Customer Service in Social Media

I was lucky enough to catch a tweet on Twitter from Kami Watson Huyse of the Communication Overtones blog, which led me to an interesting piece on the Trustworthy blog written by Kirk Skodis.

The Undo Button” showed a Twitter conversation between a restaurant owner and a woman who had visited their establishment.

This blog post intrigued me to look further at both @BrasseriePavil and @BloomMaternity and see how they’re utilizing Twitter.

These accounts are active with their followers and have a decent base of active followers. Both actively hold real conversations (meaning they tweet out messages, reply to tweets, and retweet things they find interesting). It wasn’t just a broadcast of what the specials of the day are at Brasserie Pavil, or a tweetstream of links to the latest clothes on sale at Bloom Maternity’s shop.

When I look at this highlighted conversation and what transpired, all companies can learn a few lessons from their interactions. This example demonstrates a few things about conversations in social media that any marketer can integrate into their strategy for entering the social media space.

  1. Monitoring Pays Off: The establishment Brasserie Pavil was clearly monitoring their name in the social media space. If they weren’t monitoring their Twitter account and actively engaged in conversations with their audience, then they would’ve missed out on Bloom Maternity sharing her experiences with their establishment.
  2. Engaging Conversations: Looking at the Brasserie Pavil Twitter account reveals that this restaurant is clearly engaged in conversations with its audience by tweeting, retweeting, and replying to its followers. Also note their ratio of followers to being followed. They aren’t using Twitter to broadcast what’s on their menu — they’re speaking to patrons about their experiences, letting their audience know about events, and so on. Actual conversations are going on.
  3. Understanding the Power Community Members Hold: Brasserie Pavil recognized the power of the tweet that came from Bloom Maternity and what power the sharing of her experience at their establishment would have on her followers. By quickly recognizing Bloom Maternity’s influence and addressing her experience in a way that respected her opinion, Brasserie Pavil turned a negative experience into a positive situation.
  4. Being Humble: Brasserie Pavil didn’t argue, nor take offense to Bloom Maternity’s tweet. They embraced it as an opportunity to make a bad situation better. Being humble, accepting the bad, and saying “I’m sorry” when bad things happen to your customers are some of the best actions companies can take when dealing with potentially negative situations in social media.
  5. Creating Fans/Evangelists: By being honest, forthright, and genuinely caring about Bloom Maternity’s experience and demonstrating that care with engaging conversation, Brasserie Pavil has likely created at least an avid fan in Bloom Maternity, who will relate this experience in a positive manner to her audience. Rather than continuing down the path of “this place was a disappointment,” now her experience is “even though my first experience there wasn’t the greatest, they cared enough to ask what went wrong so they could fix the situation that caused my disappointment.”

Investing in social media conversations is resource-intensive. However, conversing with the audience in a genuine manner, not with predefined marketing messages, can have great rewards.

There are no written rules or guidebooks when it comes to participating in social media. Several industry experts say it’s a lot like the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” While that’s a great rule of thumb about how to act and participate in social media, it’s a lot more about “giving without expectations.”

Companies need to give without expectations when entering into conversations in this space. It’s no longer about who’s controlling the messaging and marketing in any particular space. The most important thing that is forgotten when it comes to social media marketing: it’s a learning process.

While most companies think the ROI might need to be monetary, companies now need to take into account that ROI on conversations is a treasure trove of both insight and knowledge brought to them by their own communities. That can be very difficult to put a price tag on.

Liana Evans is off this week. This column was originally published on July 6, 2009.

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