Guest Post: Steve Buors is CEO and Co-Founder of Reshift Media. He has over a decade of digital marketing experience and has earned a reputation for being on top of emerging trends in social, search and mobile solutions. He has led many strategic initiatives and managed large teams of professionals in some of Canada’s leading companies to bring numerous digital products and innovations to market. You can connect with Steve on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Businesses with multiple locations often have tremendous reach and brand strength through their physical network. They may interact with hundreds or even thousands of people a day in their stores. However, in most cases that interaction is only for a brief window of time – usually just long enough to complete a transaction. Once the customer leaves the store, the relationship ends until the customer (hopefully) comes back. Social media, particularly sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+, offer a powerful opportunity for companies to engage in direct conversations with their customers after they leave the store. Using strong social strategies and engaging, relevant content, companies can create ongoing interaction and repeat business through:
- Information sharing
- Branding strategies
- Relationship building
- Customer retention activities
- Targeted offers and incentives
Realizing the benefits of social media, many organizations have already implemented a single “national” Facebook page for their brand, which they use across all of their stores. In many ways this makes sense, as a single page enables the brand to:
- Control interactions with consumers on one page as opposed to managing multiple pages
- Aggregate all “likes” from across all geographies to show scale
- Manage the brand personality and creative directly, as opposed to relying on local stores and risking off-brand messaging
However, for companies with multiple locations this approach does not take advantage of their existing offline reach and brand strength. In fact, by de-emphasizing their bonds within local communities and delivering only national, centralized messages, they are artificially limiting their social media heft. In order to effectively translate their offline strength to social media, these organizations must implement local pages for each physical location.
What is the big deal about local pages?
When you boil it down, there is really one core reason why individual local Facebook pages are a must-have: they each have a local street address. For a company looking to translate offline strength into social media dominance, there is no better way than to literally replicate your store network address by address through social media, particularly on Facebook and Google+. Google+ deserves its own article and has different approach than Facebook, so we will leave that discussion for another time. For now, let’s focus in on the behemoth that is Facebook. A local address is critical because it is the centerpiece for local customer interaction, mobile exposure and social search visibility.
No matter how well-managed a national Facebook page is, a network of pages will typically have a larger audience than a single national page can achieve. This is in large part due to the fact that local pages can tailor relevant content to their local community (i.e. local news, local people, local promotions, etc.). Locally-relevant information, photos, videos and other content will generate local engagement. Although the level of engagement on each individual page may be smaller than the national page, in aggregate across many local pages, the level of activity can be quite large. In addition to local content, a major reason for increased audience size and engagement is the fact that the page has a local address. The reason this works is because a page with a local address is:
- Viewed as more locally / personally relevant by local customers, increasing the likelihood that they will become a fan of the page
- Easier to find when searching for local businesses (via maps and other location-based searches)
- Visible when someone is looking to check-in locally
What this means is that if you do not have a local address, you will not be found when someone is looking for a local business on Facebook – in this instance you are essentially invisible to potential local customers. This is critically important as we discuss mobile and search in the next sections.
Facebook owns mobile – period. The Facebook app dominates all other apps by a wide margin. Facebook continues to make significant improvements to its “Nearby” functionality which will greatly benefit local businesses. Widely seen as a step towards Facebook’s grander vision of social search (as discussed in the next section), “Nearby” allows people to use their phones to find information about close-by businesses such as restaurants, retailers, hotels and others. This type of consumer discovery is very different that a Google search or other type of local exploration because:
- “Nearby” results are very personal. Facebook prioritizes results based on where a person’s friends have been, what they have liked and what ratings / reviews have been completed. This means that everyone’s results are different based on who they are friends with. It also means that businesses with few “likes” or “check-ins” are at a major disadvantage in showing up versus their competitors.
- The information people receive on a business via “Nearby” comes from the company’s local Facebook brand page or place page. Meaning that when a consumer is viewing a business’ information on their phone via the Facebook app they don’t see the company’s information from Yellow Pages, Yelp, Foursquare or any other source – they see the company’s Facebook address, phone number, timeline, number of likes, check-ins and Facebook user reviews. So, if your business does not have a local Facebook page with a local address, it will not show up when someone is looking for someplace to eat, shop or visit. A national page alone simply will not cut it.
So the long and the short of it is that if you do not have a local Facebook page, you are missing out on a major opportunity on the #1 downloaded and used mobile app.
Search activities on social media will have significant ramifications on how local businesses are found in the future. Facebook’s evolving Graph Search enables people to search across Facebook’s vast database of information, but in a very different way than a conventional search engine. In simplified terms, a Google or Bing search is meant to return the most “relevant” answer to a question based on the inter-relationships of webpages across the internet and the billions of searches performed on a daily basis. What that means is, other than some “light” personalization that Google and Bing perform, your search results and the next person’s are more or less the same. This is not to say they are exactly the same – but they are based more on the inter-relationships of content across the internet as opposed to you personally. Social Search is very different. Rather than attempting to provide results based on inter-relationships of pages and information across the whole internet, social search looks at your personal relationships and provides information that should be relevant to you based on who your friends are, where you live and what you like. This is significant for businesses because it means that people using social search are finding companies, services and products based on personal relationships and affinity, as opposed to who is linking to whom across the internet. This changes the game for businesses, because it means that companies who have no social presence or an inactive presence (meaning few likes, comments, ratings, etc) will be less visible than businesses that have a lot of activity on their pages. This is because a social search is inherently based on activity. Some examples:
“Restaurants my friends like” “Restaurants in Toronto liked by chefs” “Most popular stores in my neighborhood” “Favorite music of my friends who live in Toronto, Ontario” “People who like things I like”
Looking at the above list, the common denominator is activity – businesses that have more likes, visits or other activity will rank well in these searches, whereas those are not active will not show up. So – bringing this back to the point of the article – how does a multi-location and/or franchise organization generate more local activity? Through a strong, relevant local presence, which includes:
- Local content that people care about. Don’t just shovel out marketing messages – interact with people as a member of the community. Talk about the local sports team, the weather (people love to talk about the weather), local events and other topical items.
- Local address & contact information. Make it easy for people to find you when looking for things to do or buy in their neighborhood or city.
- Local people checking in to your location, liking your page, commenting and rating your establishment.
There are, of course, challenges to this approach. The implementation alone of all those pages is a daunting task, but tools such as Facebook’s Parent-Child framework and the support of an agency that knows what they are doing can make the job much easier. However, the implementation is actually the easiest part – it is the ongoing management of those dozens or hundreds of local pages that is truly the challenge. The most difficult task is in publishing timely, relevant content across all of those pages. Without content to engage with, people have nothing to like, comment on or share – which is the whole point in creating the local pages in the first place. In many ways, an empty Facebook page is actually worse than no Facebook page at all. In a perfect world, all of the franchisees or local store managers would create local posts to engage with their communities. However, experience shows that only about 20% of locations will be effective in consistently maintaining their pages. Nonetheless, it makes good sense to provide training and support to your local teams, as there is no better source of local information (and therefore local engagement). We find that a hybrid solution that encourages local content creation augmented by nationally-produced content syndicated across the network works very well. This allows local store managers / franchisees to focus on their local community while enabling the national marketing or communications team to manage brand messages and nationally-relevant information. Despite these challenges, it is imperative that multi-location businesses pursue a strong local strategy.
For franchisors and multi-location businesses, translating offline reach and brand strength into social media dominance means implementing local pages within social media, particularly Facebook. Implementing one corporate (or national) page may seem simpler in the short term, but it limits the organization’s ability to capitalize on local engagement opportunities, which is critical for effective customer interaction, mobile visibility and social search relevance.