Scaling Up: Achieve Control and Value From ‘Local’ Social Media

So you think you’ve got this social media thing down. Not only do you have a robust Facebook page and Twitter account, but you’re thinking of creating multiple pages, accounts and YouTube channels that cover different business units and products and services within regional and local branches. That’s a great idea, because “national” messages just don’t resonate as much with important local audiences.

Whoa. You just may start to spiral out of social media control. “Companies are jumping into this, and not really thinking about the full requirements needed,” says Jeremiah Owyang, partner at Altimeter Group. “They are plugging traditional marketing techniques into social media—and carpet bombing messages, which is not very effective.”

Indeed, organizations are faced with challenges when it comes to scaling up their social media efforts, including, says Owyang:

Fragmentation: Business units can either be coordinated in their social media efforts or fragmented.

Lack of accountability: Companies may have hundreds of social assets and difficulty tracking them.

Inability to defend brand: Processes and policies may not be in place to handle social media crises.

Inability to scale: Without a guide to coordinate and support social media, companies aren’t able to grow their efforts to respond to increasing demands.

Lack of efficiency: Without proper guidelines, social media costs will skyrocket.


Yet scaling up to include more localized engagement is necessary for audience engagement, says Peter Heffring, CEO at Expion, a company that makes social media management tools. “Engagement with an overall brand is OK, but they key is making that engagement more targeted, or localized,” he says.

There is research to back this up: This year Expion looked at the top 25 brands in the restaurant space—which had 77 million Facebook fans, 169,000 of them active, which is.2% engagement. A random sampling of 150 local restaurant pages yielded 67,000 fans, 6,831 of whom were active—a 10.1% engagement, 50 times that of national engagement. Other research has show that the higher the engagement level, the better the audience loyalty, says Heffring.


To make sense of such localization, Heffring and Owyang refer to the “Hub and Spoke Model,” which makes the central or national brand the hub, and locations, products or departments the spokes. Think of Kraft’s national brand as the hub, and its more than 80 brand products as the spokes; or Georgia Tech’s overall brand as the hub and its more than 100 departments and clubs as the spokes. Whether it’s Kraft or George Tech, each spoke has its own social media presence—usually Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The key questions: How do you deliver key messages from the hub to the spokes; how do you monitor posts and comments throughout the wheel; and how do you easily measure social media performance?


These are questions that Scott Gulbransen, director of social media and digital content at restaurant chain Applebee’s, frequently asks himself. While Applebee’s is a national brand, it’s also a neighborhood bar and restaurant. Locations have different sports teams and their own local heros. “For us to do social media effectively, we realized we couldn’t have one national voice,” says Gulbransen.

That’s easy to say, but complex to put in practice. Applebee’s currently has about 2,000 restaurants nationwide, most with their own social media presence. Gulbransen looked into social media management systems (SMMS) that could handle that number of spokes, and settled on Expion (other SMMS providers include Buddy Media, Vitrue, HootSuite and many more).

Starting in November 2010 with one franchisee who has 72 restaurants, there are now about 1,000 Applebee’s spokes, says Gulbransen. The Expion platform executes both publishing and monitoring of every location, helping to identify both good and bad posts.

One big plus with using the management system its ability to share social media best practices across the nation. The software is able to identify the most effective content among Applebee’s local platforms.

And what’s the formula for national content versus local? Gulbransen used the 80-20 rule: 80% local and 20% national marketing-focused material.


Another advantage in using an SMMS system is the ability to avoid social media screw-ups. Photos posted locally are vetted before they go live (hear that, Congressman Weiner?) The instant feedback rewards good service, but also identifies hiccups in real time, says Gulbransen. “If a diner in one of our Chicago locations complains about the food via Twitter while at his table, the restaurant can be notified and the manager can correct the problem before the customer leaves,” he says. The restaurants’ social media sites are scanned every 10 minutes.

Then there’s the ability to measure performance throughout the spokes. “For our employees to be able to see the numbers is great,” says Gulbransen, who measures engagement on a weekly and monthly basis. Yet response times, to both negative and positive posts, are important KPIs.

Of course not every wheel will have 1,000 spokes. Heffring says that organizations with 20 social media “pages” (normally tracking Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) can benefit from the platform. Anything less than that is not as cost effective and can be handled by other tools, he says.

Whether it’s one store or 2,000, Gulbransen has some sage advice: Before leveraging the value of your spokes, set a strategy first, and listen and monitor before interacting with customers. Well spoken. PRN


Peter Heffring,; Jeremiah Owyang,; Scott Gulbransen,