Words by Amy Fowler
You may not have realised it, but social media platforms aren’t just tools for generating buzz. Wiring social media into your company’s culture can vastly improve efficiency and help cut costs, company wide. With a recent rise in social CRM platforms by software giants such as Salesforce and Adobe, social media is beginning to play a crucial role in customer support and customer relationship management. Organisations are increasingly recognising that social media is as much about listening to your customers as it is talking to them, and so market research teams are beginning to adopt social networks as vital tools for gathering customer insights.
‘Social media’ is made up of a host of free, easy-to-use online platforms that enable people to talk to other people on the web. For businesses, social media platforms represent a huge opportunity to converse with new and existing customers, build brand loyalty and reputation, answer queries, offer technical support, disseminate key product information, carry out market research, and recruit new employees, to name just a few. You’ll notice I didn’t include ‘advertise products’ in this list. Social media can be used to tell your network about new products, but keep it interesting and useful, and don’t just plug, plug, plug – you’ll lose the trust and respect of your customers.
Here are a few tips for using social media as much more than just a marketing and PR tool for your business:
Lay the framework
Decide who is going to use social media and for what function. This is much like deciding who is going to answer the phone in your business. You need to have a process in place for who will monitor the various accounts, who they will refer queries to and the timescale for replying (this should be within 48 hours at the very maximum). You may decide to give staff in various different departments access to the social media accounts. If you do, it is important to decide who answers which type of query and give the appropriate level of training to all staff that are involved to ensure that consistency of tone and content is met across all platforms.
Know the etiquette
Social media communications are not a form of advertising. It is important to remember that interactions in this space are about developing relationships and earning trust. Treat social networking like you would normal networking, by having a two-way conversation, and always ensuring the customer’s needs and requirements are met. This could be by responding quickly to a query, or asking for feedback about your products or services. Follow this rule and you generally can’t go wrong on social media.
Before writing off Twitter as a place where celebrities self-flaggelate to their millions of fans, consider how you might use it to gain information about your market. Try ‘following’ the top 20 bloggers in your industry on Twitter and when you have a moment, browse through your Twitter feed and see what these thought leaders are blogging about. It could be that new legislation is on the horizon that is set to bring about changes in your market. Perhaps there is a new piece of technology on the rise that mean that more, or less, people have a need or desire for your service. Social media, particularly Twitter, is a great way of monitoring what’s current. Social bookmarking sites such as feedly and Stumbleupon can also be very useful for staying on top of market trends.
The rise of social media is now forcing many companies to be more transparent than ever, and can expose businesses that provide poor customer experiences. There’s never been more of an incentive to offer good service! On the plus side, social media is a great way of gathering business intelligence and finding out what your customers are saying about you. Online tools can help you track your business’s mentions across all social media platforms, whether positive or negative. Why not be bold and ask your network for feedback on one of your social media platforms? Although it’s a risk as you may not get a 100% positive response, your customers will be thankful that you asked and will value you for your transparency.
Find new talent
The social networking site for professionals, LinkedIn, is increasingly being used by recruiters and HR departments to find professional talent. LinkedIn profiles are like online CVs with added social networking that enables users to connect and communicate with each other. LinkedIn has some really great features that can give people the ability to ask for introductions (enabling recruiters to gain access to 2nd connection professionals via mutual connections), and to see recommendations and endorsements for a person’s past work. The ability to Google a person and view their LinkedIn profile enables recruiters to gain insight into their candidates with the click of a few buttons. LinkedIn is replacing traditional recruitment process for many companies, especially where short term, flexible work is required, making the whole recruitment process slicker, faster and more convenient.
These are just a few ways that your business can harness the power of social media and integrate it into the company’s whole culture, saving cost along the way. If you feel that your customer support or market research models are outdated, why not consider using social media to connect with your customers?