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Social media and brand awareness creates unique problems for a franchise system, the well understood division of national and local advertising has to be revisited. One important question is, should every franchisee own it's own website?
Michael Seid, a well known franchisor consultant and board member for the International Association of Franchisors (officially known as the International Franchise Association), speaking for his franchisor clients, argues on social media site LinkedIn that franchisees should not have the right to develop their own local content marketing program using a franchisee-owned website.
Before a franchisee develops an independent website, they should review their franchise agreement to determine if they are allowed to. Most well developed franchise systems would likely have some prohibition regarding a franchisee developing their own independent site. However, many franchisors do provide the franchisee with a customizable site linked through the franchisor's website.
Even if the agreement does not discuss an independent web presence for its franchisees, a franchisee should discuss this with their franchisor to determine if the franchisor has any policy regarding this. (Most of MSA's clients have such a policy and i do not believe any allow the franchisee to set up an independent site, for a host of reasons, although some do provide the franchisee with a customizable web presence.)
I disagree with Michael Seid's suggestion that it is in the franchisor's economic interest to contractually ban franchisees from exercising their first amendment rights to free speech.
First, many franchisees are active participants in local charities and events and correctly wish to publicize via social media their roles and achievements, which indirectly adds to brand value.
Second, a contractual ban on franchisee "ownership" of a website is not likely to be effective given the tremendous opportunities in social media which do not require the ownership of a website to be effective. This is an area in which organic practices have to drive policy to be effective. What those best practices are is unknown at this moment. Franchisors simply don't have the advertising or support dollars to set up the necessary social media tools by themselves, and some form of user generated content is going to be needed to make them effective.
Third, the franchisor owns the trademark, the brand is what people are saying about you - which you don't own and need many listening posts to find out what the trends are. That cannot be done with a single command listening post.
Finally, franchisors risk missing the value of either content or inbound marketing, the online replacement for yellow pages, if they attempt to ban franchisee's first amendment rights.