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last updated 16/05/2023

When social media goes wrong – Kiwi franchisees under fire

last updated 16/05/2023

May 2023 – A couple of news stories recently involving big franchised brands in New Zealand have highlighted the potential brand damage from careless – if well-meaning – social media posts being placed by franchisees or their employees

Franchisees have been in the headlines this week after careless use of social media created outrage among some Reddit users.

A McDonald’s Auckland Central franchise posted a job vacancy advert looking for night owls for 10pm-6am shifts. However the advert specified ‘Any age from 16-60’, which breaches the Human Rights Act for discrimination on the basis of age.

McDonald’s told the New Zealand Herald a franchisee posted the listing probably intending the term ‘16 to 60’ to be catchy, but an Auckland store manager said head office made the decision.

Employment law expert Max Whitehead said the ad was a 'blatant' breach of the Human Rights Act. ‘If it really is to get a catchy cliché going, it’s a stupid thing to do.’

The ad provoked widespread condemnation on Reddit, and Unite union’s Joe Carolan said the ad raised issues about ageism.

McDonald’s spokesman Simon Kenny said, ‘The reference in the copy was intended to illustrate that people of all ages are welcome. We’ve asked the franchisee to update the copy to avoid any potential confusion.'

A woman’s place …

In a similar story which made headlines this week, an employee of Pak’nSave Porirua posted a giveaway promotion for Mother’s Day of a ‘pamper pack’ which comprised two bottles of Persil laundry liquid, four bottles of laundry scent booster, two Glade air fresheners and a box of Roses chocolates.

Comments on the post shared to another page criticised it as ‘misogynistic’ and wondered whether Pak’nSave would offer the same gift for Father’s Day.

The employee who wrote the post said that any concept of the giveaway as misogynistic was ‘ridiculous'.

He said he was initially going to post just the box of Roses as the giveaway but thought it looked a bit sparse, so added the other items, which were already in his office as samples.

Pak’nSave Porirua later edited the post in response to the criticism, saying, ‘A free giveaway with no hidden agenda or meaning. Sad when people decide to make assumptions or see something that isn’t there.’ This didn’t really address the issue, and it was left to a spokeswoman for Foodstuffs (who own the Pak’nSave brand) to carry out damage control, pointing out that the Mother’s Day post did not reflect the views of Pak’nSave, Stickman, or Foodstuffs.

“We’ve had a chat to Cory, who’s in charge of giveaways at Pak’nSave Porirua this week and he genuinely thought he was doing something nice for the store’s Facebook community - but sadly missed the mark with this particular promo.’

Getting it wrong

The extent to which franchisees should control their own local media is a thorny one for franchisors. 

On the one hand, a franchisee’s personal connection with their local community is one of the most valuable aspects of franchising, and as a franchisee owns their own business, they have a lot of autonomy when it comes to local marketing. 

On the other hand, as these two news items show, when things go wrong, local marketing becomes a national (or even international) news story, which can damage both the brand and the businesses of other local franchisees. Given that social media marketing is often carried out by younger or informally-trained staff members, the risk of unintentionally breaching legal standards or causing offence can be considerable.

Getting it right

Andrew Mitchell, the CEO of Storyteq, which provides social media management software to franchise brands, says incidents such as these are inevitable and the key is how brands and their local teams learn from them and respond.

'It's vital there is a good amount of authentic local content on local pages to create genuine connections with the local community, and while clear guidelines and training should be in place, at the end of the day local staff are less skilled and experienced as marketers so can't be expected to get it 100% right all the time.'

Mitchell adds that with the right software in place the central marketing team can be alerted early to any negative comments, and then their experience should be called on to address the issue sensitively rather than it be left to the local team. 'The positive community connections created by locally-produced content far outweighs these isolated incidents.'

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