Over the past decade, the online and social world has rapidly and radically changed how businesses address and communicate with their customers. Social media has accelerated customer reaction times and, critically for PR and marketing professionals, it can also amplify their opinions exponentially.
According to a recent report on Econsultancy, 18 million (36%) of UK consumers have engaged with brands through social media, with this number expected to rise over the coming years. Of those people, 68% believe that social media gave them a more powerful voice when dealing with a brand, and more than two-thirds (65%) thought it was a better way to communicate with a company than a call centre.
Interaction through social media isn’t limited to just the younger generations, either: the same study found that more than a quarter of the 55+ age group have used some aspects of social media at some point, although this is less than half the amount of 18-24 year olds that use it.
With such figures, it’s difficult to believe that in today’s interconnected, socially networked world, some companies are still reluctant to take social media seriously and use it to complement their existing customer service strategies. When more consumers demand and expect customer service through social media channels, it is the companies that refuse or cannot adapt to these new channels that will be left behind.
However, it’s not always easy for brands to respond in the correct way and it can be tricky to integrate social media into existing customer service systems. It’s also difficult to quantify the level of activity a brand should spend responding to – it may be too time consuming to respond to every tweet or Facebook post, for example.
And although social media can benefit a brand’s reputation and outreach, plenty of social media ‘horror stories’ have arisen over the past few years. In some cases, brands have stumbled into the social media waters unprepared, and have had some of the worst PR disasters in recent memory.
A prime example of how not to engage with fans on social media is 2010’s famous Nestlé Facebook backlash, where thousands of angry fans swamped Nestlé’s Facebook page in response to the company’s alleged use of palm oil from deforested areas in Indonesia. Rather than using the backlash as an opportunity to engage with its community, it invited scorn and negative responses by being confrontational on its Facebook wall. Nestlé later admitted in a post on their Facebook wall that they were still learning how to use social media.
Unfortunately, many brands don’t currently integrate customer service into their social strategy, despite the fact that Facebook and Twitter are some of the best devices in which to turn your customers’ negative comments into positive opportunities. Social media allows companies to gain immediate feedback from customers, to rectify mistakes just as quickly as they were made and, in the process, it becomes more likely that there will be some positive tweets or Facebook posts in return. In the long run, customers will feel more positive about brands that use social media well, which helps them to build stronger relationships and raises the possibility of turning those customers into brand advocates.
The key is to know your audience, understand that there are rapid response expectations on social media channels, and to keep in mind the inherent public nature of these platforms that will directly impact your brand. Customers who have received good customer service through social media channels are much more likely to buy from that brand again, which all points to the simple fact that companies that fail to actively engage with customers through social media do so at their peril.
About the Author: Will Vicary is a digital marketing specialist whose interests include CRM solutions and online customer experience, as well as online lead generation. He is specifically interested in CRM insurance and cloud technology.