These days, many customers can turn to social media to vent their frustrations with brands. According to experts, however, many companies are not handling these platforms correctly.
There will be times where you will find yourself disappointed in how you have been treated by a company. Sometimes you will turn to Twitter to voice your frustrations. Socially addressing issues and concerns has become the new way to get your voice heard instantly.
“Somehow Twitter has become the channel for people that are really [expletive] off with an organisation,” says Lyndsay Menzies, chief executive of digital marketing agency 8 Million Stories (8MS), which advises on managing social media.
The Need for Social Media Speed
Ms Menzies thinks that Twitter’s immediacy has led customers to believe they should receive answers instantly. “It’s made consumers much more demanding in terms of what they want and expect.”
When used well, Twitter can earn a company new-found respect. For example, dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster called out United Airlines after they forced the removal of a passenger after asking for volunteers on an overbooked flight. Merriam-Webster pointed out the definition of the term “volunteer”. The tweet received around 64,000 likes.
However, many companies are failing to manage their social engagements correctly, believes Ms Menzies. This is mostly due to the pressures they feel to be on all platforms all the time. This social strain became apparent early this year when pub chain Wetherspoons announced it would be pulling all social media channels as they were “distracting” to the staff.
The Purpose of Social Media
Wayne Guthrie, co-founder of the fearlessly Frank digital consultancy, believes social media should not just be another platform for sending messages and that “social media is about behaviour, not communication”.
Organisations need to show customers what they are doing as opposed to simply telling them. For example, if a customer’s order goes missing, conversations on social media should demonstrate what the company has done to resolve the problem.
“It should be used to make a customer feel like an organisation is really doing something on their behalf,” he says. However, this is not easy, as firms must gather and pass on information quickly. It takes commitment and resources to be open and transparent, he observes.
The Social Media Struggle
Bloom & Wild, a floral delivery firm, is one company that has tried to live up to the expectations of social media, says Isobel Murray, the firm’s “head of customer delight”. She argues that social media should be about building relationships with customers. “We want to make it easy and appealing for anyone to get in touch with us, and social media provides a great way to do this,” she says. “It’s where people spend lots of their time and it’s great to meet them where they are.”
The same staff work on all Bloom & Wild’s social media accounts. This ensures that the personality in their messages remain consistent, she adds. Ms Menzies argues that this consistency of brand personality is crucial.
“One of the things that annoys people is the different types of voice companies have in different areas,” she says. Businesses “need to think about what they are as a brand and what their business does” before taking to social media, she advises.
Once the brand values and personality have been carefully worked out and agreed, they can then be communicated to the staff who handle the different channels and interact with customers. This openness and consistency of tone should be consistent even when things are not going well, says Bloom & Wild’s Ms Murray. “We never want to be defensive or ignore a problem,” she says. “We want to hear from every customer – to celebrate their joys but also quickly put right anything that’s gone wrong.”
Getting social media right is tough for technical reasons too. This is according to Jack Barmby, chief executive customer management software firm Gnattr. This is partly due to most apps, networks and websites being designed for individuals as opposed to businesses, he believes. “Businesses have had to hijack social media channels, and that’s meant putting square pegs in round holes and trying to adapt them to their purposes,” he says.
For example, think about when Instagram allowed commercial accounts to tag items in their images for people to buy. Although it helped firms to make sales, it did not give them a way to respond to customer queries about said items.
The world of social media got slightly easier to navigate earlier this year when WhatsApp released tools that let brands talk directly to customers through the app. However, it has been difficult for firms to engage with customers via other social platforms. With this in mind, it is a wonder that people turn to Twitter when they have a point to make.
Finding the right Information
It is ironic that the amount of information shared by people via social platforms, apps and more, offers companies an opportunity to know more about their customers and target them with more specific messaging. “If you email an organisation it will get very little information about who you are from that address,” says Mr Barmby. “But with social, over all the channels, you get so much more information.”
Ally this social media information with all existing data a company has about its customers. Things such as their spending history, company interactions and so on. This can help you make better decisions on how to communicate with that person, he argues. The more you know about your customers, the better you can nip complaints in the bud.
“Businesses have never admitted it, but influencers tend to get answers more quickly,” says Mr Barmby. In these days of social media influencers, the ability to quickly react in the appropriate manner would seem to make much sense.