While it’s become standard practice for corporate brands to engage consumers through channels such as Facebook and Twitter, location-specific marketing could be the new wave of social media. Increasingly, quick-service brands are targeting consumers in individual markets across the U.S.
“It’s really messy [for a brand] to set up [social media pages] regardless of if they intended to start localized social or not,” says Erica McClenny, senior vice president of product management at social software firm Expion.
McClenny says early adopters of social media marketing often created their own local pages before there were features like Facebook Local Search, which debuted in 2013 and filters nearby attractions on the mobile app. Many brands then reined in individual pages and Twitter handles under a parent umbrella.
Now brands are taking a more top-down approach, where the parent company rather than franchisees create local accounts. In this case, the challenge involves nurturing a community through new accounts.
“Growth can take a really long time,” says Judi Cutrone, senior social media analyst at marketing outfit The VIA Agency. “Make sure the marketing is there and that you’re really doing anything you can to build up a community so that it looks full and thriving as soon as you can manage it.”
In the past 18 months, Wendy’s has converged its many social media personas to build a more standardized local experience. Brandon Rhoten, vice president of digital and social media at Wendy’s, says the main driver was increased quality control.
“We believe you need to use a copywriter to write a Facebook post,” he says. “You obviously don’t have the [ability] to review every single thing that goes out the door.”
In addition to the Facebook localization tool, Wendy’s worked with marketing software startup Balihoo to build a centralized hub for operators and franchisees called Wendy’s Local. The company is rolling out Wendy’s Local at a steady pace, and now about half of its markets have access.
“The local markets can actually post to the national page, but it’s geo-targeted to the local market,” Rhoten says. Through this system, franchisees can submit post requests to be reviewed by Wendy’s legal department and a corporate social media manager.
Frozen-yogurt brand Pinkberry first established its social media presence in 2009 and began granting mobile access to its franchisees on Twitter and Foursquare in early 2011. With the help of location-based marketing platform MomentFeed, Pinkberry recently launched a single portal that amalgamates Facebook pages, Twitter handles, and local tags on Instagram.
“What’s great about that is we’ve brought in the tools to them, and it’s given them access to their local community base while at the same time all the local pages are in a parent-child relationship with our parent brand,” says Laura Jakobsen, senior vice president of marketing and design at Pinkberry.
She says the brand’s social media presence is one connected ecosystem that allows each store to be community-driven. The potential for slightly diverse messaging and local flair is something Pinkberry’s corporate team thinks makes the brand authentically local. In addition to providing a visual and verbal toolkit for its franchisees, the company shows local operators how to repurpose Instagram photos taken by local patrons for added consumer engagement and content creation.
Dunkin’ Donuts, which has 31 Twitter and Facebook accounts, enlists the help of regional and international partners to localize content. A 10-person social media team at headquarters manages special promotions and sweepstakes, but that does not preclude operators from showcasing local news and partnerships.
“It is important that we are able to share information with our local fans about events or special promotions that may be happening in their hometown and to have that open dialogue with them,” says Jessica Gioglio, Dunkin’ Donuts social media manager, in an email. “This also helps us communicate what our franchisees—who individually own Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in their own communities—are doing on a local level.”
Streamlining the franchisor-franchisee relationship within a master portal can also prevent promotional overlap.
Facebook in particular has become a key platform for driving localized consumer-brand interaction, and the platform has options and strategies available specifically to restaurants.
“We try to always help the national brand message have guardrails from which the local markets can follow, but know when the timing is right to say something themselves,” says Ben Nemo, restaurant business lead for global marketing solutions at Facebook.
Rhoten says Twitter is a more powerful tool in today’s market for Wendy’s when used correctly, but has seen success with Facebook, too. To promote a new store opening in Shreveport, Louisiana, Wendy’s published a promotion on Facebook offering the first 50 customers in line free Wendy’s for one year. Although it was only advertised on one social media channel, Rhoten says, when the store opened the line wrapped around the building twice.
Expion’s McClenny says localized Twitter marketing can be tricky. “Twitter is still at the country and the brand level, and I think it’s not a best practice for a [quick serve] to open a Twitter handle for every location,” she says. “That would be unwise at the moment.”
For Facebook, McClenny says, a top-down approach can be most effective so long as it’s intended to improve best practices, not dominate franchisees.
Nemo adds that so long as the content is pertinent, it does not appear to be more receptive in one market versus another.
A market’s appetite for social media can also determine how well it is received. Major metropolitans like New York City are more likely to welcome such innovations. “It depends more on the franchisee taste in the area more than anything else,” Rhoten says.
Localized marketing via social media channels is less expensive than traditional platforms. McClenny says that while a brand may pay $100,000 for a series of radio ads, it would only pay $500–$1,000 for the social media equivalent.
“It’s much less expensive to test, which allows you to be more effective with your bigger messages,” she says. “It’s not just throw it against the wall and see what sticks; you can be very smart about it.”
Beyond boosting sales and foot traffic, the best benefit to a localized presence is a brand’s ability to foster a more intimate relationship with specific individual customers.
“There’s just more of a call for brand content media to improve in terms of its relevance,” VIA’s Cutrone says. “It’s just so much high volume [that brands] want to be increasingly relevant to [consumers’] lives.”