The Definitive Guide to Social Media Customer Service

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Chapter 4

Social Media Training Activities and Marketing Courses

Social media is chaotic, but your social media team shouldn’t be! In order for your social media strategy to work, it’s important that your team be onboard with what you are trying to achieve, and have the knowledge and resources to help you achieve it.

The problem is that social media is such a broad topic, and an effective social media team comes from a variety of knowledge levels and backgrounds. How are you supposed to find social media training activities and courses that will bring everyone up to speed?

This chapter will give you helpful training tips, social media training exercises, and a brief list of courses that will help your social media team rise above and beyond.

Where to Start

According to Forrester, There are 3 types of social media training that companies start out with:

  • Casual Training
  • Structured Training
  • Formal Training

The kind of training that you give your social media team evolves as the company’s commitment to social media evolves, moving through different formats until formalization is achieved.


  • Casual training is implemented by companies entering the coordination stage of social maturity. It often revolves around established social media policies, adding color, and bringing to life the published guidelines. Casual training is a good tool for spreading awareness of those policies throughout an organization.
  • Structured training is great for organizations moving deeper into coordination or on to the scaling and optimizing stages. This approach helps when consistency of strategy or voice is a concern. For that reason, structured training is more rigorous than casual training and is often delivered on a per-department or per-project basis.
  • Formal training becomes necessary to become a truly empowered social organization. In a formal program, there are often several levels of certification depending on the employees’ role in the organization and how deeply they’re likely to engage in social media on behalf of the company or brand. This approach ensures that every individual has just the right skills and savvy to represent their companies responsibly in a social media context.

The Basics of Social Media Training

Whether you are starting out with casual, structured, or formal training, the more effort you put into tailoring a social media training process that’s right for your organization, the better your outcomes will be.

The truth is that you can’t successfully apply a blanket social media training approach to everyone who will be participating in your social media strategy — the ideal team is going to have participants from many departments involved, fulfilling different functions. Someone who is going to work with social media customer service is going to need different training than legal, legal is going to need different training than corporate, etc.

For this reason, successful social media training starts with an analysis of staff’s existing skills, so that you will know what training each person needs. How you train your social media team — face-to-face, video, interactive online training and so on — should be chosen based on the culture and circumstances of the organization. You may need to use multiple methods to accommodate employees in different work environments and employees who have different learning styles or preferences.

It’s important that your training demystifies social media, and makes your employees feel comfortable with the platforms your company uses. According to Nolan Carleton, Associate Director of Communications and Social Engagement at AT&T, “People are so fearful of getting out there in social media, but once they do it, and they get comfortable, it’s amazing the pivot they make. Make sure whatever materials you have about your program are fun and engaging. Don’t make your program any scarier than it needs to be.”

What Training Should Cover

For starters, you need to have a good social media policy, and use training to create awareness of the policy within your company.

Your company also needs to train participating staff on social media literacy (what does “Retweet” mean? What’s a DM? What does it mean to “Pin” something? What about “Snap”?). Your team members don’t have to know every word in the social media dictionary, but it’s important that they are well-versed in the social media platforms that your company will be working with.

Training should also cover social media best and worst practices. This will give your team a foundation of the Do’s and Don’ts of social media customer service and marketing, and will help guide them towards successful social media engagement. This should include training on how your staff can safely use social media without risking the business’s reputation or their jobs.

More advanced training should be delivered as needed to each participating individual and/or department. For example, Marketing could be trained on the best practices for developing social media campaigns and engaging audiences through social media, while Human Resources could be trained on how to use social media platforms to attract the best prospective candidates to work for the company.

It is important to know what role each department (and individual) is going to play on social media. Sales, Human Resources, and Marketing need to know how to use social media to reach business and departmental goals. Social media managers need in-depth, ongoing, practical training that simulates everyday work. And a social media response team should be trained on how to handle social media customer service and PR fiascos (should they arise).

Social Media Training Options

There are several types of social media training. One option is free or paid online social media courses for your individual departments.

Here are some examples:

These and much more (such as courses for social media ethics, marketing on each individual social media platform, social media for graphic designers, etc.) can be found online, and done comfortably from your home or office.

Another training option is in-person social media workshops and training activities.

Here are some social media training activities and exercises that we have compiled to help you train your team:

  • Group Introduction Activity
    Social media isn’t a one-department job; in order to have a successful social media marketing strategy, you are going to need a jointly-owned social media team. That means that your social media team is going to consist of a lot of different talent coming together!This activity is simple. On the first day, gather everyone from every department that will be participating in your social media strategy (if possible, have corporate there too!). Start by sharing your social media mission with the room. Then go on to introduce yourself, and tell your team what you hope that you will be able to contribute. Next, have each teammate take turns sharing a little bit about themselves and what they hope their expertise will bring to the team.

    The whole group might not always be together, but it’s good to know one another, and begin to open up communication channels.

  • Social Media “Never Have I Ever”
    When training, you want to mix in a little bit of fun and engagement to keep your team on track.In this social media training activity, have everyone start with five fingers. The first person begins by saying something that’s related to social media that they’ve never done before or that they aren’t sure of (confess something you don’t know about social media, social media marketing, etc.). Have everyone who agrees puts a finger down.

    This activity will show you where you are, and what your group knows vs what they need to work on. That way, you can start tailoring your training to fit your team’s needs.

    By making this into a game, you destigmatize not knowing (for example, when people are afraid to raise their hands and admit they don’t know something) and turn it into something a little more fun, open, and relatable.

    This also shows the importance of being vocal when you don’t know something, which is vital to good teamwork and to contributing to your company’s social media success.

  • I Tweet, You Tweet
    Have your team create fake Twitter accounts (or use their own!). To make this activity more creative you can invite them to add a fun photo and come up with a character for their fake Twitter.Have the team follow certain objective. For example, have them use a hashtag, direct message their peers, follow and unfollow their peers on Twitter, etc. so that you can give everyone a chance to practice using the social media platform.

    Although it might be hard to create a fake Facebook, have your team do this for any platform you plan on engaging with (LinkedIn, Snapchat, Reddit, Instagram, Pinterest, Quora posts, etc.). That way, you will know that everyone is on the same page and knows the basics of how to use the platform.

    Talk with users about the experience. What did they learn about the platform? What tasks were easy and difficult? Where can they see the advantages of using this social site?

  • Behind the Wheel
    The next level of the previous social media training exercise is to simulate stressful and realistic social media situations. Create a mock social media account for your business, and have your social media reps log in. This time, it is your job to pretend to be the customer, while they run the show. Post as many positive and negative comments and inquiries as you can, while your trainees take the wheel one at a time.Give social media trainees 3-5 minute turns each, to respond to as many of the comments as they can. At the end of each simulation, go over the trainees’ responses and give feedback.

    While it might not be necessary to have employees who will be involved in social media behind the scenes participate in this activity, it is vital that those who will be directly representing the company on social media do so.

  • Pick Your Favorite Mean Tweets
    Social media can be intimidating for teams, especially if those teams are new. You want your teams to learn how to be comfortable online, and not (A) be so rigid and scared of missteps that they sound like a cold robot or (B) get upset or overwhelmed by customer negativity.
    Have your team search your brand’s name on social media, and see what mean tweets and/or posts they can find. Share the mean tweets with the group (if your brand doesn’t have a social media presence yet, they still might have mean posts! And if not, you can tweak this by finding the mean tweets and/or posts about your competitors).Negative emotional responses on social media need to be channeled into action, and working to actively turn the situation around. This activity will help teach your social media reps to take the negativity of social media in stride. While it is important to take customer complaints seriously, your social media team shouldn’t let customer negativity upset them or impact what they are bringing to the team.
  • See How Others Do It
    This social media training activity can be done on one or several social media platforms.Have your team interact with 3 different brands on social media. Encourage your team to tweet, post, etc. to brands that they are familiar with in real life, and have bought products from in the past. You will find that several of your team members probably still have a bone to pick with at least one company (and if not, they can invent a problem, ask a question, or just compliment the brand online)! Another option is to specifically interact with competing brands. If your staff isn’t sure what to post, have them post one compliment, one complaint, and one inquiry and see what happens.

    Do this activity in the morning, and at the end of the day go over the results with your staff. Which companies responded, and which ones didn’t? How did they respond? Were they helpful? Out of all of the posts and tweets that went out, how many went answered? Which company had the best social media customer service? Which ones had the worst, or didn’t respond at all? What can you learn from this and what could your company do better?

    This social media training exercise will give your staff a feel for what it’s like to be a customer on social media. It’s also a great way for your team to see how your industry competitors do on social media, and what they’re up against.

  • Train with Stories
    According to Jennifer Aaker, a marketing professor at Stanford’s Graduate School for Business, “Research shows our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories.”In this social media training activity, use stories of the best and the worst of social media to help your team remember what to do and what not to do on social media.

    Corporate social media mistakes often go viral. Have your team share their favorite social media disaster and success stories, and together with your team, write a list of things that you as a team vow to avoid and strive towards.

  • Market with Stories
    Storytelling can also be used to create compelling marketing. Many successful marketing campaigns benefit from using real-life customer and/or employee stories. These stories can be of an emotional experience with a product, a time a customer received exceptional service, and anything else that might resonate with a social audience.
    Train your marketing team on the importance of using stories in digital advertising by having them create and share their own touching brand stories. Teach them how to encourage user-generated content, such as hosting a contest, managing a hashtag, or interviewing industry leaders to create third-party content with a storytelling flair.
  • Service First
    Without proper customer service training, you might as well not even put your social media personnel online. Try out some customer service training ideas and activities to make sure your team knows how to keep your customers happy.One company that knows the importance of happy customers is Disney. Disney’s solution to bringing quality customer service to even the angriest customers is called: HEARD, an acronym that stands for the following:

    • Hear: Listen to the customer’s entire story.
    • Empathize: Use phrases that convey that you understand how the customer feels.
    • Apologize: And do so effusively!
    • Resolve: Fix the issue, and if you don’t know how ask the customer, “How can I set this right?”
    • Diagnose: Get to the bottom of the issue so you can make sure it won’t happen again.

    Have your social media representatives practice using the HEARD method to soothe upset customers on social media. Train your agents on how to apply HEARD to different special media platforms (such as how to take care of customers in the 150 characters or less on Twitter, or through snaps on Snapchat). Stage these customer service situations on your fake corporate accounts before moving over to your real accounts.

  • Know When to Make a Switch
    Jay Baer, in his book Hug Your Haters, was right when he said that social media makes customer service a spectator sport. When you have excellent customer service, that becomes an advantage, rather than a problem.But even companies with stellar social media support have to train their representatives on when to switch from posts, tweets, or comments to private direct messages (DMs). They also need to be trained on when, if ever, they should switch from DM to a phone call.

    Here’s a hint: Train your representatives to always try and solve customers’ issue over social media. In the event that they can’t, don’t tell them to call in! Take their information and number over DM and ask the customer for a time when it’s convenient to call them. Also, don’t ask customers to email in. Anything that can be securely resolved over email can also be securely resolved via direct message).

    Make sure that social media reps are properly trained on when to escalate an issue to a supervisor.

    You can train this by using a particularly challenging simulation. Go on your company’s fake social media account as a particularly difficult customer, and see if your agents know when to (A) switch to DM, (B) switch to a phone call or (C) ask a supervisor for help. Establish set guidelines for escalation that social media representatives can look back on.

  • Message Training
    Your social media team needs to be versed in DMing. This is similar to training your agents to message with customers over live chat.For this training, you can summon your team to shadow you for a live DMing session with a customer (or a fake customer volunteer, if you are still on your fake social media account).

    Project your computer screen so that your staff can all see, and ask for their input. Supervise your team members, and have them take a shot at messaging themselves. Go over best and worst DMing practices, such as checking spelling and grammar, avoiding regional slang, expected direct message response time, etc.

    While you are doing this social media training exercise, keep in mind the 70-20-10 model for organizational learning: Seventy percent of learning takes place from actual assignments; 20 percent from peer education; and 10 percent from instruction.

  • Know Your Tone
    Call upon your social media representatives to define your brand’s tone and audience.According to a report by the Harvard Business Review, top performing brands employ a gender-neutral, or slightly female tone on social media. That means that they tend to use emojis and strive for emotional connections with their customers.

    Casual, friendly, helpful tones are the most well-received on social media. Have social media agents take turns practicing their use of tone, and use of emojis when responding to customers on social media. Create an emoji guideline to best train your staff: When is it a good idea to use emojis? When is it not (for example, if a customer is upset)?

  • Empathy Exercise
    According to The Harvard Business Review, empathy consists of three components: reassurance, authenticity, and emotional connection. Empathy goes beyond simply solving a problem. It involves making a customer feel valued. Empathy is necessary on social media, as much as it is in any other customer service situation.Assign your SM group common problems/complaints with the company that are likely to be on social media (or have them create their own!) Pair them up into groups of two, where one Social Media rep is representing the company, and the other is the customer.

    Have the “customer” state their grievance. Then, have the company show empathy for the grievance (and offer an empathetic solution!) Afterwards, have the pairs switch rolls, and the new customer reads their grievance.

    The pair with the most empathetic duo could win — if you want to offer incentives. Regardless, at the end of this social media training exercise, talk about what works and what doesn’t work for empathy, and how you might convey empathy over text.

  • Effective Social Listening
    Social media teams need to know how to engage in effective social listening. When should your teams chime into a conversation? And when should they stay out of it? Develop a guideline for social listening, and encourage your social media team to use their better judgement when including the corporate social media page in customer conversations.Show your team how to use social media listening tools such as SocialMention to monitor what is being said about your brand. Project your computer screen so that everyone can see, and go through the mentions that your brand has.

    Ask your social media team which comments they think that their brand can contribute to? And why?

    Social listening is not only important for chiming in — it is necessary for growing as a company and getting feedback. Make sure that feedback does not go unheard by implementing effective feedback channels, and training your team how to use them. What sort of things does IT need to know? Product development? And who in those departments is in charge of receiving social media information?

    Have your team discuss and simulate this as well.

Training Follow-up

Social media training is an ongoing process that doesn’t stop after one day or one session. Spacing social media training and practice out over a few weeks or days will allow you to see any gaps and fill them in as needed. Tweak your training according to your metrics, and according to any performance gaps.

What is or isn’t working in training? What can you do better next time? What does your team still need to learn or master?

Monitor your social media team’s interactions with customers, and make sure to provide proactive correction to prevent any major mishaps. Even after any social media courses, training exercises, and workshops are over, follow up with staff to provide further support and to instill accountability.

Once your social media team has been trained with the basics, let them take a swing at handling your corporate social media accounts. With the right amount of practice, training, and supervision, your team will move from social media beginners to social media experts.

Don’t forget that as your team’s experience with social media grows, so will your commitment to social media, and the formality of your training.

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