In this day and age, no business can afford to ignore social media. Today, thanks to social media, people relate to brands in ways that would have appeared unfathomable just a decade ago – so much so that social media engagement must form a vital aspect of any customer journey.

If you’re serious about keeping your customers engaged and expanding your customer base, social media has to be a central focus of your strategy. But how should you go about it, and just what do you need to consider?

There’s no doubt that social media is fraught with potential pitfalls for businesses, alongside the immense benefits it can offer. All it takes is one misjudged tweet or an ill-considered response to a disgruntled customer, and you could find your business on the receiving end of a torrent of criticism.

Social media arguments are usually a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair; a momentary furor before people move on to the next. But don’t be complacent, a more serious faux pas can do lasting damage to your company’s reputation.

There’s always a lot to think about when it comes to customer support, whether via social media or more traditional means.

A reliable small business phone system, for example, is a good place to start. You need to make sure that people have a variety of ways through which they can reach you (as, obviously, not everybody uses social networking sites).

SMS customer support is likewise a convenient way of reaching people. The more options you have – within reason, of course – the better. The key is to be accessible and attentive to the needs of your customers.

Nevertheless, a growing number of people – especially young people – expect the brands and companies whose services they pay for to interact with them online. This isn’t just a matter of pumping out promotional content (though this certainly has its place) but also providing your customers with assistance when they seek it.

Customer support is one of the most important parts of social media engagement. It might not go viral and scoop big awards, but it’s the kind of bread-and-butter stuff that you absolutely have to get right. Successful social media engagement isn’t all about self-promotion, but providing a helpful, responsive, and consistent presence. That’s why creating social media proposals should take not less time.

So, what are the crucial points to consider about social media customer support? We’ve already established that it can be something of a minefield. One thing to remember about social media is that some people just love playing up to an audience, and actively seek out opportunities to embarrass brands or catch them out.

How can you keep on top of social media, and what are the differences between standard customer support and its social media equivalent? These are just some of the issues we’ll be looking at here. Read on to find out more.

Social media customer support, and why it matters

The days when you could use social media to just drop some promo material are well and truly over. People’s expectations of how they can engage with their favorite brands (and how those brands should engage with them) have totally changed.

Consumers now expect that brands will engage with them when they ask for help, inquire about certain products or services, or even just joke around online. You have to make sure that your brand isn’t oblivious to this change in expectations.

The point of social media engagement is to build trust and loyalty and to demonstrate to your customers that you’re keen to help them meet their needs. It goes without saying that multinational brands and corporations can dedicate more resources purely to social media engagement. For small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) it’s a lot trickier.

Social media, though, is one of the most potent forms of engagement in your arsenal. Smaller firms have all sorts of other methods at their disposal.

But social media raises the bar and takes the brand-customer relationship to another level entirely. Whether you’re selling on the Facebook marketplace or you’re at the commanding heights of retail, you need to understand why this matters.

When consumers make the effort to get in touch with you, it’s in your best interest to reciprocate the gesture. You wouldn’t, after all, ignore a call to your business phone number or an email. You must ensure that your social media accounts are closely monitored and regularly active.

Obviously, it looks bad to customers when their inquiries go unanswered, but that’s not the only reason. A dormant or only intermittently active social media account sends out a message to other prospective customers as well. Namely one of unprofessionalism. An active and responsive social media account, on the other hand, gives off a much more positive impression.

But you’d be amazed at how many firms still fail to take this most basic lesson of social media engagement on board. In fact, according to a survey from 2017, the vast majority of brands (88 percent!) fail to reply to social media messages that require a response. This lack of responsiveness can do real and lasting damage to companies.

On the flip side, though, it presents real possibilities for those businesses that do make the effort to be responsive on social media. If so many of your competitors are failing to respond to consumers on social networks, you can steal a march on them.

Best practices for social media customer support

So, you’ve come to appreciate the importance of providing customer support via social media and you’re eager to get started. Hold your horses a second there, though. There’s a lot of other stuff you’ve got to take into account.

We’ve already alluded to the somewhat febrile nature of social media, but it’s important to emphasize it again here. If you get your tone wrong online, or a response to a customer can get misconstrued, then it could have real adverse effects. It’s also not the kind of thing you can resolve with a quick conference call and a profuse apology.

Here, we’ll list some best practice tips for social media support. Hopefully, these should give you a clearer idea of how you should approach customer support via social networking.

As well as suggesting the kind of work involved. Following these suggestions should help you master social media customer support. Do so, and you can build lasting relationships with consumers and deliver major gains to your business’s bottom line.

Choose the right tools

As the old cliche puts it, a bad workman blames his tools. So you should make sure you’ve got the right ones at your disposal. Take time to peruse your options and get a good feel for what’s out there.

There are a plethora of social media tools that can help you manage your accounts effectively and prevent customer messages from going astray. Take advantage of them.

Speed matters

With social media customer support, it’s not just about responding to all the messages you receive from customers or others. What’s just as important is that you respond to them in a timely manner and don’t keep consumers hanging around.

If you do, there’s a good chance they’ll take their custom elsewhere. Again, expectations have changed a lot in a short space of time. People expect to get a response without having to wait around for too long.

Know when to take the discussion private

Obviously, it’s important to be seen to be responsive, as we’ve discussed. So it’s good to keep some discussions visible on social. But, having said that, you also need to be conscious that not all customer service issues can be dealt with entirely via social media. At least not in the public forums of the networks.

This is why it’s a good idea to direct some queries to more private channels, such as email or IM. That’s especially important if there’s a chance that sensitive information might come up.

This helps you keep the customer happy and allows you to deal with their problems while maintaining their privacy (and taking the discussion away from prying eyes).

However, even private interactions can be screenshotted and shared, so make sure you’re always aware of this.

Always be tactful

This is perhaps the cardinal rule of social media engagement. It’s especially important when you’re providing customer support via the channel.

As we’ve noted, seemingly innocuous discussions on social media can blow up into major rows almost in the blink of an eye. This is why you need to ensure that you always handle any inquiries you receive via social media with tact.

Sometimes you might get messages that are intemperate in tone. Unfortunately, while it’s never pleasant, you have to do your best to respond as politely as possible. Keep a level head.

Keep a watchful eye on your social media output

Obviously, it’s not always possible to have one person running all your social media profiles all the time. That’s particularly unfeasible for SMEs with only a small team of staff. This means that a lot of the time, responsibility for running your various social media pages will have to be shared between more than one person.

It’s up to you to ensure that there is consistent oversight of your social accounts. That way you can keep their output, firstly, consistent with your wider branding and, secondly, professional.

Keep in close contact with team members responsible for running your business’s accounts; audio conferencing services can help. Social media-savvy consumers can deduce a lot from your social content. Don’t give them any cause for concern.

Get your tone of voice right

Each company or brand tends to have its own distinctive voice, whether by accident or by design. Striking the right tone of voice can be especially tricky on platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

There, short and snappy messaging is the rule of thumb. But that’s all the more reason to be attentive.

The tone of voice is especially important when dealing directly with customers, so make sure to read customer cues (what’s their tone of voice like?) carefully before responding.

Think strategically

There’s no doubt that, if done right, social media customer service can deliver substantial benefits for your business. It can keep existing customers coming back while giving new customers the reassurance that you’ll provide them with good and attentive service.

But in order to get the most out of it, you have to take a strategic approach. It’s not sufficient to muddle through and make it all up as you go along.

It’s worth doing a bit of background research to get a clearer idea of what’s expected. Look at what your competitors are doing. How are they engaging with their customers via social media? What sort of queries are they receiving? What are they doing right, and what are they doing wrong?

You may find that your direct competitors aren’t making much of an effort to provide customer support via social media. This could represent a golden opportunity for your business – so don’t let it slip through your fingers. Competitor analysis such as this can provide you with really valuable insights that’ll stand you in good stead further along the line.

However, don’t let yourself get totally preoccupied with providing customer support through social media at the expense of other methods. A lot of people, for whatever reason, either don’t use social media or don’t like to use it for professional or commercial purposes.

Make sure your business remains easy to reach by phone, and that you have adequate contact center software at your disposal. Social media is potentially a hugely useful thing for your business, but it shouldn’t become the sole focus of your attention.

And whichever way you engage with your customers – whether it be on social media, by email, over the phone, or in person – the key is to take their concerns seriously.

That way, you can deal with them as expeditiously as possible. This is the bedrock of long-lasting customer relationships, and these in turn are the foundation of any successful business, large or small.