Social media marketing can be a double-edged sword.
One side offers a direct line to your customers at little to no cost and many benefits, from increased brand recognition to opportunities for sales leads and conversions. On the other, you have what we’ll call the “side effects” of social media. Remember the United Airlines baggage-handling incident that led to “United Breaks Guitars”, or when a Subway customer took to Facebook with a picture of an 11-inch sandwich that went viral? What these, and a number of other memorable social media hitches, have in common is not responding to their customers in a timely, helpful way.
Fortunately, prevention is the best medicine – especially when it comes to social media. These larger hiccups are far and few between, but they show the importance of having processes and practices in place before you get started. Where a social media presence was once considered an add-on to a digital marketing plan, your strategy now demands that careful attention be paid not only to larger campaigns, but how you handle day to day conversations.
Follow these tips to help shape your interactions with fans in a positive, engaging way and ensure you’re prepared for every type of situation as your audience grows:
Publish Your Mission Statement
When businesses ask you to subscribe to a newsletter, they’re very clear in communicating just what you’re signing up for. This increases the likelihood that you’ll stay engaged with the content they’re sending, and in return they’re building a more robust email list. The same goes for your social media platforms.
In your profile’s About or Bio section, clearly state who your company is and how people can benefit from following you – whether it’s discount codes for your online retail store or insights from industry leaders that can help propel their career forward. Publishing your mission statement to your social media profiles will start your relationship with followers off on the right foot, and can be easily updated as your strategy changes. According to Social Bakers, “It’s always better to start off with what you would like them to post instead of confronting them with a list of behaviors that are prohibited.”
The About section is also the place to tell your followers what your profile will and won’t be used for, as well as other essential information that will help them get the most from your online platforms. For example, should a customer ever end up on the wrong page, the Tim Hortons U.S. Twitter handle includes a direct link to their Canadian handle in their bio:
You can also use this valuable real estate to direct followers to a customer service-centric profile or communicate when you’ll be monitoring the account (i.e. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST). A great example of this is the Toronto Transit Commission, who’ve created a clear distinction between their service advisory and customer service handles in their Twitter bios:
Even if you don’t have a dedicated customer service profile or regularly use the account to answer product or service-related questions, be upfront with where they can go for help. This could be a link to your website, a FAQ document or a phone number for a call center. This will mitigate potential issues and ultimately help you help your customers as your business grows.
Establish House Rules
It’s never too late to lay down some ground rules for how users can interact with your brand on social media, and what they can expect in return. House rules, or community guidelines, formalize an otherwise unspoken agreement between businesses and their followers. These rules typically include:
Post these rules directly to your profile where they’re highly visible. This could be within your company description, or as a link to a permanent location on your website. On Facebook, companies like Walmart Canada have opted to create a separate tab on their profile to give these rules even more visibility.
Wherever they’re posted, keep these rules easily accessible—they’ll likely come in handy as a reference point if you ever need to delete comments or block repeat offenders. Simply take a screenshot of the post for your records prior to removing it from your page, and include a link to your House Rules in a private message to the user that explains how it violated these terms.
And remember, these rules are also a reflection of your brand and how you’d like to interact with your fans on social media, so it’s equally as important to encourage the right kinds of behaviour while you’re laying down the law. Quantas Airlines maintains a friendly, approachable tone of voice on a dedicated House Rules page on their website:
These rules aren't meant to constrain or intrude on your personal opinions and thoughts. They're just some suggestions to help everyone enjoy, interact and express themselves on our social media channels. We ask you all to consider these when you visit us.
On Facebook, Skittles posted their community guidelines directly to their profile, and maintains their brand’s quirky and entertaining tone of voice:
Create a social media response tree
As you triage comments on social media and respond appropriately, certain posts may raise a red flag and require escalation. These comments may be genuine complaints about your product or service that you’ll need to move to a private conversation, or worse, have legal or criminal ramifications. These could include:
Get started on a response tree by meeting with different departments within your business, ranging from sales to legal to the public relations team. Ask each of these functions to identify a primary contact for issues that might fall within their jurisdiction, such as a product or service issues, and regularly update this list. In return, make sure they know who they can go to on your social media team if any issues need to be monitored. For example, the public relations team could flag an issue early on and help create a response strategy should it spark a wildfire on social media.
While it’s important to establish a process to handle the side effects of social media, businesses shouldn’t forget the substantial opportunities that are unique to these platforms. With the right policies and procedures in place, you’ll be ready to take on any curveball that might be thrown your way.
For more tips on improving your social media strategy, check out our post How to Improve Social Media Customer Service or download our ebook, #Winning at Social: 4 Steps to Enhance Your Social Media Strategy.