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Posted on Jan 07, 2011

How Social Media Sells Thousands of Tasti D-Lite Ice Cream Cones

Tasti D-Lite has emerged as a leader in social media marketing among franchises.  A true New York success story, Tasti D-Lite was developed by a woman in her kitchen in 1987 (with the help of her food technologist father) who wanted a low calorie, low fat frozen treat option, and figured she wasn't alone.

In today's franchise interview, FranchiseHelp dives into Tasti D-Lite's use of social media technology to attract customers to their stores and trucks.  The franchise's social media team is led by Social Technology Officer BJ Emerson and backed by CEO Jim Amos, the same man who led Mailboxes Etc. to 5,000 franchises and an eventual acquisition by UPS.

FranchiseHelp: First things first, why does an ice cream company need a social technology officer?

BJ Emerson: Being able to bring together a great online and in-store experience for customers is important to us. As more traditional customer-facing technologies integrate with social features and networks, the discipline required to develop and manage these platforms will grow. Having the competitive advantage of being a “social-friendly” brand requires the skill set to execute on these systems and applications.

FH: Can you give us a bit more insight on how your http://mytasti.com innovative rewards program works?

BJ: Customers are able to register their loyalty cards online to check their points balance and manage their account. They can earn extra points toward free Tasti by enabling connections to their personal Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare accounts. Each time a purchase is made at the POS [FH Editor's Note: "POS" is an acronym for Point of Sale, where a customer swipes their credit card], a message is automatically sent out to friends and followers.

Customers receive an extra TastiRewards point for each network connection they enable. They can choose from about a dozen different fun messages or customize their own MyTasti Message. We also have the ability to include links to coupons within the messages so others can benefit from the loyalty activity of their friends.

FH: With Tasti D-Lite franchisees spread out all across the globe, how did you bring all your owners together to implement the program?

BJ: Our domestic franchise program began in 2008 and the majority of existing licensees converted to franchisees. Soon after, we began rolling out a standardized point-of-sale solution which ultimately enabled us to execute on the loyalty program when we saw the opportunity with the social integrations. The data this program captures provides visibility to customer behavior across locations. The old punch card system could not.

FH: How can franchisors implement social media beyond rewards programs and how has it helped with your customer service?

BJ: One of our franchisees started a Tasti D-Lite Facebook Group several months before opening, which resulted in over 600 members ready and waiting for the doors to open. We have franchisees that engage daily through social media channels with customers who want to know what flavors are on tap or what promotions are running. If we see that someone has had a bad experience, we are able to reach out and see how we can make things right. The response has been overwhelming and I think the customers really enjoy the access to information and the fun that we can have around the product.

FH: How can franchisees utilize social marketing tools like Twitter and Facebook yet stay true to the overall franchise system's brand image and regulations?

BJ: The franchisor should be providing some leadership and guidelines around the use of social media. Where the franchisee has gotten out ahead, they need to be able to show the franchisor some tangible results and work with them to reproduce and help the remainder of the network. Communication is critical and it takes a lot of work and patience for both parties as these new mediums are explored.

FH: How did you score the article on Mashable "The Social Media Guide" and how much value did the writeup bring to Tasti D-Lite?

BJ: The writer had been watching us closely after including Tasti D-Lite in a “40 of the Best Twitter Brands and the People Behind Them” article. This early TastiRewards piece led to many others online and in print and it continues to be “re-tweeted” on a regular basis. The TastiRewards program itself went on to win several industry awards and was mentioned in Inc. Magazine, the New York Times and CNBC. (Check out the Tasti Twitter Account)

FH: How do you encourage people to check in on location based services?

BJ: We were one of the first businesses to test the Foursquare "nearby specials" feature and we encourage our franchisees to use it to attract customers who are checking into venues nearby. If a customer checks in at a restaurant down the street with their mobile device, for example, Foursquare lets them know that there is a special offer available at the nearby Tasti D-Lite. It is interesting to note that the video explaining how this works is the most popular on the Tasti D-Lite YouTube channel.

FH: Another social, consumer-driven channel that many franchises ignore is Wikipedia. How can franchise systems ensure that accurate information about them is listed on Wikipedia without incurring the wrath of the often-skeptical users and editors of that site?

BJ: Be completely upfront and provide full disclosure when creating a [Wikipedia] user account. Read all the guidelines and principles of the site before attempting to make any changes or additions. If the page already exists for the brand, objective and verifiable facts should not be challenged. New [franchise] concepts may have a challenge creating pages for their brand.

Thank you to BJ Emerson, Social Technology Officer of Tasti D-Lite, who encourages you to visit the Tasti D-Lite Site.

Learn more about Tasti D-Lite and find key franchise data and documents on FranchiseHelp's Tasti D-Lite franchise information page.

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