It’s difficult to underestimate the sea change that has been brought by the exponential growth of social media in many facets of our business and personal lives. In the business arena, we see its impact in promotions, research, reputation management, branding, and many other areas. The amount of data this involves is staggering. International Business Machines (IBM) reports that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. Twitter reports that their service boasts 241 million active users generating some 500 million tweets per day. Importantly, Twitter also reports that an average 30% lift in recommendations of a Small, Medium Business (SMB) after a consumer followed or engaged with them on Twitter. Nation’s Restaurant News 2014 Restaurant Operators Survey reported that 52% of respondents indicated their primary marketing spend in 2014 will be on social media campaigns.

In the world of business and finance, social media is also becoming a more prevalent force. The Wall Street Journal reports that some 70% of nearly 500 institutional investors and sell-side analysts surveyed around the globe said digital media will have a greater impact in future investment recommendations and decisions with 29% of those investors saying they are following up on ideas initially identified on social media platforms such as Twitter. GE Capital, Franchise Finance, a leading lender to the franchised restaurant industry, uses social listening to help understand how emerging brands differentiate themselves based upon the social media posts of the customers of those brands. Recognizing the importance of social media in the restaurant business, GE also provides free social listening reports to their customers as part of their service offerings.  Todd Jones, Managing Director of Brand Management at GE comments, "We're in the midst of a digital revolution fueled by the growth in handheld devices. Social media and digital marketing are fundamentally changing the way restaurants connect with their guests."

Needless to say, the future is already here in the transparency and immediacy of the social media phenomenon. All indications are that the use of social media is a fundamental change in how consumers and businesses interact, how they gain information and understand each other and all of this takes place in a public forum watched by other consumers, the media, competitors, vendors, finance companies, etc. If you are only now beginning to understand what all of this means to your business, then you’re behind the curve. However, you can reap the benefits of the immediacy of this new medium by getting started now. Here’s a short set of steps you can take to get started:

  •  Listen before you speak.
    • You should engage in social listening to understand what customers are saying about your store or your brand prior to setting up your own social media account and engaging with consumers. It’s important to understand the existing sentiment of your target audience before crafting your own posting strategy or style.
  • Understand who ”influencers” are within your social media environment.
    • It’s likely that there will be “connected” participants in social media who talk about your store. “Connected” participants means that those individuals have many followers/subscribers themselves, so when they make a comment it is amplified by being picked up by so many other people. It is important to understand who those people are and to consider them as potential marketing channels that you should influence in a positive way. This could mean actively engaging with them from your company’s social media account and rewarding them for positive feedback, or quickly addressing any issues that caused them to speak in a negative way. If you can get celebrities (including local celebrities) to be vocal proponents of your brand, the resulting ripple effect can be significant.
  • Have a strategy in how you project yourself in the social media environment. Identify the influencers, target your posts, inject some personality into your messaging so that you’re read and remembered, be timely and engage often. If you have more than one person who manages your messaging, make sure they are consistent in their tone and approach so that the “voice” is that of your brand/store and not of a specific individual.
  • In the restaurant business, location is important. The same is true for your social messaging, the more you can pin down messages to specific locations the more targeted intelligence you have in how you can respond and react to both positive and negative posts. It’s important not to overlook social media platforms that serve your specific industry in a targeted and locale specific way, such as Yelp, Foursquare, and UrbanSpoon. Social Media does not merely begin and end with Facebook and Twitter.

If you have any questions or would like to know how GE Capital, Franchise Finance helps its customers get started in participating in the social media phenomenon, please contact kevin.runnels@ge.com.