Businesses of all sizes understand social media is an essential marketing tool in today's digital world. Most companies have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Many have even signed up for Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr to reach an even bigger audience.
While promoting content and sharing company updates through these sites can and should be part of any business's social media strategy, there's one key component that some small businesses haven't yet caught onto: social media as a customer-service tool.
"Be relevant with your social media," said Gerille Rosado, who has managed social media accounts for the Alumni Relations department at Ramapo College of New Jersey, MyRegistry.com/MyBabyregistry, and BlackHealthMatters.com. "Customers are prone to use that outlet as a means to communicate their concerns with your service or product."
Mechi Annaís Estévez Cruz, founder of Una Vaina Bien Spanish and page manager for the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, stresses the importance of understanding your audience and staying true to your brand.
"It's not as simple as simply running your own social media account, because there's a lot of accountability to the public, and with a platform comes a lot of responsibility," she explained.
Just like in your storefront, you'll need to confront difficult customer interactions. For instance, Cruz's business focuses on Dominican history, ethical tourism and the Spanish language. One time, a prospective customer commented on its Facebook page that he wouldn't ever book classes because of a post he didn't agree with. Cruz responded to admit the professional relationship wouldn't fit, and by taking a firm stance, she attracts like-minded customers that admire her values.
To achieve success in similar situations, here are some more tips for small business owners looking to use social media as a customer service tool:
Build real customer relationships. Many businesses approach social media as another marketing channel for self-promotion and don't always respond when customers comment on their posts or tweet at them. Use your Facebook and Twitter accounts as an opportunity to build real relationships with your customers by engaging in conversation.
Use a hashtag. Rosado explains that a specific hashtag helps to search concerns under the hashtag. That way, everything is organized and it's easy to navigate. Plus, you can add more original information and curate content to the hashtag as well.
Focus on creating a customer advocate base. If a customer has a bad experience with a company, one of the first things he or she is likely to do is write about it on social media. Instead of figuring out how to manage and respond to those negative comments, businesses should focus on providing such excellent service that they create a strong, loyal customer base that will advocate on their behalf if someone has something bad to say.
Create an opportunity for referrals. On Facebook, users have the chance to rate and review your business. Sometimes, Yelp customers link their Yelp profile to their Facebook account, alerting their followers not only of when they patronize a business, but how positive or negative their experience was. The added online presence adds to your business's credibility and quality, but only if they're mostly good. Most of Cruz's referrals come from Facebook directly.
"You want to have original and curated content (articles, graphics, etc., created not by the company) that will speak to folks who follow your page [and] align with the values of the company," Cruz added.