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Franchises Get Friendly With Social Media

Nearly 75% of franchise businesses are leveraging social media, according to a 2010 survey published by market research firm Franchise Business Review, as reported by Entrepreneur Magazine. Franchises are now realizing that social media provides limitless opportunities to engage customers while building brand equity. Consumers are embracing this trend with 69% saying that they’re more likely to patronize local businesses that offer information on a social networking site, based on a recent comScore study.  While most franchises are using social media to boost brand awareness and pursue new customers, some are even turning to social networking to recruit franchisees. What innovative strategies are franchises using to attract fans and fanfare?

Einstein Bros. Bagels realized that social media was where they could truly engage their customers in a two-way dialogue. The franchise is not a national advertiser, so they made social media a major part of their marketing efforts. Last year, Einstein Bros. introduced its Bagel Bonanza promotion which gave a free bagel with cream cheese to everyone that signed up as a fan of the franchise on Facebook. In only one week, the franchise’s fan base soared from 4,700 fans to more than 300,000. The digital coupon promotion was revived during the spring, and the franchise continued rewarding its online followers with deals and special information, resulting in more than 600,000 Facebook fans by October.

While Houlihan’s has never been a large mass-media advertiser, the franchise has been able to level the playing the field with larger competitors by being aggressive and creative with its social media presence. In 2008, the franchise debuted HQ, an invitation-only online community of more than 10,000 regular customers across the country. The HQ site was designed to encourage customer feedback, invite members to exclusive events and support word-of-mouth viral campaigns. In September, the franchise started giving away orders of French fries to customers that checked in via location-based network Foursquare. Houlihan’s also has a Facebook page and a separate page all about its in-store mascot. The company encourages its 94 U.S. franchise locations to develop their own social media following with 19 franchisees now maintaining individual Facebook pages.

One franchise using social media as a recruitment tool is Haagen-Dazs. The gourmet ice cream company recently launched Ice Cream Boss, an interactive Facebook game that gives prospective investors the scoop on owning and operating a store. The game presents a new story or situation at its virtual ice cream shop each week, then challenges Facebook fans to offer feedback on resolving the issue. Since its debut, the company has numerous people playing the game and learning about the brand, providing an on-going source of lead generation.

While a major draw of social media is that it’s very inexpensive, it does demand time and attention from people dedicated to engaging with customers and handling issues in real-time. Social media also enables franchises to differentiate themselves and communicate their personalities to the community, which appeals to consumers on a personal level. All in all, franchises are realizing that social media is an effective way to relate and resonate with customers today and establish a connection that keeps their brands relevant tomorrow.

Michael Del Gigante is president and creative director of MDG Advertising. A full-service South Florida advertising agency with offices in Florida and New York, MDG Advertising handles creative advertising, media buying, and interactive marketing for Coverall, one of the world’s leading commercial-cleaning franchising companies, with a global network of more than 90 support centers and 9,000 franchisees. To discover the benefits of a well-defined franchise marketing strategy, call 561-338-7797 or log on to mdgadvertising.com.

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