Customer Service via Social Media

Digital & marketing solutions that help grow your business.

Adding customer service best practices into your social media strategy is essential.

No matter how prominently you display your customer service email address or phone number, customers are still likely to ask questions, share success stories, or file complaints on your social media channels.

[source: Forbes] Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ or Pinterest, consumers are interacting more and more frequently with brands via social media. Even if your marketing team and your customer service team don’t currently overlap, incorporating customer service best practices into your social media strategy is essential. Here are a few tips for offering exceptional customer service via social media:

Be fast. Social media moves at rapid-fire pace and functions 24/7. Establish standards for how quickly social media inquiries should be answered. Have a company-wide policy of responding to all social media inquiries and customer service emails within two hours during normal business hours.

Be thoughtful. If a customer has a question or expresses a concern via social media, a caring, thoughtful response goes a long way in establishing that your brand has both character and personality. Dry, boilerplate responses read as such. They can obstruct an opportunity to build a real connection with the customer.

Always respond to problems. Customers appreciate being acknowledged by brands. No matter how big or small the issue is, it’s essential to recognize the person and the problem, and to let them know that you’re listening and you care. You can always move the conversation on to email or private messages if necessary — just don’t ignore an unhappy customer. The interaction also lets other customers know that you’re able and willing to fix problems, and sends a message that they can trust the integrity of your product and service.

Send customers to where you want them to be. If it’s an issue that can’t be solved in 140 characters, give customers a direct email address, and be sure that they are responded to as quickly as they would be on social media. If it’s a press inquiry, direct them immediately to the person who manages public relations.

Share success stories. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. If you have happy customers, share their stories. If a customer shares a gorgeous product photo or has a great comment about your service, let potential customers know.

Cultivate brand advocates. If you find that there are people who are constantly interacting with you on social media and always have something great to say, move the relationship beyond social media. Rewarding brand fans with a feature on your company blog, a “thank you” promotion code, or just a note expressing your gratitude for their support goes a long way in building relationships. Happy customers are the best advocates your brand can have.

Double-check spelling and grammar. You don’t have a lot of room for error on social media posts: most limit you to a sentence or two, along with an image. People will judge your brand and the competence of your customer service professionals in those few characters, so make sure they perceive you as quick and capable.

Be proactive in sharing product and company updates. Do you have a product that’s back in stock after a backorder? Introduced a new person to the team? Are you switching warehouses, or performing inventory counts that will result in a shipping delay? Let your customers know ahead of time, and be prepared to respond with answers to frequently asked questions.

Go beyond the product. Be a resource for your customers beyond just the products you sell. Become a resource and place of inspiration for our customers — even after they’ve made a purchase.

Although social media often falls into the “marketing” bucket, it’s also a key means of providing excellent customer service. When executed well, customer service offered through social media can help turn brand fans into buyers and establish an ongoing relationship that leads to additional sales and unbeatable word of mouth exposure.

Capitalizing on Social Media to Grow Your Business

A host of PR and marketing strategies exist for building customer awareness.

But one area often overlooked is social media.

[source: The Guardian] For many small businesses, expensive advertising campaigns or big, splashy PR stunts simply aren’t an option. This means that in the initial phases, business owners are faced with a challenge: how to build the brand awareness your company needs while keeping costs down?

There are a number of efficient PR and marketing strategies that companies can implement to build awareness among their target customers, but one area that is often overlooked by small businesses, or executed poorly, is social media. Social media, when used strategically, can give you direct engagement with many of your target audiences. Twitter now has grown to 241 million monthly active users, while Facebook has 1.2 billion members. Obviously, for those companies starting out, these channels give access to vast numbers of people, whether it’s to raise awareness, create engagement or drive revenues.

The possibilities presented by social media channels are endless, but how can businesses ensure that they use them in the right way, to support their business objectives, rather than wasting time and resources to no end? It is all too easy to think “we need to be on social media” and not get any further than that. Unsurprisingly, however, a successful social media platform needs a strong strategy behind it, if it’s going to generate results.

Like much communication, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are some basic questions that companies can ask themselves about creating relevant and engaging strategies.

Who am I trying to reach?
This might sound obvious, but too many businesses launch into social media without thinking about what they want to get out of it. Unsurprisingly, this rarely yields results. Instead, companies need to think about what they are trying to achieve, and work out their strategy from there. A key part of this is understanding your audience. Are you a business-to-business brand trying to reach CEOs, or are you a consumer brand whose main customers will be mothers? Do you have secondary audiences such as regulators, journalists or NGOs? Establish clearly who your primary and secondary audiences are.

What channels are most appropriate to reach these people?
It’s important to think carefully about what channels are most appropriate for your key audiences. If you’re a B2B brand, for instance, you may find that you have limited success using Facebook. Equally if teenagers are your target audience, LinkedIn might not be the most appropriate channel. So often when considering social media, people just assume that they need to be on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but even though these are the most common channels they may not be the most relevant. Also, remember that if you have niche audiences, other appropriate platforms may prove more fruitful.

What kind of content will they care about?
It’s a rare consumer who loves being constantly bombarded with marketing content, yet when you look at many corporate channels, this is exactly what you find. Think about the kind of people you’re trying to reach and what interests them. Will they be more interested in visual content? News articles? Fun facts? Have a look at companies that have been successful in engaging similar audiences and see what has worked for them. Also make sure that you get the balance right between content that talks about your company and content that engages on a broader basis.

How much time do I want to dedicate to this?
Real social media marketing takes dedication, time and resources, and there is no point having channels if you don’t use them. Radio silence probably won’t lose you followers, fans or viewers, but it won’t gain you any either, and it won’t achieve your objectives. In order to make social media work, you need to make sure that its value and importance is communicated internally and that time each day is set aside for your channels. Think about who is responsible as well. Will it be you doing the tweeting, or will it be someone else’s responsibility? If the answer is someone else’s, you need to make sure that it sits within their core objectives, rather than being seen as an additional pull on their time, which can drop off the priority list when people get busy.

How can I track success?
In order to establish whether your new social media strategy is successful, it’s important to define what success looks like. It’s often helpful to look beyond statistics such as follower and fan numbers, to more sophisticated metrics like engagement. Many social media channels have in-built methods to help with this evaluation, but also consider online tools such as which can track how many people click on your links and Google Analytics which can track where traffic to your Website is coming from.

Organizations that answer these five questions when formulating their strategies will be in a much better position to reach their audiences in a manner that generates positive business results. For every company the style and channels used for social media outreach will be different, but by following these steps businesses should be able to build awareness and reputation among their key audiences, while keeping costs to a minimum. Most of all though, companies need to remember to be engaging, human and relevant, rather than just using their “owned” channels to push out free corporate marketing messages.


Make Your Business Stand Out

Now 2014 has moved into its second month (don’t ask me how that happened), I’m assuming your PR plans for the year have already been put into action.

I think it’s fair to say those PR plans will include attracting media attention, but how do you go about attracting a lot of attention without spending a fortune on marketing?

The answer is: Do Something Noteworthy!

[source: Johanna Baker-Dowdell] A perfect illustration of attracting media attention by thinking outside the square was curator Marcus Pamplin’s handiwork at Hobart’s Blundstone Arena last week. Marcus and his team mowed a wavy pattern into the grass before the January 29 T20 match. The sight led a number of spectators to tweet photos, which then got the media interested.

Another example that captured attention around the world was WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video. The heart-warming video that featured real-time giving, complete with WestJet’s own Santa Claus, went viral because it was a great idea and tapped into the goodwill that is around during the festive season. Forbes covered the video as it hit 13 million views in 200 countries within a matter of days.

Neither of these examples cost a lot of money to produce (relative to the business’s marketing budget) – the cricket ground curator was simply doing his job in a slightly different way to usual and WestJet weighed up what it could spend on a traditional TV commercial and decided an in-house video production, broadcast on YouTube and its other social media networks, with the savings spent on customers was more worthwhile.

You can’t put a price on the media coverage and goodwill received for both businesses. However, these examples show a big budget is not needed to stand out in the marketplace. It puts the power back into the hands of SME business owners, because we are more agile. Your business can create a similar impact if you think creatively and tap into your innovative streak.

What have you done to make your business stand out from the crowd recently? Or are you planning something big that is sure to grab the media’s attention?

PR is the New SEO

Quality content is the focal point of inbound campaigns again.

If you focused on quality content before then, good for you – you were definitely ahead of the curve, and are probably reaping the rewards of your efforts.

[source: HubSpot] Promoting that content however, is where Public Relations has a more important role than it used to. PR professionals are well poised to capitalize on SEO budgets, and SEO professionals have some things to learn from the world of the PR pros.

Reason 1: PR pros know how to pitch content

Link building has always been about an exchange: you give me content, I give you a link. The gate holders of this exchange are now more firmly planted in the sphere of earned media. Enters the power of media pitch.

I’m not suggesting that press releases are going to be all the rage again; PR professionals simply understand the dynamic of pitching a content piece to a specific audience. The content/audience relationship in Inbound Marketing isn’t going away anytime soon. The more PR folks who figure that out are going to start winning more digital marketing budget.

Reason 2: PR pros are already in the business of outreach

The Penguin algorithm update elevated a whole new brand of SEO tools that which are geared to influencer identification and outreach. GroupHigh, Buzzstream, and Moz are now known for their capabilities that have leaned SEO away from its traditional infrastructure focus and more into content promotion.

HubSpot’s Social Inbox has brought influencer outreach into the heart of its inbound marketing toolset. PR pros already know how to work in this field. They know the process; they know what media outlets want. Getting a more specific kind of link or brand mention only tweaks the questions they ask of their publishing partners.

In creating and pitching a story to influencers, PR has a core skillset which is insanely valuable to your SEO efforts. There is however, one glaring issue that the PR mainstream needs to overcome.

The disconnect is metrics

How will your influencer outreach strategy measure success? If the metrics stop at the relationship stage (i.e. how many active contacts in your rolodex), or aren’t segmented away from your current digital metrics, you’re begging for uncomfortable questions from your boss that sound a lot like “What did we get out of this?”

The key to solving this problem takes another sensible cue from the public relations mainstream: organize your efforts in campaigns. With a little structure and up-front planning, the expectation-setting game will be squarely in your court, with the metrics to explain how your new SEO/PR hybrid performs within the rest of your digital mix. If you’re unsure about metrics, take some simple steps to better KPIs:

  • Create your Content Campaign (If you’re on HubSpot, use HubSpot’s new Campaigns tool. If you aren’t on Hubspot, define an Advanced Segment in Google Analytics which includes the content you want to measure)
  • Measure Referral Traffic to your Campaign/Segment
  • Use HubSpot’s URL Builder or the Google URL Builder to segment referral traffic in from your guest posts and press releases, just like you would with any other external campaigns
  • Check in with your Campaign’s Unique Visitors weekly or monthly to gauge the success of your efforts.

Obviously, the trick is in defining which pieces of content you want to measure (Step 1). If you’re too wide in your definition, you won’t get a picture of how your outreach efforts are moving the needle. If you’re too narrow, you won’t have enough data by which to make a decision.

Connecting the dots – what to do now

The recent trends in SEO toward quality content should influence your hiring decisions about who’s going to be effective in fuelling the fire of your inbound strategy. Hiring for an SEO position anytime soon? You might want to consider the candidate with some PR background to help move the needle.

If you’re working with an agency to further your success in Search Marketing, you might beg questions that sounds like:

  • What can we do to be more strategic about promoting content?
  • Who can we partner with?
  • How are we measuring digital earned media and PR?

The resulting conversation will give you the opportunities (and the links and brand mentions that go with them) that widen the gap between you and your online competition.