As many restaurant companies work to figure out how best to harness the marketing power of social media for the units they have open, Tasti D-Lite  is using social networking for the units yet to come. Most of the frozen-treat chain’s 50 units are centered in New York and New Jersey, but the Franklin, Tenn.-based company this year plans to open franchised units offering its lower-fat and lower-calorie snacks in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee and Texas. B.J. Emerson, Tasti D-Lite’s director of information and social technologies, talked about how the company uses social networking to find potential franchisees and sites and colonize new regions even before arriving physically.
How do you create a social-media presence in untapped markets?
We get numerous requests from people already familiar with Tasti D-Lite, usually along the lines of “When are you coming to my area?” Once we identify a Tasti brand evangelist in the area, we’ll ask for some input on where to open a location and pass their feedback along to the new franchise owners. Those conversations may lead to other connections within their network of friends who may not be familiar with Tasti D-Lite but are curious.
What do you do with franchisees in those areas?
We encourage and train new Tasti franchisees to set up Twitter accounts and Facebook groups and start connecting within their own network of friends. We educate them on how people use sites like Twitter, Facebook and Yelp and how they can use these sites to build brand awareness and customer loyalty.
What are the benefits?FAST FACTS
EDUCATION: seven years in Navy; Old Dominion UniversityBIRTHPLACE: New HampshireEXPERIENCE: worked for 10 years in franchise technology; managed deployment of a $2 million platform that won a Microsoft Pinnacle Award for Excellence in 2006PERSONAL: married with two childrenHOBBIES: family, motorcycles, technology and social media
The opportunity for our franchisees in new markets to reach people months in advance of opening their doors is unique and phenomenal. It really becomes about building a relationship between the franchisee and their prospective customers that ultimately is paid off once the doors open.
What tools are you using?
Our main focus is currently with Twitter. Although it takes more time and effort, the real-time interaction and search capabilities make it the tool we use most often.… Our Facebook presence continues to grow just through members joining the various location-specific groups or becoming “fans” on the global brand page. We remain relatively conservative when posting updates, as we recognize that these individuals are allowing us to be part of their community.
What has the reaction been?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. To be specific, 99.4 percent of the interactions have been well-received, with only five out of 900 attempts at engaging users on Twitter resulting in any kind negative response. While we have a number of followers for a given localized Twitter account, such as @TastiAZ, the real fun begins when we announce a new location on the global Twitter account Word spreads to customers who have moved, or existing customers tell their friends who live in the new markets.… Then we will direct them to the local account to engage the new owner.