By Amanda DiSilvestro published February 8, 2013

5 Pointers for Content Marketing at the Franchise Level

franchise-moneyQuestions revolving around content creation and promotion always seem to come back to one: Who’s in charge? You have copywriters, copy editors, writers and bloggers, CEOs, and content chiefs… the list goes on and on. The answer often depends upon the company and what works best for the industry, company size, even location, but things get a bit more complicated when you’re working with several franchises. You have the same top question, and you have the same people, but your efforts may increase 10-, 20-, or even 100-fold. In this situation, you have to ask yourself, “How is content marketing management different when working with franchises?,” as well as, “Is there really any easy way to manage it all?

How content marketing works with franchises

There are three major considerations when it comes to content and franchises:

1. Determine whether or not each of your branches will have its own website: In most cases, small companies with just one or two franchises can allow each location to have its own website — if there are things that differ significantly among each of the branches. For example, if one location is very rural and another is urban, each website may need content that offers different deals and incentives, or your content may need to cover different events happening in each community.

2. Determine what type of content you need to produce for each branch: Whether your franchise branches have their own websites or not, make sure the management team at each one understands the types of content you’re looking to publish, and why you’ve made these choices. If each franchise has its own site, more content will need to be produced, but the content strategy behind each piece will likely be more or less the same. You need guest posting, and you need content for the website or websites, and so your franchises need to know your expectations (more about this later).

3. Determine who will do the writing, the promoting, and the optimizing: This is where some organizational confusion occurs, so it’s important to have a plan set in advance, and to stick to it long enough to determine what’s working and what isn’t.

Top 5 content considerations for working with franchises

So once you know the questions you need to ask and the plan you need to follow, you must consider some of the answers to these questions (and some of the best ways to make it all happen). A few tips I’ve learned from working on the content team of a large, franchise business in the past include:

1. Have a master sheet to track content for all your branches: If your company is large, split these documents into different areas and have several different spreadsheets. This is the best way to stay organized when you’re working with so many different pieces of content. Give your franchises access to the document (I recommend Google docs because it updates in real time) so that it can continually be updated by all members of your team — after all, your franchise owners will know better than anyone what content their branch is putting out.

Below is an example of a master sheet:

In this particular example, I have different tabs related to my company and the content I’ve created for it. As a larger organization working with many different franchises, it might be best to just create a separate tab in the document for each branch.

franchise-spreadsheet(Click to enlarge)

The columns that I recommend you label include:

  • The PR contact for the website where the article was sent (or if it was posted to your company blog, or the blog for your franchise)
  • Notes regarding the article that you may need to have on hand, such as the call-to-action you used, the author who is credited for the post, or the post’s status if it is undergoing review.
  • The name of the website or blog where the article was submitted
  • The date the article was submitted, and the date it was published
  • The URL of the published article

2. Allow your franchise managers to hire writers: While your national branch should certainly be in charge of hiring its franchise owners, and even its managers, hiring writers is something that your franchise owners can handle on their own. To prepare them for success, make sure that they know your company’s editorial guidelines and what you recommend looking for in a writer, and then let them handle the hiring — the franchisees will be working very closely with the content creators they choose, so you should let them decide the skills and personality that they will work well with. If you’re worried about maintaining a consistent quality, have your managers run some of the new writer’s first few articles by you before publication, so that you can make sure it meets your company’s standards and that is aligned with your company voice and content marketing goals.

3. Ask franchise owners to optimize the searchability of content for their websites, or for the individual pieces of content they are producing, but make sure you have an SEO team working to find you the right keywords and complete data analysis on a company-wide basis (e.g., Google Analytics).

4. If possible, have a social media expert at the national branch level who can manage content promotion for all branches. This will help ensure that your brand remains protected and that there are standards in place for interaction with zero confusion or contradiction. Social media spreads information quickly, so you really can’t afford to have any miscommunication between your branches, or misunderstanding of what they should or shouldn’t say to consumers and others who are participating in the conversations your team creates.

5. Urge all your franchises to produce their own content (in addition to the content created by writers they may hire): When it comes to guest posting in order to build links and reputation, get all of your franchises involved. Teach your franchise owners how to pitch your site content and to find authoritative blogs that they can distribute your content on (the franchise owners might then teach the writers, if that works best for that branch).

Do you manage several franchise branches and have a great content management strategy? Have any of the above tips worked or not worked for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

For more tips on managing the content marketing process across any organization, read “Managing Content Marketing” by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi.

Photo Credit: franchisemarketingagency.com

Author: Amanda DiSilvestro

Amanda DiSilvestro is a graduate of Illinois State University. Although she graduated with an English Education degree, she found herself working as a full-time blogger in the SEO/social media department at HigherVisibility.com, a leading SEO for franchises. Follow Amanda on Twitter @ADiSilvestro.

Other posts by Amanda DiSilvestro

  • Adam Selig

    I think there are some great ideas in this post. I my experience brands and their franchises have challenges in their ability to execute because they are resource constrained. For example, filling out excel spreadsheets is highly time consuming. You may want to consider a software platform specifically designed for franchises, like the iAPPS ds, which helps decrease the time necessary to implement and fully execute these ideas.

    • http://tommangan.net/ Tom Mangan

      I had a similar thought: is it realistic to expect buy-in from the franchisee end of things? The reputation of franchises is that they are usually low-margin retail operations where the owner/managers are so busy making payroll that they feel they have no time or money for things like content. Is this generally true or are there many exceptions?

      It seems like that would be an obstacle to overcome, but not all franchised companies work that way, of course.

      • Adam Selig

        You are right that not all franchise situations are the same. Food franchisors have different needs than a haircutting franchise. In addition, there are some franchise owners who own multiple units and owners that have just one. But they all can improve their marketing results if the corporate brand makes it easy to get approved content and utilize it locally.

        • http://tommangan.net/ Tom Mangan

          Finding a way to get local content onto the websites of local franchises would be the coin of the realm. After all locality is the whole reason for a franchise’s existence.

  • http://www.shortcutblogging.com/ Dave Young

    Conceptually, this is spot on…a great strategy. Where I see it failing is in the part where you suggest that the franchise owners get involved in creating and pitching content. Unless I’m mistaken, most people who become franchise owners do so because it is a path into business ownership which does not require them to create a business from scratch. The most successful franchises have a strict cookie-cutter path to success and the owner doesn’t get to be creative about it. The owners need top-down instruction on matters that require managing and implementation. Content creation is difficult enough without expecting connect-the-dot people to start coloring outside the lines. They won’t be comfortable with it. The other risk is that they may not be Subject Matter Experts. If they just bought the franchise, they probably aren’t experts on the products.

    I believe your Point 5 needs its own fully developed plan. I have a few ideas, but it would vary for each unique type of franchise.

  • http://twitter.com/ADiSilvestro Amanda DiSilvestro

    Thank you so much everyone for reading and commenting. I really love how those that read this site offer new ideas–I can see where Dave is coming from when he says that maybe franchise owners shouldn’t be pitching content. I think that some franchises get more freedom from the top that others, so if you do have that freedom, I think it might not be the worst idea to have some say in content (especially when it comes to guest posting because here you’re not working with one website) because it can get so complicated. Even so, you’re right–many franchises probably wouldn’t have this freedom!

    I also think that software specifically for franchises is an excellent idea and I’m sitting here wondering why I didn’t include that in this post. If anyone has any success stories with different software, I’m sure we’d all love to hear it.

    • http://www.shortcutblogging.com/ Dave Young

      My company offers a service for producing blog content, but we’re not a software. We use real people to extract real content directly from the mouths of the business owners. We then turn their spoken words into written words. No software involved. For a local franchisee to produce truly local content, I know of no software package. Our service is designed to defeat the problems of: 1. no time to blog 2. no idea what to blog 3. not a writer. We do all 3.

  • http://thefranchiseking.com/about-joel-libava-the-franchise-king The Franchise King

    Hi Amanda,

    You certainly seem to know a lot about content creation.

    And, your firm seems to know tons about SEO.

    But, I know franchising. I also know that today’s franchisees don’t have time to produce content, and asking them to do so isn’t a wise strategy. (Or, telling them to do so.)

    Franchisees need to do business. They don’t need to spend time looking for writers, or setting up and maintaining their own blogs, and whatever else you’re suggesting.

    Hiring someone to do it? Maybe.

    Franchisors are the ones that need to coordinate all social media and online marketing efforts. Franchisees should learn all they can, and add input if needed. But, it needs to pretty much stop there.

    Franchisees should NOT start producing their own content.

    It will take them out of the game. And, they’ll be out of business before you can say “TECHNORATI.”

    The Franchise King®

    (Tell Joe Pulizzi I said Hi)

    • http://www.39celsius.com/ Toby Danylchuk

      Yes, perhaps it could be too much for many individual franchisees to do content marketing. But The reality is that if franchisors/franchisees are serious about lead generation, sales, growing their balance sheet, or marketing ROI, unless you’re part of an iconic American franchise that dumps thousands of dollars into marketing in your local market, content marketing should be considered as a marketing tactic, especially when you consider cost per lead online can be 1/10th of what traditional media can deliver. And leaving it to the corporate franchisor who doesn’t know the local market, and is more concerned with selling franchises than driving leads, to develop and push out content is not a good solution, or I have yet to see one implemented well.

      A possible solution: If there are 2+ franchisees in a regional metro market, an effective process to tackle this is to set up an ad coop that all franchisees pay into on a monthly basis and from that fund they hire an experienced online marketing agency to develop their content strategy and report on progress and lead generation efforts (and of course that meets corp guidelines).

      The fight is at the local level in search and has to be pushed to that level. I see too often corporate pushing out standardized content that isn’t designed to rank in any local market and is just noise and garbage in terms of helping to grow the balance sheet for individual franchisees. For those franchisors or franchisees that are smaller and hungry, it is fairly easy to win online and unseat slower less sophisticated marketing from other large franchisors.

      • http://thefranchiseking.com/about-joel-libava-the-franchise-king The Franchise King

        Some of your points are spot-on.

        But, to do content marketing right-it costs good money.

        I don’t see it coming from the franchisees. It needs to come from corporate, for a real co-op. (And the real effect of a powerful co-op marketing effort.)

        Some franchisors actually do know the local markets.

        And they help their franchisees make more money because of it.

        The Franchise King®

      • dustindetorres

        I agree with your points and suggestion Toby. In a perfect world, the Zors would need to take on a publisher mentality at the corporate level and have a team of local focused writers, content creators and a content lead managing the process. I would prefer that tactic vs having a 3rd party create the content but your co-op solution would be better than trusting that the local entity create their own. We all know the Zees are great at the business at hand (most of them) and aren’t very marketing minded…..heck…they bought into a system for a reason.

  • http://twitter.com/ADiSilvestro Amanda DiSilvestro

    I do think that is true Tom–not all franchises have the budget to make this happen. Still, I think there can be a very good argument as to why more corporate offices need to allow franchises to make these type of content decisions. Content is becoming so so important, so figuring out a way for franchise content to work is crucial. Thanks for reading!

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  • http://twitter.com/gsconsult2010 G&S Consulting 2010

    Hi all,

    When a Franchisee begins his or her relationship with their Zor, depending on the agreement, the expectation is that the Zor will provide support and assist with Marketing. As we know, many agreements include royalties for total sales as most often an additional Marketing/Advertising cost

    To make it easy on the Franchisee to run their business, Corporate can help support them through having content management system that includes websites, social media, ads, printed and electronic, email campaign, etc. I think FranConnect.com has it all under one roof. It is modular so no need to configure all modules at once. And, the budget and time doesn’t allow for that too in most cases.

    Anyway, I hear the pains for the Franchisee and the Franchisors and have to tell you, having a system you can rely on not only impresses your Zees, but helps the Zor in keeping up with FDDs, agreements, Store Visits and above all, marketing. It’s very cool .
    Chow

  • http://www.visualrank.se/ VisualRank

    fuktmätning Great article. It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained!