Buy A Franchise – Franchises Using Social Media

October 16th, 2010


(Buy a Franchise, Seattle Franchise, Bellevue Franchise)

CHICAGO – The Dallas-based Genghis Grill restaurant chain leaped from 1,300 Twitter followers in May to more than 10,000 today.

Freebirds World Burrito, known for its fervent fans, went from 5,000 to 50,000 Facebook fans in a year’s span.

But as more consumers communicate via Facebook, Twitter and other similar channels, they said restaurants hoping to build their brand presence will have to jump online, and craft strategies that nurture and protect their cyber reputations.

“It’s a reflection of what the dialogue is in the real world, which we would never hear if we didn’t have Facebook,” said Jeff Carl, chief marketing officer for California-based Tavistock Restaurants, which owns Freebirds. Thirty-nine of the chain’s 42 restaurants are in Texas and are run from an operations headquarters in Austin.

“It strengthens our relationship with our most loyal fanatics,” he said. “It identifies not only problems but opportunities.”

The restaurant industry, which has been notoriously slow to adopt new technology, is only just beginning to develop social media strategies for marketing and policies for workers, said Paul Barron, chief digital officer for Genghis Grill and founder of Fast Casual Executive Summit, which held its annual meeting Monday and today.

Among fast casual Franchise restaurants, a segment that includes brands such as Genghis Grill, Panera Bread and Frisco-based Mooyah Burgers & Fries, about 70 percent of chains have some presence on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, Barron said.

That compares with less than 15 percent of casual dining restaurants, a much larger segment that includes brands such as Dallas-based Chili’s, which also has 10,000 Twitter followers.

Genghis Grill was able to expand its online fan club through technology that marries demographic and geo-positioning studies with online postings to find, say, a 30-year-old woman whose past Tweets or Facebook postings hint that she might be a good candidate for marketing from the company. The company “follows” her, and she eventually becomes a follower of the brand.

“We know it’s working,” said Genghis Grill chief executive Al Bhakta of the company’s overall online strategy. “People are talking about our brand. Our average systemwide [sales] volumes have grown. Store openings are better now.”

Still, restaurant executives cautioned that too few chains have formal social media policies for staffers detailing what is and isn’t appropriate behavior online.

Domino’s pizza Franchise found out the hard way what can happen when workers think a brand-damaging prank can be funny. A YouTube video of former employees allegedly tampering with food went viral, pushing Domino’s into a frenzy of damage control.

Bhakta said his chain instituted a social media policy six months ago in which employees sign documents agreeing not to disparage the company online. The policy also blocks franchisees from creating Web sites or other online material without corporate approval.

But Tavistock’s Carl cautioned that it will be impossible for chains to keep non-employees from making non-complimentary postings online.

“You cannot control for that,” he said. “What you can do is invite those guests to be part of your social experience. Hopefully, the preponderance of phenomenal experiences out there … will virtually overwhelm the occasional missed experience.”

(Buy a Franchise, Seattle Franchise, Bellevue Franchise)

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