

      • Dennisdavis6688

        My corporate office notified us well in advance that there was going to be some changes in their Facebook policy. We had several Go-to-meeting conferences with our corporate staff and Expion to explain the Why and the How of these changes. In those conferences they asked for feedback from those stores that were using Facebook effectively. We were given time to effect the change over and to get all our fans on board. We were made to feel like we were a part of the team, and were helping our individual restaurant and the franchise as a whole. While there are still changes I would like to see, I have every confidence that corporate and Expion are working on them. Good experience all around.

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Thank you for sharing Dennis. Sounds like Expion's implementation with
          your company was ideal … get everyone invested in the project,
          focused on both singular and wide-ranging benefits and work
          cohesively. I wish it happened that well all the time!

        • Marymabrams

          Great article as always Jason. Dennis – I have a question for you though – what about the locations that do not participate effectively? Does each location have it's own page? Has the brand seemed fragmented with so many different pages? What risks do you see?

          • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

            Mary, I work with Expion and I'll let Dennis chime back in but I thought I'd give you our feedback from other clients too. Each location has a page, if the company feels there is enough value with events and offerings that will draw people in around “fun”. If not, a city level also works. The corporate marketing department oversees 100% of all activity across all the pages. They can post to all of them and manage the branding. It's tag team marketing with local employees providing the relevant conversations. It gives the brand a personality.

            Many managers are taking the initiative to build pages for their locations. Dennis was a great example in this! He had a page roaring before his home office had even thought about it. It was driving bar sales in for his monthly events and weekly activities like Trivia or karaoke.

            The risks I see without any governance or at a minimum monitoring, is fragmented branding and lack of ownership. If the employee quits and they built the page, momentum dies off or worse, they delete it and the company has lost all of those fans. The employee is in control not the company/brand.

  • http://twitter.com/neilcrist Neil Crist

    Thank you Jason for your review of Valuevine. We consider ourselves fortunate to be working with such impressive national brands and their nearly one thousand business locations that understand the power of local connections with consumers. It is with their partnership that our solution has continued to evolve to provide a balanced platform for location-based customer discovery, engagement, and promotions.

    Our team is excited to continue to drive innovation in this rapidly changing space.

    Best,
    Neil Crist
    http://valuevine.com

  • http://impulsemagazine.net Impulse Magazine

    I think I will definitely try a couple of these tools

  • http://twitter.com/jamesoweng James Owen Gallagher

    Thank you Jason.

    Best Regards,
    James Gallagher
    http://valuevine.com

  • vladiim

    Another great article Jason – my biggest moot point at the moment is tying these tools back into other customer DBs to drive the big picture of which segments are doing what.

    What's people's experience been in pulling this off technically?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      You're talking more social CRM functionality. Stay tuned!

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  • http://twitter.com/jve121 Jon Victor

    Very interesting that you have identified franchise companies as a distinct market segment. I agree completely. My company provides marketing and communications software to many of leading franchises and these businesses share a number of unique challenges managing their communications. I would note that dealerships (auto), agencies (real estate, insurance), and direct sellers (Avon) share many of the same business issues.

    We recently launched our social media management application, Engage121, to address this market. In fact, prior to our roll out, every staff member at Engage121 attended your presentation at the Social Media Success Summit. You can find us at http://www.engage121.com. The companies above seem to be providing a very credible service and I am delighted to toss our hat into the ring.

    Jon Victor, CEO
    Engage121, Inc.
    T: @jve121
    B: jve121.wordpress.com

  • Paul Beaulieu

    Jason-
    Thanks for the insight. These apps are for enterprise solutions. what do you recommend for the small business owner (as you mentioned in the article) with limited resources and budget? I am a two person marketing shop, and I am constantly looking for an all-in-one solutions to the multiple channels I use. Any advise would be appreciated.

  • CourtneyM

    These are great explanations. Thanks!

    I think this might pair well with a recent report by Jamie Beckland at White Horse. He covers some of the same platforms as you do and a few more. I think they would work well together for people who are trying to find more about Social Media Management Platforms.

    Here is a link if you are interested: http://bit.ly/bVPbmt

    I should say I do work for White Horse but I thought you might be interested in the complimentary information.

  • kimsmith79

    http://www.franchiseexpo.com helped me find a franchise opportunity that was perfect for me. They helped me every step of the way, provided me with resources and countless directories. They have excellent customer service as well!

  • kimsmith79

    http://www.franchiseexpo.com helped me find a franchise opportunity that was perfect for me. They helped me every step of the way, provided me with resources and countless directories. They have excellent customer service as well!

  • http://twitter.com/shelholtz Shel Holtz

    MediaFunnel is worth looking at, too.

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  • http://twitter.com/communitygirl Angela Connor

    You continue to share the tools we need to do our jobs well and advise our clients to the nth degree. That's what I so appreciate about this blog. Your practicality, smarts and leadership in this space does not go unappreciated by me. I will look into Valuevine.

    • http://twitter.com/jamesoweng James Owen Gallagher

      Hi Angela,

      I would be happy to present our technology to you. Just pick a day.

      Best regards,

      James Gallagher
      Valuevine
      contact@valuevine.com
      http://valuevine.com

  • http://twitter.com/IsabellaMcPeak Isabella McPeak

    Some of the recent Social Media events and summits all focused on single location or large corporate brand monitoring. Thanks for putting a different slant on the topic and focusing on tools that allow less savvy local operators to get started and leverage corporate content. Several of my clients own fast-food and other franchises and these are great suggestions to bring to some of their conferences and training sessions.

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  • Andreajohnson21

    I will check out these for sure, but right now i'm using http://www.sociallybuzz.com to manage my entire social media presence. I own a very well known smoothie franchise. They help me manage, maintain and grow my entire social media presence to my local communities. They have been doing a great job.. Kudos to them!

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  • TheSilver

    I’m glad I came across this post. I’m in starting phase of building a strategy for a franchise company.

  • http://profitstreet.com/ Tim Hargis

    I really agree with this post. I think more and more franchise owners are realizing how big of a role Social Media plays in their marketing and advertisement. Even still, realizing that you need it doesn’t mean that you know how to do it effectively.

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  • http://andygiefer.com/ Andy Giefer

    A lot has changed. Valuevine is now Venuelabs, Hearsay Social looks interesting, and Buddy Media has tools geared towards the franchise. Not to mention the ones I don’t know about yet. I’d love to see the franchise topic revisited.

  • Cory Kapner

    Engage121 should be here as well. Engage121 started in 1999 and specializes in localizing content for franchisees. They have been International Franchise Association members since 2003 and work with clients like Golden Corral, The Vitamin Shoppe, dressbarn, and Edible Arrangements

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  • Jared

    SproutLoud should be looked at – http://www.sproutloud.com/master/franchise-automation

    They’ve been active with the International Franchise Association. Their pricing is super competitive, and franchisees can enroll into different pricing plans based on each location’s actual needs (or as directed by the Franchisor).

    Best of all, they’ve been in this space for a while and understand this model – so their social media tools work together with all the other local marketing modules the system has available.

  • Richard Fallah

    Vbout.com is another tool that should be listed here. It is tailored more towards brick and mortar but goes way further then the other services listed 

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