Franchises have been following brand standards for decades, crafting style guides and approving brochures and advertisements before they went to print. But with the entrance of social media into the marketing landscape, adhering to these standards has become more difficult, but is just as, if not more important.
Without these standards, the message and style of a brand becomes murky and convoluted. This can be especially tricky for franchises, with franchisees out there potentially using the wrong fonts, taglines or images that are off-brand, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. When brand standards are established and used properly it can strengthen your franchise as a whole which helps each individual franchise owner and brings them more value.
For franchises to stick to brand standards there should be guidelines that are set. A social media policy for your franchisees should go deeper than a typical fonts and colors style guide. It should include guidelines to help franchisees develop ongoing content that suits both their specific location and the overall brand.
We’ll go into some of the specific strategies to establish social media guidelines so that you can provide your customers with a cohesive brand experience on both the franchisor and franchisee level.
Establishing a Social Media Policy for Franchises
In order for people to quickly recognize your brand, it’s important to establish consistent visuals. These are the same elements used in traditional style guides and include approved color schemes with main colors and complementary colors, fonts and logos. You should also be specific in how to use these elements. Check out this article with fifty amazing examples of major brands who have put together meticulous style guides.
People’s attention spans are becoming shorter by the second, so short in fact that one study shows that the average person’s attention span is now 8 seconds, which is one second shorter than a goldfish’s. With such short attention spans your franchise MUST be instantly recognizable and visuals are the first and easiest way to do this.
Thanks to the internet, Google Images in particular, it’s incredibly easy to get your hands on images to use for social media, but that means it’s also easier than ever to break the law and steal copyrighted images, even if it’s accidental. Image usage and rights is a complicated battle between photographers, marketers and stock photo sites. Stock photo sites sue people and people sue stock photo sites right back for copyright infringement. It’s too dangerous to grab images and cross your fingers that they either are free to use for commercial use or that the owner never discovers the use and tries to collect damages.
You should make sure that every franchisee is only using approved images. You can do this my providing them with an approved image library that is updated on a regular basis. This makes it much easier on your franchisees to use brand friendly images and for you to regulate it.
Using a cloud-based program you can consistently provide images that are either purchased through a stock photo site such as GraphicStock or Shutterstock or found through free sites such as Pixabay.
One of the most popular types of content shared on social media are memes. These funny photos are easy to customize and have virality written all over them, but for businesses that make a meme with a popular images there’s more details to consider. An individual using Ryan Gosling’s face for a funny meme is typically protected by fair use, but when a business does the same thing for commercial purposes that fair usage might change. According to Inside Counsel Magazine, it’s wise for a business to check with legal counsel before any meme image is used. To put it briefly, some are fair game, but some may not be.
Social media goes much further in depth than a printed piece of paper, a single tweet or post can reach hundreds of thousands of people within seconds. This increase in reach requires franchises to thoroughly outline the many details that are required to maintain consistent brand messaging across all of its franchisees on social media. Many franchise owners are not experts when it comes to social media, so it’s for the benefit of your franchise as a whole to include important details such as attribution, voice, formatting and hashtags in the social media guidelines you set for your franchisees.
One of the most popular pieces of content on social media is sharing other people’s content. This is especially beneficial on social media for each individual franchisee depending on what’s happening at their location. Is there a local holiday, marathon, celebration or other event happening? Maybe they want to share an article or post about it to showcase their local support.
You should illustrate the ways that franchisees can give attribution, from direct sharing to placing the username/handle of the original creator into the post. By outlining this in your social media style policy it is easier to make sure each franchisee is giving credit where credit is due.
As a multi-location brand you have a voice that needs to be pulled through many different locations and social media platforms. Your social media policy should set forth what voice postings are to be written with. Are you a formal business or a casual one that needs posts to be written in a conversational tone? Should they be written in first person or third person?
There should also be an established voice for how to handle posts, reviews and comments from the public, especially if they are negative. One franchisee going haywire on a complaint publicly affects the brand as a whole so outlining specific talking points and a tone of voice to handle these types of situations should be established.
Keeping a consistent voice between social media and franchise locations establishes consistency for your brand and provides customers with a seamless brand experience.
Sometimes photos posted on Facebook don’t fit in the frame and an important piece of the image gets cut off or leaves white space. Sometimes a pixelated image is shared. There are a lot of blunders that can occur if those creating social media content aren’t careful and held to certain standards. Require images be specific dimensions for each social media platform. Make sure images and logos have a certain DPI that doesn’t diminish their quality.
While franchise owners or the marketers working for them don’t need to be first class graphic designers there are a multitude of tools available that can make designing social media posts look more professional. Sites like Canva even offer design school resources to learn about basic design skills and compilations.
Hashtags, those miraculous little things that used to be known as a simple, barely-used pound sign now dominate social media. Hashtags help people search for things, discover interests, enter contests and more.
Be sure to establish ongoing hashtags, geographic hashtags and time-sensitive hashtags. Ongoing ones should be for brand awareness, development and consistency such as key industry terms or popular industry hashtags.
For example if you are an oil change franchise you should have established hashtags that franchisees can pick and choose from easily such as #carmaintance and #oilchange but also branded ones such as your slogan as a hashtag.
You’ll also want to stress the importance of geographic hashtags. Using these helps each franchise set itself apart so that someone looking for an oil change in Chicago effortlessly finds the franchise in Chicago and not New York.
Then there are time-sensitive hashtags. These can be used when the brand as a whole is running a promotion or if there’s a specific event or holiday occurring that you want to support or honor across the board. These hashtags take the message to a larger audience, but keep the brand messaging consistent.
Overall hashtags are keywords on steroids and require research to find out what’s trending and what is relevant to your industry. It’s much easier and effective for your franchise as a whole to complete that research and establish standards of how each franchisee should use them. There are many online tools available to help for researching hashtags such as RiteTag, Hashtagify.me, and Hashtags.org.
When discussing social media and the guidelines you set the focus is primarily on ongoing content, but the basics shouldn’t be forgotten. By basics we mean the static information on a profile that is found on the about tabs or the photos that take center stage in cover or profile pictures.
It’s valuable for you to establish standards for these so that it is clear to consumers that the business page or Instagram profile that they are viewing is clearly associated to your brand and not a knockoff.
Back to the short attention spans of people, you have to make it clear right away that the franchise is part of the bigger brand. Setting brand standards for profiles such as what information needs to be in the bio, what profile picture and cover photo should be used will create a cohesive look and instantly make people who are familiar with the franchise trust and know it’s legitimate.
One of the most important parts of establishing brand standards on social media is making sure they are being used. It’s too easy for a franchise to put out brand standards and hope that all of your franchisees follow them perfectly. Check-ins should be used to help your franchisee find their way and improve their content. Be sure to hold them accountable and correct anything that is wrong and applaud them when they do well.
If you’re a small franchise, check-ins might be as simple as visiting their pages and profiles every week and making notes. While if you’re a larger franchise, you might want to establish a social media reporting system where the owners or marketers summarize the engagement they receive each week and then schedule regular profile check-ins.
Everything set forth so far in this guide is completely useless unless there is a purpose for it all. While this is the final part of this guide, at its core we believe it is the most important.
As a smart marketer you wouldn’t set up a social media profile on any platform without having a plan and goals for what exactly you want to accomplish with it. Should it be mainly for entertainment? Will it have educational content? Will it mostly just run promotions?
As a franchise, all social media platforms you’re active on should have the same purpose. If you are a restaurant franchise and your San Diego location spends a lot of time curating content of food and events happening at the restaurant with a purpose to educate and entice people, but your San Francisco location mainly shares memes and videos about working in the food industry there is a clear miscommunication on the purpose of Facebook for your restaurant.
Beyond the technicalities such as what fonts to use be sure establish an overall strategy of how each social network should be used. It’s helpful if your brand’s standards are as detailed as providing your franchisees with suggested editorial calendars to give them some direction. Even if you don’t write a monthly calendar you should still make sure the type of content and purpose behinds posts and shares is cohesive.
Sticking to brand standards as a franchise is important. When you are trying to uphold a consistent brand with multiple or even hundreds of unique owners there has to be standards and guidance or else the whole thing falls apart. A franchisee making one viral mistake isn’t just going to affect them, it will affecting your brand as a whole. Establish standards, train franchisees on them and check in, the rewards of doing so will be reaped throughout your entire organization.