Don’t leap into social media until you know what you want to say.
These days it seems every business wants to be your friend. Everyone you deal with, from our favourite coffee shop to your favourite gadget maker, wants to strike up a conversation in the hope you’ll remain a loyal customer and perhaps recommend them to your friends. Social media is clearly a powerful marketing tool, but if you’re going to take the relationship with your customers to the next level you need to tread carefully.
There’s no shortage of ways to stay in touch with your customers — from Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to more traditional means such as email newsletters, blogs and RSS feeds. But before your business starts striking up friendships it’s important to develop a strategy. Why are you talking to your customers? What do you want to say to them? Do you want them to talk back? These are important questions to answer upfront, as stumbling into social media without a plan is a recipe for disaster.
Some businesses treat social media as little more than a digital billboard for spruiking their wares. But merely bombarding customers with advertising can be counterproductive. A better approach might be to act as a useful source of wider information. For example your local gym might offer general health tips and links to interesting news articles, rather than simply parrot this month’s membership deals.
Offering your customers useful information means they’re more likely to see value in the relationship. It also increases your chances of reaching a wider audience. Just because someone “likes” your Facebook page doesn’t mean they’ll automatically see every post. Facebook culls what users see to reduce information overload. Facebook doesn’t spell out how this ranking system works but one thing is clear; the more people interact with Facebook content, the more likely that content is to appear in other people’s news feeds. So it pays to strike up a conversation with your customers rather than simply shout at them.
At this point the staff managing your social media presence are now in a customer-facing role, so a detailed social media policy becomes crucial. It’s important to establish who is responsible for driving social media policy. It’s also important to establish who is authorised to post content and engage in conversations. Exactly what are they allowed to say — is it strictly down to business, or can they engage in a certain level of banter? Are they only permitted to handle presales enquiries, or do they have the authority and expertise to offer a certain level of after-sales service and technical support? What is the process for escalating customer issues and handling complaints? How should they respond to negative publicity?
It’s important to remember that the public will consider your social media arm an extension of your business, just as if they’d walked into your store or rung your call centre. This means they’ll expect a certain standard of customer service which is integrated and coordinated with the rest of the organisation. If your social media presence feels like a pre-recorded message, don’t expect people to stick around. And if you treat them badly, expect them to tell the world. As with any relationship, once you engage your customers via social media you can’t take them for granted.