With the tremendous growth of social media over the last several years, businesses are increasingly finding Facebook and Twitter necessary tools for managing customer relations. In fact, more than half of the Fortune 100 is now using Twitter for handling direct customer queries. And, with more than 400 million registered users, Facebook has become an important way for many businesses to communicate online with customers.
For small businesses, integrating social media into day-to-day operations can open up a variety of opportunities to engage customers at a deeper level, while also providing valuable insight into their thoughts and opinions. However, because these tools for listening and responding to customers are evolving so rapidly, many business owners are unclear as to how they can best leverage them for their specific needs.
The reality is that there is no one right way to use social media. Each business must develop its own strategy for integrating social networking into its existing customer service efforts. While there are as many different social-media strategies as there are businesses, the following objectives lay the foundation for achieving success.
Build a Community
Every effective social-media plan begins with building a community of customers. Before you spend time or money on these efforts, it’s important to establish your goals, create a plan and commit to the plan’s execution. A community is not built overnight. It’s the result of consistent, focused effort and providing real value for those whom you’re trying to engage.
The value of a community is in its members. One customer sharing her positive experience with your brand can have far more impact on how others view your business than if you simply touted a specific product or service.
Dell, for example, had the goal of developing a vibrant online community by strategically using multiple platforms to cultivate business among their internet-savvy target demographic. To accomplish this, Dell facilitates discussion groups on LinkedIn, engages in direct connections on Twitter and encourages comments and suggestions from customers on Facebook. The result? Dell publicly stated that it generated more than $6.5 million in revenue just from its Twitter presence, and it continues to focus on growing its community of loyal customers.
Listen and Respond
Social media gives your customers the unique ability to talk with each other as well as with you. This can be a double-edged sword for businesses. It’s wonderful when customers are singing your praises, but you’re also vulnerable to negative comments. No, this doesn’t mean you should avoid social media altogether. However, it does mean that you will have to pay extra close attention to providing superior customer service and support to maintain a good reputation online.
Be proactive by monitoring what your customers are saying and responding swiftly to address any complaints or issues. By doing both, you’ll be able to maximize the relationship-building potential that social media offers.
Social media has given Starbucks the opportunity to empower its customers by listening to what they have to say about everything from the service they receive in local stores to the direction of the corporate Facebook page. The coffee company’s social-media strategy has been a true success. With a following of over 7.5 million on Facebook who provide it with opinions and suggestions, Starbucks can listen to requests and improve its service based upon customer feedback.
Shouting your praises in tweets or Facebook announcements without offering specific value to your customers is a surefire way to have customers disengage from the community you’re trying to build. Yes, important news can be shared using social media, but these announcements shouldn’t outnumber the direct efforts you’re making to serve your customers. Encourage customers to stay connected by offering exclusive promotions or discounts, encouraging feedback and providing timely responses to requests, questions and concerns.
Sprinkles Cupcakes has certainly tasted sweet success from rewarding online engagement. It asks its customers where they would like to see Sprinkles stores and what flavors of cupcakes they would like – and it even offers daily free-cupcake promotions to its followers on Twitter. Sprinkles has spent nothing on traditional forms of marketing; instead, it’s focused on creating brand advocates by showing that it cares about what people think and rewarding them for their loyalty.