With over 750,000 franchises in the U.S., franchising is a long-standing, viable business model. A large part of the appeal is the opportunity for franchise owners to capitalize on established branding, reputation, and products from Day 1. A vital component to franchise success, according to the International Franchise Association, is consistency in maintaining and strengthening brand identity.
While many people immediately think of marketing when they hear the term “brand consistency”, your online reputation is one of the most valuable marketing tools a brand can have. Combine that with the power of online reviews (91% of customers read them) and ratings (72% of consumers consider using a business with a 3-star rating, but only 27% feel the same for a 2-star rating), and it’s clear that you can’t afford to ignore your reputation online.
However, reputation management for multiple locations and potentially several owners presents some unique challenges. These five reputation management tips for franchises can help you navigate those challenges and manage your online reputation with purpose.
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1. Develop a Consistent Strategy
The first step to protecting your franchise brand is to develop an overall reputation management strategy that would be implemented across the entire network. This plays a large role in establishing consistency. All franchisees would follow the same coherent strategy, thus eliminating many problems that arise when everyone does their own thing.
If you are a franchisee with multiple locations, first determine what the strategy is at the corporate level. Then you can develop your own strategy for the locations you own that aligns with any guidelines already in place.
2. Separate Your Locations Online
The overall reputation management strategy across the franchise as a whole should be cohesive, but there are strong reasons to create a separation between the different locations online. Here are three ways to accomplish this separation:
- Ensure that each location has their own individual social media accounts, using the channels selected by the overall strategy.
- Ideally, add location pages to your brand website. This is the simplest way to create brand-consistent web pages for the different franchises.
- Each location should also have their own Google My Business listings.
These individual pages and social media accounts allow franchise locations to create location-specific content and tell a more intimate local story. Not only do these pages improve search engine performance, especially for local searches, but they allow franchisees to leverage sister sites within the network. In addition, isolating locations gives your franchise a bit of a reputation firewall should a crisis erupt at a single location.
3. Keep Online Profiles Current
A simple tip for online reputation management that seems obvious, but people neglect surprisingly often, is to make sure that you have updated and correct information about your franchise online: address, links to other channels, hours, contact information, etc. Any channel that a potential customer may use to locate your franchise needs to be current.
Staying current on social media requires extra attention. Post regularly so visitors see recent activity. If your latest update is over a year old, your entire profile doesn’t come across as current, even if all your business information is.
4. Reputation Management Training
Don’t simply assume that franchise owners or managers know how to implement reputation management best practices. Make sure that they are sufficiently trained on your strategy and how to build a strong, positive reputation for your brand. Training can include topics like the best way to respond to negative reviews, what to put on social media, how to foster ties with the local community, and who has authorization to use channels and interact with customers. Also make sure they aren’t doing any of these four things that can accidentally put your reputation at risk.
If there is one thing that impacts your brand the most—both good or bad—when it comes to reputation, it’s customer service. In a 2017 global study, 96% of consumers indicated that customer service is an important factor in their choice of loyalty to a brand. That number is too high to ignore.
Owners and managers need to train their employees to always think about how their treatment of a customer reflects on the franchise’s reputation. There are so many things that employees can do, because a little extra service really can go a long way.
5. Monitor and Look for Patterns
One of the most important things you can do for your franchise’s online reputation is to know what people are actually saying about your business. This goes beyond just monitoring social media (which you absolutely should do). Conduct a search on yourself and see what comes up on the first two pages of results. Look at review sites like Google and Yelp, and identify and monitor the keywords and hashtags related to your company. Then you can set up alerts each time your franchise or those keywords and hashtags are mentioned.
As you monitor what customers and even competitors are saying, keep an eye out for patterns. If you find a lot of negative feedback aimed at individual locations, then work with the franchise owners or managers to correct the problems and hopefully prevent new bad reviews. Regular monitoring can help you catch and address a budding crisis, as well.
Monitoring search results, social media posts, comments, and mentions across multiple locations can be a daunting task. Many franchises elect to hire reputation management consultants or companies, like Big Leap, who can do the tracking for you.
While reputation management for franchises can be challenging, it’s more necessary than ever. But you don’t have to do it all on your own. The reputation management experts at Big Leap can help you take control of your online reputation, so you can focus on running your business.