Social media is a critical marketing tool in the modern age. Aside from posting photos or status updates, using social media for customer service can elevate your business to the next level. But you have to do it well; if your social media presence is not carefully curated or managed, it can damage your brand and drive potential paying customers far, far away.
To curate an appealing reputation, a business should have strategies in place for handling customer service issues through social media. This serves as another, more convenient way to get in touch with customers and vice versa. It will also boost your brand's reputation and, if the moment is right, increase your opportunity to go viral. At the very least, it could be an opportunity to foster a unique, notable or even hilarious brand voice. (You'd be in good company alongside Denny's, MoonPie and so many others.)
"Customer service and social media has melded together," said Lindsay Patton-Carson, social media supervisor at Evoke KYNE. "If your brand has social media profiles, you are absolutely going to have to perform customer service on social media. There isn't a way to get around it."
Why is social media important for customer service?
Patrick Cuttica, director of product marketing at social media management company Sprout Social, said that when customers come to you, you need to prove you can be a helpful resource to them. Don't leave them unanswered. Your response often determines whether the customer will return to your brand.
Since so many customers already communicate through social media, businesses of all sorts should invest in building out their social customer care efforts. Social media has strong potential to better address customer service issues. If you address and resolve customer concerns over social media in short enough time, the exchange can help you create a loyal customer base.
"Brands need to be thoughtful about which social platforms their customers are using [and] … focus their engagement efforts there," Cuttica said. "A successful customer service strategy requires that a brand be present and available across the channels their customers prefer."
Patton-Carson and Cuttica, along with Una Vaina Bien Spanish founder Mechi Annaís Estévez Cruz and social media expert Gerille Rosado, offered some strategies for small business owners looking to use social media as a customer service tool.
1. Build authentic customer relationships in a timely fashion.
Many businesses approach social media as another 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 to build real relationships by engaging in conversation.
While not responding at all can clearly have a negative impact on your brand, you also have to respond within a reasonable amount of time. According to recent data from Convince & Convert, 42% of consumers expect a response to a complaint on social media within 60 minutes. The same research says nearly a third expect that response within half an hour.
2. Use hashtags strategically.
Rosado explains that using a specific hashtag helps users search for their concerns under that hashtag. Hashtags help keep everything organized and easy to navigate, especially on platforms like Twitter. You can add more information and curate content to the hashtag as well.
Wix, a web development site, names three types of hashtags to use: content, trending and brand-specific hashtags. While it's important to follow trending and specific content hashtags, especially during holiday seasons, it could be equally beneficial to create brand-specific hashtags for different campaigns. For instance, Wix uses #WixPhotography to promote its photography contests.
3. Focus on creating a customer advocate base.
If a customer has a bad experience with a company, one of the first things they are likely to do is write a negative review online. (After all, how many atrocious Yelp reviews have we read in our lifetime?) Rather than responding to negative comments, your business's strategy should involve providing such excellent customer service that you create a strong, loyal customer base that will advocate for your brand if someone has something bad to say.
Hootsuite describes a customer advocacy base as a group of loyal, trusted customers and employees who can speak out in favor of your brand. This demographic is often untapped, since many organizations overlook the power of those who have a favorable opinion of the brand – even if they do work for it.
4. Be responsive.
When you respond to a customer complaint, Patton-Carson advises listening closely to that customer. It's vital to pay attention and let them know you're listening. A lack of attentiveness contributes to a poor response, which reflects negatively on your brand. After all, when your brand replies to an individual user, it's not just your followers who can see it. A lack of response is also considered a poor response.
"Whether it's an angry comment or a positive comment, people love being acknowledged and heard," Patton-Carson said.
One little response with a thank-you, like or emoji can have a huge impact on an individual scale, she said. It lets the customer know that your brand is listening and receptive. The goal here is to maintain activity and assure your followers – including potential customers – know your brand is active on social media and also responsive to your audience.
5. Be present.
Cuttica said that more often than not, brands fall short on social customer service because they simply aren't actively listening to and engaging with customers. Brands that want to deliver effective customer service on social media should use social media monitoring to flag all messages related to their company or products.
"Introducing automation through chatbots can help ease the burden on human customer service agents," Cuttica said. "Striking the right balance [between] automation and accessible customer service agents, working hand in hand, will help brands respond more efficiently and effectively to every meaningful conversation."
Inactivity means missed opportunities not only for positive interactions but for easy profits. According to findings published in 2016 in Business Research, brands that interact with customers on social media platforms overall tend to be more profitable. (Twitter published similar conclusions about its users the same year.) Furthermore, social media interactions with customers have the potential to create a high return on investment, especially if you outsource social media management to a third-party company or have one employee dedicated to content creation and account moderation.
With these tips, your brand can greatly improve its social media presence. And who knows – maybe your brand's personality will make it onto a BuzzFeed list. Either way, improving your brand's voice on social media will likely have a positive impact on your organization and your customers' satisfaction.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Post. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.