10 Social Media Management Best Practices for Responding to Customers

People are talking about you. If your brand is on social media ⁠— and we hope that it is ⁠— the goal is for customers to interact with your content and amplify your message. The worst mistake you can make is to miss out on the conversation.

Your customers and prospects expect to communicate with you via your social channels. Sprout Social reports that 21% of consumers would rather message a brand on social media than call customer service. (That statistic could be much higher if your brand targets Millennials.) More than half of consumers (57%) say they reach out to brands on social media to ask questions.

And they expect answers. According to research by Hubspot, 80% of customers expect a response within 24 hours. Other findings support even greater urgency, with some users reporting they will only wait an hour for a response!

Armed with this information, you should develop a plan for responding to customers on social media. However, missteps in this area can cost you customers and damage your reputation. Follow these best practices to win at customer social engagement.

10 Social Media Best Practices

1. Make It Someone's Job to Monitor and Respond on All of Your Social Channels

A common mistake is to treat this activity as an afterthought and ask one or two people to tend to it whenever they find time. As mentioned above, you customers expect a fast response. In addition, if you let negative feedback sit there unacknowledged, it can take on a life of its own. Whether you rely on internal team members or an agency partner, assign specific people to monitor social media, including review sites, daily.

2. Keep That Person Informed of Company News

Whoever tracks your social presence needs the power to respond promptly and accurately. Keep that person or team in the loop on any company news, staff changes, new products, sales, special offers and anything else that might fuel customer interactions. It’s also a good idea to develop a few pre-approved responses to common questions, especially in situations where privacy or legal concerns come into play. In the moment, you won't have time for a lot of back-and-forth among departments to iron out a response.

3. Use a Software Tool to Monitor for Mentions of Your Brand

Monitoring social media can easily become a full-time job, especially if your brand has broad reach. It's a good idea to invest in a software platform that not only helps plan and schedule social posts, but also listen. Customers may mention you--sometimes without tagging ⁠— in public conversations not directed at you. You will want to capture any and all conversations about your brand. A software solution keeps things from falling between the digital cracks.

4. Monitor News Sources to Stay ahead of Industry News

Whether or not your brand makes news, ripple effects from related news stories can reach your shores. For example, if your competitor gets hacked, you will want to reassure customers of your attention to security and privacy. You can get creative, too, with "newsjacking" or "trendjacking." Tread lightly, however, as there are numerous stories of newsjacking gone horribly wrong!

5. Keep Open Lines of Communication with Customer Service

Did we mention that customers expect responses to complaints quickly? It's likely that your social media team will need to involve your customer service team in some situations in order to resolve them. Your company may need to make on-the-fly choices about whether to issue refunds, provide technical support, or offer value-add products and services in order to keep a customer. Make sure you're set up for these decisions.

6. Set up Filters to Catch Curse Words, Racial Slurs, etc. as Needed

Internet conversations can turn toxic in a few characters. Even if your brand is more relaxed and focused on an adult audience where a swear word or two is acceptable, you will want to prevent certain kinds of language to the extent possible.

7. Never Ignore or Remove Feedback (Unless It's in Clear Violation of Terms of Use)

The advice 'never read the comments' doesn't apply to brands. Hubspot reports that 50% of people say they will cease to do business with a brand if they don't get a response to negative feedback. Make a plan in advance and empower your social media team members to tactfully handle mean and angry comments. Of course, if a user makes threats of harm or otherwise violates the platform's terms of service, you should report them to the platform.

8. Keep It Positive, Even When the Customer Is Negative

Related to the practice above, you need to respond even to the bad stuff, so go all Leslie Knope on them. (They're just "caring loudly.") Acknowledge that you appreciate their interest and their business, and make them feel heard. Sometimes that's all they want. If they're saying things that are completely wrong, simply present the facts in as friendly a tone as you can muster.

9. Know When to Move a Conversation to a Private Channel

Some situations cannot be resolved on social media. They could be too complicated, involve personal information, or contain offensive language from the customer. Create a plan for how you will move these conversations to email, phone, or chat, and who from your company will field them.

10. Thank Customers Profusely

Always show your appreciation for your customers. Thank them for their business, and thank them for any positive comments or reviews. We've talked a lot about negative customer interactions, but many people use social media to sing the praises of brands they like. Good or bad, let them know you appreciate their engagement with your brand. This is a great way to build relationships and create brand ambassadors.

Develop a Feedback Strategy

What many people love most about social media is the immediacy. It presents ample opportunity to be spontaneous and creative. However, even brands that make it look completely unplanned are working from a playbook. Build your feedback strategy into your overall social media communications plan. Don't wait until you get customer questions or complaints ⁠— or even accolades ⁠— to figure out how to respond. Preparation is the key to avoiding a crisis that could damage your brand.

A trustworthy inbound digital marketing partner can help you manage the workload and provide solid advice. Implement these best practices and you will start to realize the full potential of social media marketing for great customer relationship building.