If used properly and in a controlled manner, social media can be an extremely powerful tool for companies to engage with their customers. As an interactive platform, sites such as Facebook and Twitter can help to build trust between consumers and businesses, while users are able to comment and converse with each other over the services and products they receive. Social media can add brand credibility and it allows companies to grab feeds and comments, thus interacting with customers on a more personal level.
As well as discussing the service with each other, customers are also able to get expert advice from suppliers via these platforms. Greg Banbury, online marketing director for Naked Wines explains the benefits of customer interaction. “You have to give up a little bit of control in order to get the most out of social media. You allow your customers to talk about you, and then listen and use the comments to your advantage.” He stresses the importance of opening up to your customers, and keeping all comments on the site – even the negative ones. This allows you to address the issues raised and hence turn the negative comments into a positive.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion on the Twitter ecosystem, hosted by digital marketing firm ExactTarget, JC Mighty, e-communications specialist at Aurora, which develops and manages women’s fashion brands including Karen Millen, Coast, Warehouse and Oasis, described email as the shop window, the company website as its store, and social media as the coffee shop. He says: “It’s really important for us to recognise that people are going to go on to Twitter talking about our product, talking about our brands, so we have to be there and engage with them and give them the opportunity to touch the brand, not just to overtly sell them a product, but to try and educate them from a product information point of view and from a customer service point of view.” One of the most significant features of social media is that it is immediate, so it allows companies to engage with people instantaneously.
The personal element of social media has provided a new level of customer service. While repeated negative comments can damage a brand’s image, they can also lead to greater connectivity between the business and its customers. People can contact the company instantly, without having to go into the store in person, and can express their concerns or opinions on the products and services.
Danny Bluestone, from digital-agency, Cyber-Duck, believes that social media is more effective than phone calls or emails in dealing with customer feedback, because it is quick and easy to implement. Comments from disappointed customers can in fact win your business respect, if you address the issues head on and make an effort to resolve any queries.
Benjamin Dyer, director of product development for ecommerce at Actinic, offers his tips for using social media to target your customers:
1. Find your customers
Research. Check you demographics and find out if your customers use social networks, and if so which ones.
2. Don’t talk, listen
Once you have found customers sit back and listen. Employ search engines to find people talking about you or your company. Take it a step further and listen for your competitors’ names, or search phrases that relate to your products or services.
3. When you talk, be smart
A person’s online social space is sensitive; respect it by being smart and polite. You wouldn’t expect to barge into a conversation with blatant advertising, so instead offer advice that’s practical.
4. Realise the potential
Social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter are brilliant for asking questions. The open nature of these communities allows for anyone to ask, view or respond, so the potential for sales is obvious. Once again it’s important to play by the rules, so build relationships and be proactive. Helping with enquiries boosts the perception of your brand or service.