Building a local presence on Facebook

“Mom and pop locales are beating chains at local marketing on Facebook,” said Erica McClenny, director of enterprise engagement at Expion, during the innovation session entitled, “Facebook Encourages Restaurants to Go ‘Local’” held on Tuesday, March 27 during the 2012 Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Why is that? Because customers can connect directly with the store and staff in their neighborhood, versus being shuffled to an impersonal brand page. Here are a few stats you may not be aware of:

  1. Out of the 6 billion people on the planet, 4.8 billion have a mobile device.
  2. Half of local searches are done via a smartphone.
  3. Smartphone users are twice as likely to be social media users.
  4. In 2011, one out of 6 minutes was spent on a social media site.

McClenny recommends that large organizations and franchisees think small. Let the brand handle the brand’s Facebook and the Twitter account, and allow the local owner-operators to manage their individual Facebook presence. Then, the local operators can bring the brand messages to their followers.

Also, Facebook now allows location pages to be tied to the brand page. For an example, see here how it works for Applebee’s: As you move the map around, the locations listed change to the visible region.

When Anand Gala, founder, president and CEO of Gala Corp., owner of  seven Famous Dave’s and 18 Applebee’s, started looking into local Facebook pages for his stores, he discovered pages already existed for some of his locations. They had been set up by employees, managers or guests, and been amassing check-ins, comments and followers on their own.

“And zees will go rogue on you,” he said frankly. “They’ll start a page on their own, not tell the franchisor, and the franchisor won’t have any control over what’s happening with that page. It has to be a collaborative effort between the two to make sure the right message is getting out to customers.”

Attendees learned that there are three steps to building and promoting a local presence for your brand on Facebook: 

Use those earned relationships first.
Employees are the captive audience who uses Facebook. Tell them it’s ok to promote their workplace. “We had launch parties,” said Gala. “Make it fun. Get them engaged and create a contest. Give away a $25 Target gift card to whoever has the greatest number of ‘likes’.” He mentioned one location alone reached 600 likes in a short period by creating a contest within the employees.

Guests need to be informed directly as well. Applebee’s created cards with QR codes linked to the local pages and placed them on the back of bathroom stall doors. (They might not admit it, but many people use their smartphone in the bathroom. To prove it, the program worked.)

Paid relationships second.
With Facebook ads moving into the Newsfeed, visibility on mobile devices will increase substantially--where before there was none. They’re also promoting a new service called “Sponsored Stories.” Think of it as a new way to promote word-of-mouth marketing. Guest comments can be marked as “Sponsored”, moving them to more prominent positioning in their friends’ Newsfeed.

Finally, branded relationships.
“Applications and games should be handled by the brand,” said McClenny. The budget for a Facebook app or game is generally 20% design and 80% marketing, and a large weight for an individual location to carry. Applebee’s brand created a March Madness “Smack Talk” app that their 1500 local pages could take advantage of, versus the franchisees having to do it on their own.

The road to local success starts with the franchisor or parent company providing structure and governance to the sites, as well as centralized software, said Gala. This will ensure best practices are established, branded messages reach the audience and all tracking and analysis is centralized.

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