Social media can be a powerful tool for building relationships with customers, enhancing your brand and reputation and, ultimately, driving revenue and profit growth. But it can also be full of pitfalls for companies who do not adapt to the way that it rebalances the scales of power between consumers and the organisations they interact with every day.
Here are a few pitfalls to avoid as you roll out a social media strategy and work to enhance your online reputation.
Customers expect authenticity from the organisations they interact with. This is a slippery quality to define, but it basically amounts to not pretending to be something that you’re not. On one level, this means not acting in ways that aren’t truly consistent with your brand values, identity and voice. If you’re a bank with a 100-year history and a brand built on trust, customers may be disconcerted when you start speaking in SMS text-speak, for example.
It also means that you need to inject genuine passion and care for your customers into your social media content. Routine cut-and-paste ‘we will get back to you’ responses will just annoy customers when they know you don’t mean it. Any promises you made but had no intention of keeping will be there to haunt you forever. Great customer service is hard to fake in any channel, but especially so in social media.
2. Thinking that you’re bullet proof
Every brand has a chink in its armour – a weakness in its product offering, operating environment, or a vulnerable spot in its service infrastructure. Customers and media will find these flaws without fail and brands need to be aware that they are not invincible online.
For example, an airline always runs the risks of delayed flights and missing luggage. These are risks they should plan for in all their communications.
Even if your share price is flying, your revenues are shooting through the ceiling and your customers all love you, there will be some element of your business that makes you vulnerable to criticism. Identify your weak spots and be ready to communicate about them in a proactive manner when trouble hits.
3. Failing to plan and acting before you think
When a customer has said something on Twitter that you think is either hugely unfair or a downright lie, you may be tempted to respond in anger. Or when you feel your company has messed up in a customer interaction, you may be so contrite that you make a promise that you can’t keep or say something that opens your company to legal risk. Perhaps you just made an embarrassing typo in your eagerness to get a message out there.
For example, the publisher of the videogame Duke Nukem Forever fired its US PR agency after it tweeted a threat to blacklist journalists who gave the game negative reviews. This sort of impulsive mistake can be avoided if you have a social media plan and some sort of process for publishing content through social channels.
Social media may seem like a freewheeling, chaotic world where anything can happen, but that doesn’t mean that planning is pointless. You need to have clear plans about how you will respond to a range of queries and situations so that you can act quickly but intelligently when you face complex situations.
4. Imagining customers are not talking about you
Many companies fear that setting up a social media presence simply helps to bring negativity out of the woodwork. It is true that there are many aggressive brand assassins in social media channels, but there are also many genuinely unhappy customers looking for help as well as prospects looking for sales information.
These people will be talking about your business whether you are there to reply to them or not. It is far better to be able to monitor the conversation and to reply if and when appropriate, as opposed to hiding your proverbial head in the sand. This allows you to help shape the conversation about your brand and to learn a great deal about your customers in the process. This is a lesson many brands have had to learn the hard way – consider the example of Dell.
5. Making customers look for you
Don’t imagine that your customers will expend a lot of energy looking for you when they want to engage with your business through social media. A customer is very unlikely to sign up with Twitter just to talk to you if Facebook is the tool he or she uses every day. It is a good idea to set up a presence in as many of the major social media channels as possible and to then market through the ones where you’d prefer customers to engage with you.
There are a host of tools that make it relatively easy to post content and track customer posts and comments across multiple social channels. Try to be as accessible as possible and to interact with clients in the environments they prefer. You might prefer the illusion of control you get from trying to force customers to interact with you in your own web environment or a moderated space like HelloPeter.com; in that case, see point 4.
No longer do marketers talk and consumers listen. Customers today have been given a voice through social media, which means that they will call organisations to account when they perceive them to have acted in ways that are untruthful, unfair or arrogant. But the flipside of this is that when you get social media right, you can turn customers into your most fervent evangelists. Social media can be a rewarding way of enriching customer relationships and building your online brand and reputation.
Diane Charton is managing director at Acceleration Media