On one level social media is ideal for sharing service updates and news to as many customers as possible in a very short space of time.
The more tricky part though is that in the same way that brands can share their news, customers can also use social media to challenge brands in a very public way. Over the past few years there have been many examples of brands who have responded inappropriately on social media channels only then to see their comments broadcast throughout the web. Whether brands have suffered irreparable damage as a result of social media mistakes is a moot point as customers seem to have fairly short memories, Habitat is a good example here, but in the short term it can be very embarrassing for the brand.
How then should brands respond to tricky customers online via social media, but also offline via content marketing magazines? Though the platforms are very different, the rules of engagement are in fact surprisingly similar. Here then are the key things to bear in mind.
1. Think carefully before you respond. You don't always have to - In most instances if a person is critical of a brand then it makes sense for the brand to have their say. But not all the time. If a person is making ludicrous unsubstantiated claims about a brand on Twitter it may not be the sensible thing to engage with them. If the tweet or Facebook message is more customer service based, or challenges the brand in a rational way, then the brand needs to reply.
2. Think carefully about the level of response - There is a huge difference between a person claiming that a product doesn't work compared with someone suggesting that the company makes its products in unlicensed far East sweatshops. Especially if the latter person is influential (i.e. has a lot of social media followers) or is continually making a noise about the issue. In the former case, if the company hasn't already got a customer service format written up then this needs to be created. It might simply be a case of responding to the customer and then moving them on to the right department. In the latter example, say if a customer posted a link to this on a brand's Facebook page, the brand would need to post an appropriate response, possibly from the PR department.
3. Always be polite and helpful - A good response from a brand to a customer query can have surprising results and help turn the complainer into someone who is evangelical about the company. This is as long as they get a fast response and are treated in a courteous manner. Some of the worst brand fails on social media have been because customers have become irate when a brand has responded in an aggressive way, such as this classic from Chrysler.
4. However, always be firm - The customer isn't always right, there may be instances in which the brand needs to stand firm. One of these might be responding to someone who is critical of a brand's pricing structure. In this case the company needs to be open and courteous, but not to apologise for their business practice. Here's a good example of how a brand (Cineworld) is assertive without being aggressive.
5. If a customer is aggressive then get the conversation offline as fast as possible - In most instances this might mean someone is complaining about, for example, faulty equipment or poor service. Brands should have a strategy whereby they shift the conversation from social media to email, or even better, telephone, as quickly as possible.
6. If a person says something positive - share it - Don't be afraid to retweet or share positive or interesting feedback from customers.
Finally here are some good examples of brands using customer service effectively on Facebook and the famous letter which Lego turned into a great marketing opportunity.
Issues for content marketing agencies
So how does this impact on content marketing agencies then? Well in many ways agencies are at the sharp end of brand communications. Some run social media accounts for the client and in this instance need to have set strategies for dealing with customers that are agreed and acted upon from day one.
However, brands producing their own content have no excuse for not responding quickly and effectively to queries. For example, it is essential that agencies keep tabs on comments on the site and elicit a response from the client if needs be.
Also agencies who sit on emails and letters sent to magazines and don't act quickly run the risk of seriously damaging their relations with a brand. Once again these need to be responded to quickly and positively.
Finally it is worth reiterating that most criticism should be seen as an opportunity for the brand. A letter to a magazine for example might give the brand and the publisher the chance to address key issues that may be worrying other consumers too.