“Sorry, Officer, I didn’t know…” won’t get you out of a traffic ticket any more than “I didn’t know” will get your franchise out of an embarrassing social media faux pas.

The best way to avoid social media crises in today’s fast-paced business world is to have a comprehensive social media policy in place that clearly outlines how you, your employees and franchisees are to manage social media.

Protecting Your Franchise Brand

The integrity of your brand is the ultimate goal of your social media policy. Everything published or shared online should enhance your brand and promote your franchise’s reputation. The integrity of your brand can quickly become compromised if employees, franchisees, or outsourced agencies carelessly conduct social media on behalf of your company.

Whether you have centralized control or allow your franchisees a local social voice will determine the structure and what you include in your social media policy. But regardless of how you manage your involvement in social media, specific concerns need to be addressed and tailored to your unique situation.

What Do You Want to Accomplish with Social Media

While this may seem like an unnecessary question, answering it will help to align your social media activities with your content marketing goals. Your policy should reflect your franchise’s values, culture and what you expect to accomplish in the use of social media sites, such as:
  • Sharing information
  • Connecting with clients, prospects and industry influencers
  • Building brand awareness
  • Increasing business for franchisees
  • Advancing franchise sales and development
Starbucks’ social media policy opens with a very brief goal: “Moments of connection – that’s our promise.” The entire policy is written in an easy-going conversational tone, but they still cover all the bases of what is and is not acceptable with social media.

Who Is Authorized to Participate

As a franchisor, you decide who is or is not authorized to speak for your company, and this information should be crystal clear, especially for your franchisees. Undoubtedly, social media participation was discussed in the franchise contract, but a social media policy goes into greater detail for actual execution. If employees, franchisees or affiliated organizations are authorized to participate in social media, then there must be user roles and guidelines for the participation of each party.

Anyone authorized to participate in social media should read and agree to the franchise’s social media policy and receive training in the acceptable practices.

Additionally, your policy should specify what will happen in the event unauthorized individuals take to social media either on their own or outside of policy guidelines, e.g., disciplinary action, termination, etc.

Which Social Channels are Approved

The online diversity available with blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram, SnapChat, Vine and more, places the responsibility of selecting the most effective social channels squarely on the franchisor’s shoulders. Your goals and target audiences will help to determine which social media channels provide the most value for your franchise. it’s more effective to consistently maintain a few channels with high quality content than to have lots of channels with irregular activity.

cadence9_social_media_policyIf you choose to limit social engagement to specific channels, this should be part of your social media policy. Limiting social channels presents a continuity of style throughout the company, ensuring brand protection and consistency in communication. Make sure that anyone posting on behalf of your company is aware of and in compliance with the terms of each social media channel’s conditions of use as well as your own social media policy.

Sonic Drive-In’s Social Media Policy gives very explicit instruction in regards to their approved channels (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Yelp), how to use them and the anticipated results of engaging fans, building awareness and improving customer service.

Acceptable Content and Communications

Telling franchisees what they cannot do will be a part of your social media policy, but presenting examples of acceptable best practices may generate greater comprehension and success on behalf of the franchisees. Best practices for content integrity, online safety, promotions/offers, and frequency of posting are all helpful.

Social media policies come in various forms, but invariably include these points regarding individuals engaging in social media on behalf of the franchise:
  • Be transparent about who you are, who the company is and your relationship to the company.
  • Franchisors may require the franchisee’s profile name to include some type of locator information such as, “Franchise Day Spa Chicago” or “Franchise Day Spa 1500 W. Broadway.”
  • Provide responses/communication through company channels, no personal connections.
  • Restrict topics to those related to the business of the franchise.
  • Do not post any false, misleading or deceptive comments.
  • Clarify when posts or comments are your own opinions.
  • You are responsible for any information you contribute.
  • Acceptance of the franchise’s social media policy is mandatory.
  • Remember the internet is permanent.
  • When in doubt, do not post it.

Prohibited Types of Engagement

These activities should be no-brainers to avoid, but just to be on the safe side here are prohibited engagements:
  • Engaging in a public discourse/debate with an irate customer. Your social media policy should cover how a franchisee is to handle complaints as well as when an issue should be referred to the franchisor for resolution/legal action.
  • Hard sell content. Social media is for building relationships, not hard sell marketing.
  • Slanderous or defamatory comments about another person, competitor or entity.
  • Confidential and proprietary information of the franchisor, their clients, customers or suppliers.
  • Using the names of clients, customers or suppliers without permission.
  • Infringement on copyrights, trademarks, rights of publicity, and other third-party rights.

Monitoring and Ownership of Social Media Content

As part of brand ownership and protection, a franchisor should consider having a provision about retaining ownership of all franchisees’ social-media accounts, including the content and the domain names associated with these accounts. If a franchise agreement expires, the franchisee is terminated, or the franchisee stops social media activity, the online fans and followers will not be lost to the franchisor.

The franchisor has the right to monitor and moderate social content and require removal of any inappropriate activity, and this can be included in the social media policy. The franchisor having admin accessibility to all social media accounts is another way to maintain brand control.

Jiffy Lube‘s social media policy clearly explains the franchisor option to moderate any social media content. This explanation leaves no room for doubt as to the importance of adhering to proper procedures for posting content.
  • Content may be moderated. When moderated, comments will not be posted immediately. They will be screened for relevance to the topic and compliance with these Participation Guidelines and other specific engagement rules applicable to specific social media platforms.
  • If the name of the author (of the post) is not mentioned, the post will either be deleted or not posted (if moderation tool is available).
  • Any postings not in line with these Terms of Use will not be published, as determined at the sole discretion of Jiffy Lube.
  • Jiffy Lube reserves the right – for any reason – to remove or report any postings which could be deemed inappropriate at the sole discretion of Jiffy Lube.
  • Repeated violations of these Terms of Use may result in a user being banned or blocked from the Jiffy Lube page, community and/or account.

A Social Media Policy is Social Empowerment

A social media policy is for everyone’s protection. Most social media faux pas are unintentional; franchisees are heavily invested in the reputation of the franchise brand and wouldn’t purposefully damage it. Taking the time to create a formal social media policy with clearly delineated guidelines can keep problems to a minimum and empower franchisees to use social media to grow their local businesses.

The three cited policy samples show how a company’s personality and culture can be reflected while still dealing with the universal factors of social media participation. Don’t copy another company’s policy outright, but using these “model” policies can help you get started creating your own social media policy.

With prescribed rules, comprehensive training in social media standards and defined responsibilities, social media activity will increase your franchisees’ business, expand franchise brand awareness and grow supportive online communities that benefit the entire company.

What have you done to ensure that any social media activity on behalf of your franchise does not create a faux pas?

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