Social media has become the de facto standard for communication in this modern era of smartphones and super-connectivity. People can now get information from anyone or anything they want at an incredible speed. As a result, instant gratification is expected throughout society and this has indirectly affected how the business world interacts with the public sphere.
The obvious benefit of using social media is that it provides a central point of communication for your customers, and provides them with the freedom to contact your business at a time that suits them. Business hours don’t always align with your customers’ availability, so being able to work in this asynchronous manner can greatly enhance how you service those customers.
This has substantially changed how companies approach customer support. For example, we regularly receive messages from our customers via Twitter. We then respond to the individual customer and if necessary, seek their permission to follow up via direct message. This step is important, as it essentially takes a public chat (that is accessible to anyone on the internet) and turns it into a private conversation with the customer. The customer gets a personalised service that allows them to talk to a real-life person within Twitter’s secure barriers and we avoid a lengthy support case that might have needed department escalation. Moreover, this avenue of communication is great for call avoidance as the customer receives the same information than if they talked to us via the phone.
Facebook pages offer a similar set-up, with the new introduction of the timeline re-design and the ability for customers to send private messages to the page’s owners. Our Global page and our UK/Ireland pages have this facility, which has proved popular with our customers. We also run the same initiative on Google+, with our Global page and UK page being easily accessible.
We respond to any public comment or private message we get on our social network accounts. Moreover, we get involved with conversations within the community on all the services we’re a part of and try to encourage more conversation by sharing information that we find interesting. Sharing is important for social networks, as many brands think they should just use their accounts to promote their own content, but they could greatly increase their effectiveness by also sharing content from the community and all over the internet. Sharing content can create discussion and gives your brand the ability to express itself.
Social networks can be useful for marketing and sales too. You can specifically advertise a particular product and ask other brands for recommendations, which you can then share with the community to showcase how the product works in the real world. Your business can also connect with interested parties to answer questions about products, and this can also work the other way if you’re interested in asking questions about someone else’s product. Most individuals and companies are more than forthcoming with information on their social network accounts, so taking advantage of that will be beneficial for any business.
The importance of business-orientated social media shouldn’t be underestimated. LinkedIn has now reached 10 million users in the UK and is a major tool for businesses to introduce themselves to potential employees as well as other companies. The professional networks the service can create are significant, which we’ve proved on our Global page and our UK/Ireland pages. Again, these pages allow us to share with our community and showcase our products. LinkedIn’s twist though is that it allows users to see insights about the page’s followers, the page itself and the company’s employees.
If your company has localised customer-facing facilities, using online business directories can be another interesting avenue of social media to exploit. Many modern online directories include messaging facilities that often integrate with email as well as social media, which can help out with reaching customers in different locations. An example of this would be our Scoot business page for our UK arm, SBE Ltd. Customers can leave reviews as well as message us if they have additional issues. Also note how we took advantage of the ability to fill the page with as much information about the company as possible, which will help people find us and make sure that we receive relevant enquiries from our users.
Google Maps is another free service that can also provide some incredibly useful services for your company. You can not only place your business on the main service’s map, but you can verify that listing and use the tools provided to display pictures as well as an invaluable website link. Google is still integrating Maps into Google+, but the service is already having a noticeable impact on SEO. Our page has provided us with some interesting feedback which we have taken on-board. With the rise of smartphones and GPS-capable devices that interface with the service, it can be a very useful tool for bridging the gap between the digital and real world. Foursquare is a similar tool, which we have used for our UK business. It has all the usual information such as our business name, address and phone number, but also provides the ability for people to ‘check-in’ and say they’ve visited us.
An overlooked feature of most social network business accounts is that most provide your company with the ability to detail information about itself, including website links. This has invaluable marketing potential and helps to prove your page’s authenticity (especially if you link back to your social network accounts on your website, like SBE does across all of our sites). Moreover, it can be very helpful for SEO as there will be more information about your company out there for search engines to notice.
Businesses need social media to remain accessible in this modern era. Customers are available on many services at once, so you need to match them and provide them with the information they require in a timely fashion or run the risk of appearing outdated. Additionally, link to your networks from your websites (including separate links on localised websites) to increase their visibility. Plus, make use of the free tools available from the major social networks, business directories and search engines. Finally, provide as much useful information as possible without resorting to spam and above all, be honest.