Important takeaways for franchise systems come from 2012 FranCamp in Atlanta

Carol Hadley is president and CEO of Computer Explorers.

Computer Explorers has been a social media leader in the franchise industry throughout the past four years. Computer Explorers was one of the first companies to begin pushing franchisees to tap into social media and continues to be a leader in the industry. Several Computer Explorers team members, including President Carol Hadley, attended FranCamp, the franchise social media conference in Atlanta on May 4.

The conference brought franchising industry leaders together to talk about the potential and pitfalls of social media, guided by one overarching question: What’s the best way to use social media to grow a business?

The message of the day was that it’s not enough to simply have a social media presence. Content matters. Getting “likes” isn’t as important as building a community. Here are Carol Hadley’s big lessons for franchise companies and owners from FranCamp:

Don’t always talk about yourself

Many businesses talk about nothing but themselves on their Facebook pages. Facebook should be a place for conversation. It’s no fun to try to talk with people who ramble incessantly about nothing but themselves. It’s a good way to get your brand “unfriended” or to get people to “hide” your posts from their news feeds.

Corporate franchise offices can build fan base and a global community, but to really become part of the conversation, the franchisee needs to become involved in the community on a local level. BJ Emerson of Tasti D-Lite stated that one local Facebook fan is equal to 40 corporate fans.

Emerson used Tasti D-Lite’s store in Franklin, Tenn., as an example of a franchisee who’s building a community. Sure, the franchisee posts about his store, but he posts much more about his community — whether it’s a fundraiser, an upcoming concert or simply a report that a thunderstorm warning has forced the the county youth league to cancel soccer practice.

Social media usage  at the local franchisee level is particularly important to Computer Explorers because of the educational differences from state to state and school to school. Standards, budgets and priorities are regionally based. The CE corporate office connects with national and global organizations through the use of social media, but it cannot be part of a local discussion about education. The local franchisee can and should be part of their educational community in order to partner with the schools in addressing regional challenges.

Network, network, network

Marianne Murphy of Floor Coverings International gave a presentation about “never eating alone,” about taking every opportunity to be social and to give us much as you get. We take that seriously at Computer Explorers: Much of our business comes from local networking, and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest can be exceptional tools for spinning a robust web of local connections.

A broad professional network is one of the most valuable career tools you can have. You can make crucial connections, learn from your colleagues — and have a lot of fun. Murphy recommended inviting different friends and acquaintances to join you for dinner. You’ll spark new business relationships and take part in some great conversation, too. Her key piece of advice: “Connect with people before you need them.”

How to persuade people to use your product

Franchise consultant Tra Williams also spoke about being ahead of the game — in his case, the art of persuading people to use your product. Williams shared six principles for getting people to interact with your brand:

• Practice reciprocity: People like to do business with companies that give back to the community.

• Provide social proof: Customers are like birds on a wire — a line of customers tends to draw more of them. He says he sometimes advises clients to hire people with a certain “look” — say, Boho-chic hipsters in horn-rimmed glasses and vintage t-shirts to congregate outside a used record store — to draw members of his target market.

• Consistency: It’s important to have a consistent voice in your communications. If you use a cheery tone on Facebook, don’t switch to an authoritarian voice on a blog.

• Groups: Consumers like to buy from people like them — physically, culturally, professionally, etc. Understand your customer well enough to speak the way they speak. Social media are great for this: All you have to do is listen to your customers!

• Be an expert: Provide information that shows that you are an authority in your business. We use our blog to highlight how Computer Explorers is meeting the challenges and opportunities of technology education by partnering with tech companies and embracing innovations in learning software. We write about how to keep students reading and learning over summer vacation and how to use devices like the iPad as learning tools. The posts impart useful information and insights — and send the right message.

• Scarcity: Do occasional limited offers. When people know they can’t always have something, it makes them want it more.

“The networking sessions, which I thoroughly enjoyed, touched on my marketing background of building relationships and understanding customers,” said Hadley. “In those respects, social media isn’t very different: It’s about meeting people, building a community and providing it with the information and interaction it needs in order to thrive.

“We’ll be implementing the best ideas into our own social media plans and look forward to making it easier for franchisees to put Facebook, Twitter and other tools to good use.”

Carol Hadley is president of Computer Explorers. Founded in 1983, Computer Explorers is the original child technology education franchise. The company broadened its scope to provide innovative STEM-based programs for school-aged children in afterschool and summer camps, and to teach Microsoft ® applications to students in elementary schools. The company is expanding its offerings in 2012 to include professional development for educators and technology teachers in schools. For more information about Computer Explorers programs, visit www.computerexplorers.com.

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