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.
“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:
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 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.
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 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‘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.
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