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How to engage and energize restaurant franchisees using social networking

Communication among restaurant franchisees is often problematic. When loosely connected franchisees in different locations try to communicate, many obstacles get in the way, including company firewalls, different time zones, technology issues and a silo mentality.  However, every day, virtually every restaurant team learns something that could potentially benefit other teams and the brand in general. Unfortunately, at the end of each day most restaurant brands suffer from information evaporation where this collective knowledge disappears never to be thought about or used again.

The good news is the social web provides a compelling solution.

Within restaurant franchise groups, each franchisee has specialized knowledge that if shared effectively would be useful to others. Examples of this knowledge could be expertise in operations, marketing, finance, real estate or community relations.

Under a pre-social web communications model, if I am a franchisee and have say an operations question, I would either call corporate or my field marketing manager. In the latter case, my field-marketing manager has a huge to-do list and my question most likely goes to the bottom. Plus, the field-marketing manager is most likely not an ops expert so my question may not effectively addressed.

Fast forward to today. Now, assume the franchise group has an internal social network set up with functionality similar to Facebook e.g., profiles, discussions, commenting and sharing.  With this scenario, I log on to the network and ask my ops question to the franchise community. Any other franchisee can answer my question, potentially in real time. Additionally, I can search the network for “operations” and instantly see a directory of every other franchisee in the system that has included “operations” as a keyword in their profile. I can contact those people directly and ask for help. All of these queries, posts, comments and interactions are archived and keyword searchable by other franchisees and the parent brand for as long as the network exists. Finally, this network can be integrated with other brand sites such as an Intranet for even richer queries and interactions.

The benefits of this approach include:

  • Enhanced communication
  • Better collaboration
  • Faster best practices sharing
  • Improved connectivity among franchisees
  • More effective training
  • Greater understanding of issues and opportunities (via community monitoring)
  • Attractive benefits for becoming a new franchisee (especially among younger, tech-savvy prospects)

Naturally, there are issues to be thought through. In some cases relationships between the parent brand and franchisees can be downright hostile. The last thing these brands want is an open forum for complaining and airing of dirty laundry. However, whether the brand provides an outlet or not, their franchisees are complaining somewhere. This approach provides an opportunity to openly embrace and address issues leading to improved relationships and better company performance.

Additionally, although franchisees are part of the same brand, relationships between them may be tenuous at best. Considering this, why would one franchisee want to help another? In most cases, they do want to help and they will if effective incentive and reward programs are put in place. These incentives do not necessarily need to be complex or costly.

Social media/networking continues to affect all aspects of a restaurant’s business. In addition to being an effective way to build better external relationships with customers, it is also proving to be a potent catalyst for better operational performance driven by better franchise communication and collaboration.

John M. Lee is Founder of Digital Growth Strategies, a marketing communications consultancy that helps conscious brands and companies align the hearts and minds of stakeholders through strategic social networking. He tweets @johnmlee.