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Franchise Spotlight: Pinkberry’s guiding principles for social

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This blog series is brought to you by FohBoh Inc., a cutting-edge social Web technology company for the $1.7 trillion foodservice industry. This series will focus on the social media side of Franchise Appreciation Day, featuring thought leaders from Domino’s, KFC and California Tortilla.

Upscale frozen-yogurt franchise Pinkberry opened its Harvard Square location in April with what every business would hope for: lots of customers. However, long lines pushed some upset customers to start tweeting about their experience. The corporate social media team of two was monitoring the gripes on Twitter and reached out to that store location, which distributed gift cards to customers who were being turned away. “Angry tweets turned into happy tweets,” says Pamela Naumes, Pinkberry’s digital director.

With a social media team of two, it’s hard to understand how Pinkberry “stays on” after hours. (There were 138 storefronts across 15 states and 14 countries at the end of August.) But a solid strategy that includes input from a cross-functional team helps Pinkberry contribute and add value to the ever-changing online world. The key elements include taking a few risks, being customer-centric and leveraging channel strengths, according to Naumes.

Three guiding principles

“Test, test, test and test again,” says Naumes. The product team was introducing fortune cookies as a new topping, and the launch turned into a crowdsourcing contest for fortune cookie messages. There’s a chance that reaching out on social networks for fresh fortune cookie messages wouldn’t have yielded many responses, but it was worth the risk. Brands should be willing to try something new now and again.

Naumes admits to saying “no” more than she says “yes.”  This thinking allows her to filter every piece of content to consider if the customer will find it useful, entertaining or sharable. When people ask which flavor they should try, Naumes retweets the question rather than suggesting a flavor, because that action brings it back to the community, who loves to talk and share. Pinkberry follows the “70-20-10 rule,” in which 70% of the content posted is responding to customer comments, 20%  is retweeting, and 10% is marketing and promotional content.

Understanding different digital channels also is key. Pinkberry uses Facebook for content, entertainment, photos and videos. It uses Twitter for real-time posts and conversation.

The next “shiny new toy”

Pinkberry might have a leg up because it offers an inherently social experience. But the challenge is finding which “shiny new toy” to jump onto next. “There are so many channels to go after. New channels are being born every day,” says Naumes, who identifies three business questions that she asks when jumping into digital channels.

  1. What are the objectives?
  2. Where does it fit within our strategy?
  3. Does it make sense for our audience?

For Pinkberry, the two most-adopted channels are Facebook and Twitter, and it has been exploring Foursquare in the past year. Naumes says she measures social media success by engagement (likes and comments), not necessarily by fans or followers.

Now, Pinkberry is ramping up an effort to connect its Facebook followers with Instagram, a photo sharing application (it made perfect sense based on the business questions and the visual element translated). In two weeks, the number of Instagram followers increased from 100 to 615. Now, Pinkberry is asking followers to tag their Instagram frozen-yogurt photos to have a chance to become the Facebook profile photo.

It’s important for companies to keep up with the changing technology, Naumes says. She’s watching other restaurant brands, such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, because they understand their audiences, provide sharable content, connect with customers and innovate among the best.

“Social brands can’t hide behind a logo, and everything is spreading faster than ever. Customers are in control of the conversation, and it’s better to be a part of it and add value,” says Naumes.

According to the International Franchise Association, 2011 will be a growth year for franchises, with a 2.5% increase in franchise locations after losses in 2009 and minimal growth last year. Sept. 3 was Franchise Appreciation Day, a day during which franchises showed their customers how much they mean to them through discounts, deals and giveaways. The special day aims to create an awareness to increase customers knowledge of the importance of using social media networks and location-based services to connect with and continue to support local franchises.

Image credit: Pinkberry