Tuesday, 28 May 2019
Social media offers businesses many of the advantages of more traditional forms of marketing, but the key to what sets it apart lies in its name. Here, experts share when best to interact with customers.
The social element of Twitter, Facebook and so on is something every company needs to take into account when using these platforms. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that the interaction that’s part and parcel of anyone’s social media use can be a double-edged sword for business owners: while it provides a fantastic opportunity to engage with existing and potential customers, it also offers individuals the chance to complain or make negative comments in a very public forum.
“It’s important to accept that every company will receive negative feedback so you shouldn’t take it personally,” says Jessica Keir, marketing manager at UK Car Finance. “You have to be understanding and helpful. As a car finance broker, we often receive complaints related to the other companies involved in the customer’s finance agreement that we don’t have any control over, for example, the dealership.
“We deal with it by explaining to the customer what part we play and our limitations, but then do everything in our power to solve the issue they have.”
When customers can see you are taking a sympathetic approach – whether or not the issue is something you are responsible for – it can help build a level of trust, Keir says.
“Lashing out and getting defensive doesn’t allow you to move forward with your customer. Dealing with negative feedback right can make a one-off disgruntled customer into a loyal long-term one. People like the security of knowing that if something was to go wrong, you’d be there for them.”
There are a number of strategies businesses can adopt to minimise the impact of negative feedback, says Jamie Barlow, founder and MD at Hyped Marketing.
“Always reply,” he says. “If someone is coming to you with an issue, they shouldn’t be ignored, even if you keep them on hold by letting them know you’ll investigate and get back to them. Take a contact email address and let them know you’ll keep them updated.”
The next step is to take the conversation away from the public eye, Barlow says. “If someone wants to discuss their issue at length, let them know you’ll direct-message them to discuss it further. People will see you’ve responded, which will put you in their good books, but the finer details don’t need to be seen by the whole world.”
It’s also important to understand when you don’t have to respond or engage with criticism, he says. “Know the difference between comments aimed at you and comments said to the world,” says Barlow. “You can’t please everyone. Some people might be leaving negative feedback as a discussion point with other users – they’re not directly looking to complain to you in order to get something from you. Some negative feedback can simply be monitored without any action.”
“Every company will receive negative feedback so you shouldn’t take it personally. You have to be understanding and helpful”
Jessica Keir, marketing manager, UK Car Finance
But given the transparent nature of social media, it’s important to admit to any errors, says Chafic Badr, head of digital at merchant services firm PaymentSense. “Apologise to the user when it’s your fault: this shows the user you value them and take their point seriously,” he says. “But once you’ve resolved a problem or dispute, that’s not always the end of it – you can get specific software that allows you to track any touch points with a customer in order to develop a long-term crisis communications plan over social media.”
Of course, there are plenty of opportunities to use social media to engage positively with potential customers or useful contacts, says Gemma Spinks, account director at Neo PR. “Make sure you interact with your followers and industry leaders by replying to their tweets and commenting on LinkedIn updates and so on,” she says. “Not only will this help you get seen but it could also lead to business opportunities.”
Rafael dos Santos, CEO and founder at High Profile Media Club, which aims to raise the profile of ambitious entrepreneurs, says: “I use a Facebook community to engage with prospective as well as current clients. It’s a great way to engage with an audience that is interested in your service. But communities can be time-consuming and they must have rules: as soon as the community starts to grow, people jump in to spam it with adverts, push sales, and so on.”
He adds: “What goes wrong in some communities is there’s no filter of messages, and no real focus or engagement from the community manager. When there are a lot of people in a place, whether it’s online or offline, there must be rules and someone to enforce the rules when needed.”
Creating a community in this way, and encouraging customers or users to identify with your brand, can have further positive effects, dos Santos says. “When you create a community around your business, you have fans, not customers – and they will help to deal with the negative comments. All businesses, big or small, will have unhappy customers at some point, but when the majority are actually happy with your services, they will protect the brand as if it’s their own.”