Using Social Media to Engage with Customers

“Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage”. – Amy Jo Marti

In a short span, personal and business lives seem to have become almost unimaginable without social media.  For companies, it has become a highly visible and effective platform to communicate with customers – both existing and prospective. It is important however, that companies understand the nuances of each channel, which in turn will help them differentiate between them thereby using them to maximum benefit. Companies must use social media to engage with customers – which means that they have ‘conversations’ with customers, rather than bombarding them with one-sided information. The fact is that social media is highly visible – open to viewing by all the people connected on it. Hence, it becomes imperative for companies to stop talking at their customers, but rather engage them, by carrying out meaningful and interesting ‘dialogues’.

It is no surprise then that most companies are on social media, and are trying their best to serve their customers through these channels. However, as mentioned, it does not suffice for companies to simply respond to queries or ‘speak’ with customers only when they have a problem. It is imperative that companies find innovative ways and means to use social media to engage with customers – that means getting customers interested in the company and keeping their attention, lest they wander off to competition. Done right and meticulously, engagement of customers via social media can prove to be highly effective – in fact affording almost the same chances and opportunities for all companies to gain market share and customer attention. Even sole entrepreneurs and standalone individuals are now able to make their businesses and services known and even build a global presence, through the appropriate use of social media. Using the power of content and keywords that resound with a large audience, it should no longer be hard for companies to use social media to engage with customers and keep them for a long time.

It would be surprising if there were still some companies ‘out there’ that are unable to use social media to engage with customers, given that there is hardly any cost of using social media. Companies do not need to pay huge sums to advertise or use social media, as is the case with hoardings, or television commercials or even advertisements in the newspaper. All that is required is to create content that is informative, engaging, interesting, and useful for the readers – something that will keep them ‘hooked’ and constantly coming back for more. The good news is that there are several ways, companies can use social media to engage with customers – the bad news is that most companies fail because they do not try hard enough to get a grip on the techniques for engagement.

As mentioned, there are several different sites of social media and customers are most likely to use any of these based on their preferences. The important thing is that companies understand these predilections and manage each one. However, to do so, it would be necessary to have teams dedicated to each site or at least one large team of experts to handle and manage the social media strategy. When using social media to engage with customers it becomes essential to look beyond simply responding to customer views, reviews, complaints, or even compliments. It is about sending out information proactively, such that many of their queries are answered and apprehensions allayed. This would keep customers interested since they would see the company as one that understands them, and is focussed on providing them with what they want and need, without even asking for it. This is possibly one of the highest forms of customer service.

There is so much talk about content strategy and marketing – rightly so, since social media strategies should be part of the larger gamut of the company’s strategies. Companies must be able to publish top class content that would serve as a valuable resource for the customers and other readers, which in turn would keep them engaged with the company. These ‘posts’ on social media should be informative – not self-promotions or selling proposals from the company. By posting content that adds value for customers, such as happenings of the industry within which the customer operates and of industries outside, a company would garner positive attention and gain a fan following, which increases its chances at getting more new customers and ensuring that existing customers stay.

We know that the internet is teeming with information, but most of it would be tough to access and some could be useless from the customer’s perspective. It would a good idea to consolidate all the information that a customer may be looking for, and post it on the company’s site on social media, such that all the information is not only easily visible and accessible, but is also centralized in one place, making it easier for customers to use. Making content easy is one of the most potent ways to use social media to engage with customers – not just existing ones, but a much wider base that the company may not even know about.

Research proves that people are more likely to trust other customers, and those people who are considered experts and authority figures in the business world. In order to garner interest, and keep the attention of their customers, it would be great if a company could get one of these ‘experts’ and or existing customers to write an article or a blog for the company’s website and social media sites. This will raise the trust and dependability levels in the minds of readers – the thought being that if customers and industry experts are happy to associate with a company, there would be something good about it.

Engaging with customers is all about keeping them interested in your company and focused on what it says and does. In order to use social media to engage with customers, a company should put together questions that they ask customers, eliciting candid and honest responses that the company can use to improve service and experiences for the customers. It is important to show customers that your company is focused on their interests – by asking them questions that would be relevant to their company and expectations, it would be easier to keep them ‘fixated’ on staying and doing business with your company. When a company uses the suggestions or insights given by customers and other readers, it shows that it is paying attention and is truly interested in serving customers the way they deem appropriate.

The more a company uses social media to engage with customers, the more likely it would be to gain feedback. Some of the feedback may not be positive but the fact is that even negative feedback can be used as a positive. The fact that the customer has taken the time to provide feedback is a good sign – it means that they are still interested in the company and are providing pointers for improvement. Every company would have its share of complaints and criticism from customers – each of these present the company with an opportunity to fix their issues and publicly announce their actions. Such behaviour demands courage, and only a company that is worthy and truly focused on the customer, would have such fortitude and the ability to withstand public criticism and emerge unscathed.

Using social media to engage with customers can be intimidating – given the reasons above and especially because of its high visibility. However, it is in the best interest of companies to create strong social media strategies that would encourage sales, build brand advocacy and customer loyalty. Engaging through social media should be one of the pillars of a company’s overall business strategy – a great way to connect with, build relationships, and engage customers for a long time.

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