Facebook Enables Franchisors To Go Local Effectively

by Jason Falls |
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...
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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 the Author

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).