Social media is here to stay, and while its potential has been recognised by most businesses, unfortunately many companies quickly lose energy and enthusiasm when the results aren’t quite as big as their ambitions.
The key is focusing on the social part of social media to engage in two-way conversations with your customers, rather than looking at social media like traditional advertising media where you can just keep pushing your sales message. With so many conversations happening in real time, this can be extremely daunting for small businesses, especially opening themselves up to a level of transparency they’re not necessarily comfortable with, but failing to use social media effectively can be a missed opportunity to influence how the world sees your brand.
Here are five simple tips to help your businesses take a step in the right direction immediately.
Companies often shy away from online conversations as they are worried they are mainly negative, but any negative comments can be treated as an opportunity to address customers’ issues and learn from it. In reality, positive comments are actually very common and can be highly motivating for your team. Positive or negative, if a customer has made the effort to start a conversation with you it is important to him, so be sure to really listen what that person really has to say and act accordingly.
When criticised by a customer it can sometimes be instinctive to counter-attack, but this only leads to frustration for everyone. Asking questions and opening up the conversation is a great way to make the customer feel that you are showing genuine interest and care about their complaint. You’ll often find that the restricted character count can make complaints via Twitter sound more severe than they really are.
Have an open-mind
Customers often bring you good ideas that people inside the business would have dismissed immediately because of practical problems that make it difficult to implement. Many successful commercial opportunities are created from suggestions generated by the market, so be open to the ideas of your customers – after all, they’re the ones using your product every day. Clients feel valued and engaged with a business when you open a positive debate with them on how to improve your product or service level.
When conversations between companies and customers fail to reach a successful conclusion, this is nearly always because the company concealed the whole truth or promised more than it delivered. So why not be honest from the start? If there is a problem with your products, admit it to the customer quickly and clearly and do your best to rectify the situation. If it is a delicate subject you’d rather not share with the world, contact your client offline – just because a conversation starts online it doesn’t mean you can’t finish it offline.
People like dealing with people
As a business owner, you and your employees should try to be a friendly face for the company, and make helpful contributions in the online community. Authenticity is the key, so don’t be afraid to just be yourself, connect with your clients, share updates about what you’re working on and you might be surprised at what a difference a human connection makes, rather than sticking to formal corporate communications.
Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is author of The Conversation Company and The Conversation Manager (Kogan Page). Follow him on twitter @StevenVBe or visit: www.stevenvanbelleghem.com.