by July 3, 2012 0 comments

Your Twitter fans are screaming for blood. Your brand page is getting spammed on Facebook. Online forums seem to be full of negative reviews for your product. You can’t figure out what to do with LinkedIn. It all looked so easy in the beginning. Relax, all is not lost! Whether your business is big or small you need to develop a philosophy and a strategy for your presence on social media and in the online space given the increasing number of people browsing for products and services online. There are a set of tenets by which your business should live by online to create maximum impact and engage with your customers and followers effectively. These are common sense for the most part — but not always easy to follow!

1. Let your hair down

Nobody likes bores-least of all the website-hopping 20 somethings who participate in the most online conversations. One of the most important things to do therefore is to let your hair down and build a personality for yourself on your social media channels. These can vary by medium (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) but you need to have something interesting to say and then say it in a fun way. It’s OK, nay essential, to have your brand create a unique voice and keep the conversations engaging. There are all kinds of approaches to do this including telling stories, talking about your team, do a fun daily contest, and a multitude of ways. Use what works for your business and your industry.

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2. Remember those Ps & Qs?

It’s easy to get angry when someone rubbishes you online. Take a deep breath. Remember to stay courteous and polite. You are not talking to just one person-but to many 100s or 1000s or people who are viewing your exchange. Having equanimity and poise when dealing with your followers is super important. At most times it’s as simple as using ‘Please’ and

‘Thank you’ profusely! Some people will troll (an Internet term for those trying to annoy you) you

on social media. How you respond is as important is what you respond with.

3. Listen…no I mean REALLY … listen to your customers

Social media is not a gimmick anymore (well it never was … but that’s a different story). It’s also not just about trying to look good in front of your customers. People have chosen to engage with your brand online and if they provide suggestions on your product or your service then you owe it to yourself to listen to them. If you fake it, your response reads like this: “Thank you for your feedback. We will bury it somewhere deep. We hope you forget about it and that you never bother us again”. Don’t do this. It takes a lot of effort to deal with the travails of a single unhappy customer but if you do and show you care you’re on your way to a succeeding online and creating a winning culture. Create specific processes so that feedback from your customers is reaching the technical support, marketing, sales, or product teams quickly.

4. “It’s hard for me I’m say sorry … “

Like the old Chicago song with this title — it really is hard to say you’re sorry. What will people think of you if you admit to a fault? Actually, in a ridiculously large number of cases they will respect you if you admit to failing and you are taking concrete corrective action. It’s OK to fail and it’s OK to say you screwed up. You will win more accolades by doing this than trying to provide layers of justification and obfuscate the issue. Try it — it works! Remember the golden rule for apologizing — first mean it and then say it.

5. Keep conversing

Being there for your customers and followers means being there at all times and continuing the conversation in real time. Responses are measured in minutes if not seconds. A response on Twitter which is 24 hours old is old news and says you don’t really care enough about the channel to respond quickly. Immediacy is critical. Also, you need to keep talking and content coming from your end at frequent intervals. Don’t look at this is a one way medium from your customers to you. It’s easy to tell if it’s working: in a conversation if you don’t have two-way communication then it’s not a conversation. A lot of brands’ social pages are just media to disseminate PR releases and announcements — that’s not really going to work unless you can create some discussion around it.

6. Honesty = Trust = Success

This one gets talked about a lot. How much should you disclose about your business, or operations, or people, or processes, or the fact that you failed at something? A rule of thumb here is to choose a level of transparency that you feel comfortable with and then at least double it! And remember the rule about admitting fault and trying to put things right — honesty will lead to trust and that’s what you really want as a business and as a brand.

7. Give it time

A lot of time we expect customers to turn into fans and start loving us and following our every move overnight. This is unreasonable. You will take time to convert customers to followers, to develop the right message, to find your voice, to build a listening and responding process, and to then start producing engaging content. You need to invest in this for the long haul.

8. Experiment and adapt

Even though I’m not advocating you equate your social presence to traditional advertising such as television or print, you are creating messaging and encouraging an audience to engage with you across each. In fact you will frequently use both together. However, social media gives you the opportunity to try lots of fun experiments which you should; it costs nothing and you will learn about your audience. For example, try contests, try re-packaging other content, write articles, make videos (even low budget ones if you can’t afford it), and a host of other innovations. Follow what other brands across industries are doing and learn from them.

9. Don’t let a few people hijack your conversations

Very often you will come across situations that require you to take a stand or to address a particularly insistent or abusive person. Take a stand. Most times people vent and then stop but ideally you don’t want to let them ruin the conversation for everyone else in the process. Decide if you want to acknowledge them, be polite if you do, then take the conversation offline and away from a public forum to try and understand what ails them. Many times they have legitimate grouses. We have discovered some particularly glaring issues with our products through such feedback. Another thing which works well is to use humor to defuse the situation. Everyone loves someone who can laugh and make others laugh in turn.

10. Create unexpected delight

Given the number of brands and companies that a typical online customer engages with — you need to be memorable and create unexpected delight for your customers. Send them a small gift, give them an upgrade on a product, send them a personal thank you note, call them personally, there are a plethora of things you can do both online as well as offline. These interactions will create the most positive impression of you as a brand and turn your customers into what Seth Godin (an influential blogger and marketer) calls “Sneezers”, i.e., those who will share their excitement and spread word about you to their friends. This is every marketers dream!

Supporting and being there for your customers online is not just a tactical decision. It’s a strategy that you will make to listen to your customers where they gather and hold meaningful conversations with them. This needs you to be nimble, honest, and create a culture within your organization such that everyone is hearing what your customers are saying. You may need to realign processes and most importantly create a culture of openness and transparency within your organization that matches what your customers want from you on social media.

So……. Are you ready?

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