Industry News | May 27, 2011 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Who Owns Your Social Media?

Facebook and Twitter have both become essential marketing tools for quick-serve chains big and small. But with a recent report showing that consumers don’t feel valued by brands through these media, brands might have to reconsider their social network strategies.

“[Customers] are expressing their concerns or customer service issues, or even saying how much they love a brand” through social media, says Teresa Caro, author of the Razorfish “Liminal” report that was released in January. “They’re doing that on these platforms, but not necessarily thinking about the brand while they’re doing that and not thinking of [social media] as a viable option to engage with brands.”

Caro says encouraging employees to interact with fans through social media is becoming a popular method for brands to connect individually with its consumers.

While a more localized approach to social media might provide more online consumer touch points, some brands hesitate to give employees beyond the corporate office—even franchisees—that power.

At Lenny’s Sub Shop, which has 150 locations around the country, some franchisees run their own social media operations, “but it’s not something we’re really encouraging,” says president Brent Alvord.

“How do you allow your franchisee to have the freedom to drive their business at a local level without overstepping their bounds in terms of the brand and making sure they maintain the interaction that we require for our brand?” he says. Alvord, who personally oversees the company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and interacts with customers through these channels daily, says that some franchisees don’t devote this amount of attention.

“Someone might [create] a Facebook page and get a negative comment out there that sits up there for four weeks and they check their Facebook page once every month,” he says. “That doesn’t work.”

Stacey Kane, director of marketing for California Tortilla, says her company takes an even stronger stance against what she calls “shaking hands and kissing babies online,” or franchisees taking control of social media as a way to interact with customers.

“We kind of have an unwritten policy that everything should come through the central [account],” Kane says, noting that the corporate accounts are happy to post location-specific deals and promotions for franchisees. “By us having a main page, it’s a service that we’re offering to our franchisees.”

Jacob Morgan, a social media consultant and principal of Chess Media Group, says letting franchisees and other company employees control social media accounts can work for companies “as long as it fits into the overall broader strategy of what the company’s looking to do.”

For Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, this strategy does fit: The company runs a centralized social media presence, but also allows local franchisees to manage their own.

“They are letting us put a little bit of a local spin on things. You can’t do that from a centralized location,” says Greg Woloszczuk, president of GMW Carolina, a North Carolina–based Dickey’s franchisee. “I think it helps us create more of a local following.

“It adds value for us to get that local feel versus this kind of monolithic, faceless [corporate] presence,” he says.

Morgan says companies must be on guard to monitor these kinds of accounts, though, which can sometimes be more hassle than it’s worth.

“You do need some sort of standardization if you have 150 Twitter accounts and Facebook pages,” Morgan says. “As a corporate entity, you do want to make sure you have brand consistency and messaging.”

Caro says brands should forego franchisee freedom and recommends companies have a single department for social networks.

“If you’re getting into individual Facebook pages and individual Twitter accounts, now you’re getting into a management nightmare and a monitoring nightmare,” Caro says. “Giving them a voice and giving them an account are two different things.”

By Mary Avant