It's almost 2014, and more people than ever are using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook as their primary way of communicating. Social media has revolutionized the way people converse on a personal level, and it has profoundly changed the way businesses communicate with customers—today, social media tools are an integral part of virtually all professional CRM solutions. But many businesses are missing out on an incredibly powerful marketing tool by forgetting to make customer communication on social media a two-way street.
How your business approaches social media can have a major impact on your marketing success. An effective strategy can attract prospective customers and generate repeat business. But ignoring social media or making a serious misstep in an interaction can inadvertently put up a "Keep Out" sign. These days, people aren't shy about sharing their experiences with companies with their friends and followers in real time—both positive and negative experiences.
Real-Time Experience Sharing
Say you run a men's clothing store, and a customer comes in looking for a specific item that you don't carry. If you help him locate that item with another retailer, the customer may decide to send out a favorable tweet about how helpful you were—and return to your store when he needs an item that you do have in stock. On the other hand, if you were dismissive, that customer may form a negative impression and share that with the world.
The principles of good customer service haven't changed: It's just that social media has amplified the effects. As a business leader, you have to be ready to create a two-way conversation with your customers—on the platforms they use—to benefit from customer kudos and turn criticism around to your advantage. It all starts with a conversation.
Turn Tweets Into Conversations
Many business owners use social media to alert followers to upcoming sales or announce availability of a new product. These kinds of announcements tend to be top-down, one-way communications: You're simply using social media to send out information, as you would with a direct mail piece. A tweet can be an effective, inexpensive way to reach out to customers. But the real magic happens when social media turns into a dialogue—when you use Facebook, Twitter or blog comments to have a conversation with your customers.
This is what social CRM is all about, and it's an incredibly effective marketing tool. To wield it properly, keep in mind the power of each connection you make: Customers generally enjoy social media interactions like retweets, mentions on Twitter and tags on Facebook.
With this in mind, be sure to address any mention of your company, yourself or your staff immediately—whether the mention is positive or negative. If your customer has shared praise for your company, that makes your response easy: You can simply thank them and let them know you appreciate their thoughts.
Responding to a negative mention on social media is more challenging, but it also presents a great opportunity. Many businesses respond to negative feedback by contacting the customer via a private message, but that strategy means you'll miss a chance to publicly demonstrate that you care about your customers' concerns and are committed to addressing them openly and fairly. Generally, when you engage customers who have left a negative comment, they will respond positively because they're grateful that you're willing to engage.
That said, it's important to remember to avoid the urge to argue with a customer who is not responding rationally. Don't take the bait from someone who is flinging insults; keep in mind that an audience is watching, and don't sink to their level. But if you display fairness and a willingness to address reasonable concerns, you'll come out of the encounter in a positive light.
The Bottom Line on Social Media CRM
The bottom line is this: Social media is incredibly effective for marketing and customer communications, which is why virtually all CRM solutions now integrate social CRM tools into their core offering. Social media is integral to modern communications, even if you use it simply to announce store promotions or maintain an online presence. But if that's all you do, you're missing out on an amazing opportunity.
By directly engaging with customers, you can establish a real connection with them—a two-way conversation that lets customers know they're being heard, allows you to improve customer satisfaction and provides a platform for prospective customers to get to know your business. That's the true value of social media CRM.