Depending on users' privacy settings, organizations can also connect directly with customers, uninvited. And there's the rub: How does your company avoid becoming the equivalent of a dinnertime telemarketing call?
Read on to find out what to do and what not to do when reaching out to customers proactively.
1. Take the right opportunities.
There's a fine line between helpful and creepy. Not every mention of your brand warrants engagement, but there are some that certainly do. For example, if a user tweets from his personal account that he has had a terrible experience with one of your products, it makes sense for a trained (more on that later) customer service representative to connect with the user to let him know he has been heard and that help is on the way.
[ For another perspective on using social media as a marketing tool, see How Social Media Changes Buying Behavior. ]
2. Balance online and "offline" engagement.
When your company is engaging on a social network, it's important to balance what's seen by all of a person's friends and followers with one-to-one interaction. For example, if someone complains about your product on Twitter, you should respond publically so that the user -- and anyone else who can see the complaint -- knows that your organization is aware of the issue and is addressing it.
That said, however, you don't want the entire customer service process to happen publically. One way to handle this is to engage with the customer by saying something like, "Hi. This is Deb from Widgits Inc. I'm sorry to see that you are having a problem. Please contact me directly at [insert direct phone number/email address/chat link] for immediate assistance." In this way, everyone sees that your organization is responsive, but the nuts and bolts of the individual session remain behind the scenes.
3. Provide specialized training.
Many companies encourage all employees to be brand ambassadors on social networks, and it's important to provide guidelines and training to anyone speaking on your company's behalf. However, when it comes to customer engagement, especially when dealing with sticky issues, specific employees should be tasked with the job, and specialized training should be provided.
"Companies have to train agents specifically on social channels," said Marty Beard, CEO of LiveOps. "Some companies actually build templates so there is a consistent approach to the market." LiveOps, which provides cloud-based contact center and customer service solutions, this week announced the availability of LiveOps Engage, an integrated, multichannel desktop that is designed to increase agent productivity and improve customer experience across all channels, including social.
4. Be aware of users' influence.
Of course, your organization should help anyone who has an issue, but experts admit that it's a good idea to pay extra-special attention to those with wide influence. This is nothing new, according to Beard -- a person with substantial bank balances will more than likely get an elevated level of help when he or she walks into a bank branch with a problem. Beard said the same thing is happening now with social, based on metrics such as Klout or Kred scores. "Companies are getting smarter about prioritizing [on social]," he said.
5. Take advantage of data.
A great deal of important data -- big data, if you will -- is generated by any engagement with a customer, and smart companies are gathering and analyzing that data to make more informed decisions moving forward. They are also feeding that data to appropriate channels. For example, complaints about pocket placement on a pair of pants or suggestions on new colors for a mobile device should be funneled to product designers, among other stakeholders at the company.
How is your company engaging with customers on social networks? Please let us know in the comments section below.
Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.
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