Congratulations! You've created social media pages, a way to monitor them and know where your brand reviews are coming from—now it's time to take it to the next level and start engaging the people who are talking to (or about) you. No matter what your customers are saying, they care enough about their experiences with you to publicly share it with their friends and family. Every customer that engages with you on social media or review sites is giving you an opportunity to make them a brand loyalist. If you're not responding to comments or reviews, you're missing a chance to connect with your customers and prospects. Here are six tips to help you make the most out of each customer response online:
1. Engage with consumers who are excited about your brand.
If a consumer is commenting positively about you or your content on social, it's a great idea to acknowledge their input! When a customer purchases something from you, it's second nature to thank them—whether it's via email or in-person, you should tell them how grateful you are for their business. If you're not sure which of the consumers commenting on your content are existing customers, why not assume that every interaction is a chance to associate your brand image with responsive, positive feedback? Although a reply may not always be appropriate, a retweet, like, or +1 shows that you're listening and engaged.
Part of the reason you're on social in the first place is to get your customers to endorse your company and products. Since only 50 percent of Americans trust businesses to "do what is right" and 70 percent of survey respondents trust their friends and family the most, getting your advocates to share their experiences with their social community means that your prospects are hearing good things from a trustworthy source.
2. Respond in a way that's consistent with your brand.
When you reply to customers on social, make sure that anyone from your company speaking to customers knows your brand's voice. Your website, your print materials, and all of your marketing assets should use keywords that you want associated with your company; make sure to coach anyone using corporate social media accounts on responses that genuinely represent your organization.
Not all social networks have a built-in character limit like Twitter, but remember that your replies should be short and to the point—don't pen a novel to show your gratitude.
3. Make sure each interaction is personal and genuine.
While auto-responding software tools can help save you time, they're not perfect and can sometimes end up responding to social posts that aren't really about you (like Bank of America did earlier this year). Balance the size of your brand and your available resources to determine how frequently your customers talk to you on social and whether it's appropriate to enable auto responses for every mention.
If you have more than one person responding to customers, it's a good idea for them to identify themselves. For example, Delta has developed an exclusive Twitter account to help manage customer service, where employees listen around the clock and tag their responses with their initials. Putting a personal touch helps customers see that your brand cares about taking the time to respond to their engagements.
4. Don't wait weeks to respond.
While not every comment or review demands a response, when customers complain or have immediate needs, a response two weeks after the fact doesn't look credible or solve the customer's problem. Customers may interpret a slow response as a failure to take issues seriously. In Q1 of 2013, brand responses on Twitter took an average of 6.5 hours, and Facebook response times are almost 24 hours. If that seems fast to you, know that 55 percent of consumers expect a response from social networks within four hours. Make sure you're making an effort to treat reviews and negative feedback from social media and review sites the way you'd deal with an angry phone call or email.
5. Although social is informal, professionalism is still key, especially when you've made a mistake.
Remember that every comment, tweet, and reply you make is public. And that's not a bad thing! But it does mean that missteps are instantly shared with your community. If you find yourself in a position like the American Red Cross did, when an employee accidentally tweeted about drinking from a corporate account rather than a personal one, move quickly to rectify the situation. One of the worst things that you can do is to ignore it, so delete the mistake, acknowledge it to your fans and followers, and move on. If you've upset customers, make sure to apologize as soon as you can to stem the issue from going viral.
If you do find your brand in a situation where you've angered or offended consumers, make sure to keep the situation from getting personal. Amy's Baking Company, a restaurant featured on Kitchen Nightmares earlier in 2013, publicly threatened retaliation against customers and former employees who shared their negative experiences at the restaurant on social pages and review sites. After a series of aggressive and inappropriate responses on all networks, the company claimed their accounts had been hacked, but no one was buying it at that point. Don't escalate an already unpleasant situation by attacking people who are already upset.
6. Treat every negative review as a chance to win back business.
When a customer submits a particularly negative review about your product or brand, remember that 83 percent of complainants either like or LOVE the fact that companies respond (with almost three out of four customers being satisfied with the response they received). Take some time to apologize that their experience wasn't everything they had hoped it would be, and if appropriate, encourage the customer to contact you privately to resolve. Don't send them back into the top of the funnel of your customer service chain—they've likely already gone through this process, so help them connect with the right person to solve their issue. Not all complainants will come back, but customers who are satisfied with how you've handled the situation may give you their business again.
Everyone's experience on social media and review sites differs, but it's important to remember that your customers are having conversations about you whether or not you engage with them. By taking the time to respond, you not only show your customers and prospects that you're listening, but that you care about what they have to say.
Katherine Lyman is a senior product marketing specialist at Minneapolis, Min.-based digital marketing SaaS company Outsell. Reach her at Katherine.firstname.lastname@example.org.