Social media is a modern day holy grail for businesses: should your company achieve a successful social media strategy, the promise is happiness (for you and your customers), abundance (of engagement and incoming cash flow), and longevity (of your corporation… social media is, after all, a major driver of what keeps businesses relevant nowadays).
Although social media isn’t quite as mythicized as it was in its youth, companies that haven’t already done so are flocking to sign up for this golden communication and marketing opportunity. As of last year, at least 86% of Fortune 500 companies have an active Twitter account, and more than 50 million small businesses use Facebook to connect with consumers.
As true as the legends may be (yes, social media can win you fans and boost customer loyalty), social media customer service isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Unfortunately for business owners, the path to social media success is riddled with potential disaster. If your company is to succeed — and thrive — on social media, there are a lot of social media mistakes that you need to avoid.
Today, Instagram is 7 years old. Twitter is 11 years old. Facebook is 13 years old, and LinkedIn is almost 15 (not to mention the sites that came before these, like Myspace and blogs that started as early as the late 90’s). The point is that businesses have been a part of the dialogue for long enough that nowadays we have a pretty clear idea of what to avoid in social media.
This section is a compilation of the worst social media customer service and marketing practices, that every successful business needs to avoid. We’ve included some real-life examples of companies that have already made these mistakes, so that you don’t have to.
- Have Customers Switch Channels
I know, we’re starting out with something that doesn’t seem too dramatic. This social media customer service sin isn’t as obvious of a faux pas as some of our next examples. However, it is worth mentioning because (A) it is all too rampant in social media customer service and (B) it is a complete nuisance.Companies on social media often use their accounts primarily for marketing purposes, without understanding that a good marketing strategy also includes a quality customer service approach.
This sort of strategy leads to a single department running the social media show, which means that social media agents aren’t empowered or even knowledgeable enough to help customers with their issues online.
The result is companies asking customers to switch channels and reach out instead by phone, email, or even by switching from one social media platform (such as Facebook) to the another instead (such as Twitter). This clogs customer service channels, wastes customers’ and agents’ time, and is frustrating for everyone involved.
Takeaway: Channel switching is terrible and should be avoided.
Prevention Tip: Empower your agents to troubleshoot online, and to meet your customers where they are. Should you have to switch channels to take care of sensitive information, DM your customer and ask them for (A) their phone number and (B) what time they can be reached. Schedule the call according to what works for them – don’t deflect towards customer service (there’s a reason they reached out via social media instead of calling in the first place!).
Takeaway: Only use two social media accounts on the same channel if they are both going to have an equal level of customer service, and both be helpful. Don’t ask the customer to contact your support Twitter if they reach out to your company’s general Twitter – that’s inconvenient to the customer and a waste of time for your teams.
Prevention Tip: Have one social media account per social media platform with shared ownership. That way customers won’t get lost in a sea of support options, and will know where to come for whatever they need –information from the marketing team or customer support.
Takeaway: There’s always going to be a customer who disagrees with you, or who maybe even offends you. Keep cool in these situations, and avoid censorship when possible.
Prevention Tip: Create a social media policy that clearly states the rules for engaging on your page. Save deletions for use as a last resort, when that policy is violated and harmful users need to be banned. If you use this policy – put the customer’s needs, not your ego first, and ban users that are spreading content that could be offensive or hurtful to your customers (obscene or discriminatory comments, threats against individuals, abusive language, etc).
Takeaway: Your ego isn’t worth insulting and alienating your customers.
Prevention Tip: Before you respond to a negative comment, take a deep breath. Is what you are saying professional? Does it help the customer? Or are you just trying to take a jab at them?
Takeaway: Sound contradictory? That’s because it is. Customers want companies to intuit when to respond and when not to.
Prevention Tip: When in doubt, speak when spoken to. Engage only when the context of the conversation allows for a smooth, natural, not-creepy engagement.
Takeaway: Canned messages can be helpful if they are used right, look bad if not.
Prevention Tip: Read what you are responding to fully before using a canned message. While quick responses are great, it’s more important that your responses be appropriate. Remember that it’s always better to get it right the first time than it is to have to go back and do damage control!
Takeaway: If you’re going to tweet information to your customers, make sure that it’s the right information.
Prevention Tip: Double check company information you send out. Don’t forget to check for website misspellings.
Takeaway: Ignorance on social media isn’t bliss.
Prevention Tip: If you aren’t sure about something, research it before you post! Even if you think that you know something, it doesn’t hurt to look it up anyway. When it comes to social media marketing, Google is your friend!
Takeaway: Gone are the days when companies could get away with Tone-Deaf and insensitive marketing. Your brand needs to create non-offensive content that empowers, rather than hurts, your audience.
Prevention Tip: Social media rightfully holds companies accountable for offensive advertisement. Before approving a social media marketing scheme, make sure that your marketing plan does not alienate anyone of a certain race, gender, sexuality, religion, country, etc. And if you aren’t sure, ask someone who would know!
Takeaway: Be careful what you hashtag!
Prevention Tip: Before using a trending hashtag, take a look at what it’s referencing. That will help you make sure you don’t jump on any bandwagons you don’t want to be on! Another tip is to start your own conversations, and develop your own hashtags to get customers talking.
Takeaway: If you’re going to use social media to make a public apology – and you should if it is ever necessary – make it a good one.
Prevention Tip: Show regret and apologize. Never blame others, and deal with the problem instead. Make the apology as human and heartfelt as possible so that your customers and audience will know that you mean it.
Takeaway: Those of us with access to a corporate social media account need to take care to make sure we aren’t posting in the wrong account. This includes taking steps towards prevention, and having plan for handling this issue once it happens (such as a designated response team).
Prevention Tip: Use different browsers for different accounts. That way you are less likely to open the wrong account by mistake. You can also use different aps for different accounts, should you need mobile access to your corporate social media account (for example, try using the Twitter ap for your corporate account, and open Twitter in your phone browser for your personal account). Log out of the corporate social media account when you are done posting. This can help you avoid posting from the wrong account.
Takeaway: The good news is that this hilariously cryptic tweet could have been a lot worse.
Prevention Tip: Double check what box you’re typing in before you hit “send”.
Takeaway: Don’t trust bots for reliable, non-offensive social media posts.
Prevention Tip: Submit all automatic tweets for approval before sending out. Strengthen Filters for automated tweets, so that you don’t send any offensive content to your audience.
Takeaway: Stay vigilant for any unapproved activity on your social media platforms.
Prevention Tip: In the event of an external hack, make sure that you change your passwords and investigate the origin of the hack, and the security of your system. Make sure that someone in management has access to your social media page, and that all password and login information are securely stored. Use management’s information when adding recovery emails and security questions to social media accounts.