Done right, social media is a great way for consumers and providers to interact. Often I get better service by sending a company with which I do business a direct message on Twitter, than if I’d phoned up and waited on hold for someone who reads their script and isn’t empowered to really resolve my issue.
Leaping into social media is a big decision for a company to make. Most social media exchanges are public, and we all know about Internet trolls who want to do damage, or former customers who simply have a grievance against a particular product or service for some reason or other. So if a company farms out social media management to someone who isn’t highly experienced in dealing constructively with a wide range of customers and issues, they’re asking for disaster. We can probably all recall hashtags that have been started by enthusiastic company people that have been hijacked and become very negative.
Having considered the pros and cons, and elected to enter social media, it seems to me that a company is making a commitment to engage in that platform. Social media isn’t one way. If you want an Internet broadcast medium, create a website that offers no comment facilities. Social media is a great leveller. It should allow a dialogue to take place. Be prepared to field the tough questions and engage. Of course, social media is an excellent way to trumpet new products and services, but when that happens, be prepared for plenty of questions, and to front up an answer them.
My big pet peeve at the moment with a number of company accounts I follow on Twitter, is the excessive retweeting about how wonderful they are. Let me give you a couple of examples of where I feel retweeting customer praise works, and where it doesn’t.
At the moment, although perhaps not for much longer because of this issue, I follow the Twitter account of one of the iOS apps I use on a daily basis. Never a day goes by without me opening the app, so I’m interested in what they’re up to and what’s coming next. Occasionally, they’ll tweet useful information about an update, a new platform they’re working on, or maybe even a hint to help me use the app better. That’s all good and helpful stuff. But they also bombard me with retweets from their followers about how marvellous they are. These retweets don’t tell me anything useful, such as how the app is being used in particularly unique ways, they are just basically gushing praise.
When a company does this enough, it perpetuates more of the same. Some people on Twitter seem to take their follower count very seriously, and if they know that a Twitter account is going to retweet them if they say something glowing enough, they’ll put effort into coming up with something particularly effusive in order to get the retweet, and hopefully gain more followers. It’s a lot more noise than signal and it will probably cause me to unfollow, meaning I am less likely to learn about news that it’s in the company’s interest for me to know.
To add insult to injury, if I try to engage with this particular company on Twitter, for example about accessibility issues or feature requests, they never, ever, reply. Perhaps they are too busy sending out retweets about how absolutely wonderful they are. If you’re going to do social media, you’re making a commitment to engage, and that includes doing a bit of research and answering the questions.
Some people get it though. Social media is a great way to tell exceptional stories. Yesterday, one of the New Zealand telcos I follow sent out a wonderful retweet from a customer they had helped, by giving some data so the customer could watch a movie with their sick child in hospital. This was a really wonderful, out of the ordinary gesture for the telco, and it made me feel more favourably disposed to the company. An out of the ordinary action, worthy of a retweet. And if you reply, they reply back.
Social media, then, is a double-edged sword. Engage professionally with customers who have genuine questions or concerns, and you’ll inspire loyalty and respect, even if you can’t solve someone’s issue immediately. Ignore legitimate customers and turn your accounts into a self-love-fest, and you actually risk losing a loyal customer. Interact, engage, be real.