Your customers are just as real on social media as they are in the real world, writes James Chalmers, so to achieve content marketing success, businesses must remember to give their customer service efforts a much needed human touch.

As much as we all occasionally like to complain about our fellow humans, the truth is we are social creatures and like dealing with people. It’s the reason good service is called personal service, and why automated call centres can induce clenched fists from even the calmest person.

We all know what good service looks like. It’s the store assistant who happily answers all your questions about a product. It’s the waiter who knows how to appear exactly when needed. It’s the barista who remembers your name and exactly how you like your coffee. And when things go wrong, it’s the complaints department that responds quickly and helpfully, and actually fixes the problem.

The internet may have upended how we do business and communicate but it hasn’t changed our preferences for a human touch. When implementing a content marketing strategy for your brand, build in ways to overcome the anonymity of the internet and you’ll be rewarded with more engaged customers and improved loyalty.

Social media is a conversation, not a broadcast

Engage in conversation with followers. Nothing frustrates quite like trying to engage with someone and facing a wall of silence in response. One of the best Australian examples of this is Qantas (the occasional PR misfire notwithstanding). Every single day, the Flying Kangaroo’s Twitter handle, @QantasAirways, receives a barrage of @mentions, from excited travellers thanking them for their service and irate passengers facing delays. @QantasAirways respond promptly to every tweet, no matter how trivial-seeming.

No matter the size of your company, if your brand has a social media presence, you must check your @mentions every day and respond in a timely fashion. The same goes for Facebook posts or messages. This is particularly important for customers who are asking a question about your business or trying to get in contact.

People like people

Every @QantasAirways tweet is signed off with the first name of the Qantas staff member who responded.

It’s a super-simple concept but having a name instantly helps customers feel more comfortable. They’re no longer dealing with a faceless, nameless droid at some corporation – they’re dealing with an identifiable person. It’s why department store workers have nametags. Not only that, knowing the name of the person you’re dealing with drives engagement and conversation.

People don’t like robots

Automated replies are never a good idea. At best, people feel like they are being broadcast to. At worst, things have the potential to go very badly indeed.

American Airlines drew widespread derision when they set their Twitter account to reply to every @mention with a cheery response, no matter how critical the tweet was.

People like to laugh

It goes without saying that all interactions with customers should be professional. But that doesn’t mean your company’s social media presence can’t have personality. Done well, humour can be a priceless way to boost engagement with your customers.

Of course, this doesn’t mean reposting any old jokes or cartoons. And even more importantly, it means never using humour that some might find offensive or divisive. Don’t be that guy.

Arguments should be had in private

Sometimes things go wrong. But if you run a store and are visited by an irate customer, would you want to get into a shouting match with them on the shopfloor? When dealing with complaints or emotional people, it is vital to take the conversation offline as soon as possible. This means sending them an email address to use or asking them to use direct or private messages.

And don’t forget – even when conversing with someone via private or direct message, write as though it is a public message; it very easily could be, if the customer decides to post it online.

History cannot be erased, especially online

As tempting as it may be, don’t delete critical public posts on your Facebook page, unless they contain extreme language or threats. It will very likely backfire.

When David Jones received a post on its Facebook wall bemoaning the lack of ethnically diverse models in its catalogue, a staffer deleted the comment. It very quickly became mainstream news and drew far more attention to the issue than would have occurred otherwise.

Instead, such posts can sometimes serve as an opportunity to put across your side of the story. The key here is tone – be as polite and respectful as you would in a conversation with someone sitting across from you.

Firstly, take a few minutes before responding to a critical tweet or Facebook post – don’t respond in anger. And whatever you do, don’t start inviting the hecklers down to your place of business to face-off ‘man to man’.

Consider all tweets or Facebook posts as though they are being written on the front of your website. The tone on social media might be less formal but the professionalism needs to be at the same level as in any other communication with the public.

Top tips for giving your social media presence the human touch

  • Use social media as a way of starting conversations, not just broadcasting your information to followers.
  • Remind people they are dealing with an actual person, not an automaton.
  • Avoid automatic replies – they’re lazy and don’t make customers feel valued.
  • Use humour where appropriate.
  • Don’t delete critical posts – engage with the customer instead.
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