Franchise Lawyer Blog

Using the Internet and Social Media

Like many people over the age of twentysomething, I have stumbled clumsily into the arena of social media: Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites and vehicles. Our teenage children have effortlessly adopted multiple forms of interpersonal communication, so much so that an actual phone call has become rare. Information is exchanged via Facebook, text messaging and Instant Messaging. There are signs that the same migration of the flow of information will happen in the world of commerce.

I recently read a piece in Franchise Times by Gini Dietrich of Arment Dietrich Public Relations that offered some advice on social media in franchising from B.J. Emerson of Tasti D-Lite. The discussion concerned different forms of social media and the advisability of outsourcing the use of those media. The consensus seems to be that using Twitter and Facebook, for instance, to develop business is an inevitable development that should be cautiously embraced if one intends to successfully take one’s business into the 21st century. The bottom line appears to be this: the most powerful source of business leads has always been word of mouth. Social media are a concrete means of generating and directing word of mouth in a way that has never been achievable before. You have to look into it.

Mastering these tools is a very different story. Twitter is a wildly unmanageable tool and the sense is that the entire business community is still learning how to use it. Similarly, Facebook Fan Pages are being introduced by companies every day, but both this and Twitter are in an exploratory trial and error phase.

More commonly accepted methods of obtaining internet based leads, such as Google Adwords, are widely in use. I recently did a Google search under the word “Franchise.” Pages upon pages of links appeared (including one for this firm), some of obvious initial use and others not so. Blind searches are a difficult way to go. You must carefully scrutinize the leads that are developed in that manner, particularly by checking out websites.

There are interesting places to go for online information and possible contacts. For example, you can look at BlueMauMau if you are a franchisee and The International Franchise Association (IFA), if you are a franchisor. The former offers information and advice in an open forum, primarily geared to franchisee cautionary tales. The IFA has long been viewed as the unofficial spokesperson for the franchisor community and is a valuable source for information, although its bias must be taken into account.

Proceeding blindly into cyberspace because everyone else is doing it is not a particularly wise business plan. What should be done is what I frequently advise clients to do when they come into my office with predetermined legal needs. Take a step back and make a reasoned determination of what your most immediate needs are. If, for instance, you want people to find you on the internet when they are looking for a plumber, then you could invest some money on Google Adwords keyed to plumbing (plumber, leaking pipes, etc) to increase the possibility that somebody will stumble upon you. More importantly, you should revise your website so that it does not try to be too much to too many people. Accentuate your plumbing expertise. And then perhaps look into setting up a Facebook Fan Page and see if you can find a couple of satisfied customers to tout it on their Facebook. You could even open a Twitter account and start talking about plumbing and how you deal with problems that you know people have (in 140 characters or less).

Keep in mind that if you left school as long ago as I did, you will always feel like a dinosaur. Particularly if your children have rejected your “friend” requests on Facebook. But better to be a somewhat tech savvy dinosaur than an extinct one.

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