Social Engagement: Something's Gotta Give

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Sisyphus attempting to close Pandora's Box—that's what social media feels like to some brands. The number of inbound social messages is ever-increasing and any brand that ignores the constant conversation will quickly find itself made irrelevant. Consumers are there already and now it's up to brands to keep up.

According to research from social media software company Sprout Social, not has only user engagement on Facebook and Twitter increased dramatically—the number of messages sent to brands on Twitter and Facebook requiring attention or response shot up 175% between Q2 2012 and Q3 2013—the two social networks have seen a combined increase of roughly 250 million new active users in the last year alone, bringing the total number to a collective 1.4 billion.

This incredible volume of inbound social messaging is leaving quite a few brands at a loss. Sprout Social, which recently scoured nearly 20,000 public active social profiles and more than 160 million public messages, also found that an unimpressive four out of every five consumer inquiries go unanswered on social networks.

And another noteworthy finding from the Sprout Social Index: The average brand response time has gone up roughly 60 minutes between last year and this to a little over 11 hours.

 

So, what's a brand to do? It all boils down to strategy, says Andrew Caravella, VP of marketing at Sprout Social.

1. Learn how to prioritize. You can't do everything at once, so come up with a categorization system to help you deal with incoming messages in a way that make sense. Some will clearly be high priority while others can wait a little bit. If a customer is blowing his top after a massive flight delay to @AnAirline'sCustServTwitter, it probably makes sense to respond to that before responding to a general non-time-sensitive query about your loyalty program.

Sometimes you just have to put out the fires, but social posts can also be an (often missed) opportunity for brand building.

“Brands need to remember that every response, unless it's a direct or a private message, is a public response and once it's out there, it can easily be shared,” Caravella says. “So when you answer one question, think about including a note at the end to ask people to share it with their friends or anyone having a similar issue—and really think about the language and the content you're using.”

2. Who's in charge? A lot of brands use their social channels for more than just pushing out marketing messages, which means you need the right person at the controls. It doesn't make sense to use Twitter to handle customer service issues if your main tweeter isn't a customer service person well-versed in how to deal with those kinds of queries.

“I often say that it's easier to train customer service people on social versus training social people on the ins and out of customer service,” Caravella says. “Having the right people there to answers questions as they come in will speed up your response time.”

3. Don't. Talk. Like. A. Ro. Bot. Even Hal 9000 had a personality. Of course he was trying to kill everyone aboard the Discovery, but that's a separate matter. “Social” in the real world refers to interaction, relationships, and spending time with other people while enjoying yourself—so why should “social” in the online realm mean self-congratulatory robo-tweets packed with #unnecessaryhashtags touting the latest deals on your website?

“Think about your language usage, your conversational style, and your tone of voice; there needs to be a strategy for an effective social voice for a brand,” Caravella says. “The goal is to be authentic always—brands often forget that or they're afraid of getting in trouble or venturing into gray territory, so they keep it very regimented when what they really need is to be more flexible with their social channels.”

4. “I'm not gonna be ignored, Dan.” Just like in Fatal Attraction, your customers will get seriously ticked off if you don't pay attention to them. But unlike in Fatal Attraction, they're not going to stalk you…or kill your daughter's rabbit (hopefully). If you don't engage with your customers, they'll just go somewhere else. Some customers need their issues urgently resolved, but others just want to be acknowledged.

“For us, customer engagement and customer care are synonymous,” Caravella says. “Beyond issue resolution—a cancelled flight, an incorrect food order—it's about proactively building loyalty, which could be as simple as surprising and delighting your customers by posting helpful content that answers their questions before they ask them.”

5. Be in for the count. You didn't think we'd get through an entire post about social media without mentioning data, did you?

“With digital and social, you have access to a lot of data to help you process what's happening at the message level, to see what's being retweeted, to see how your customers are responding,” Caravella says. “It's important to use metrics to understand how well you're doing.”

6. But you can't—and probably shouldn't—do everything. As a final piece of advice, Caravella suggests paring down your focus. Biting off more than you can chew will just leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Know what's feasible and realistic for your brand. Just because everyone else is Face-tweet-booking and posting Insta-Google-grams, doesn't mean you have to be.

“Have goals in mind for what you want to do with your brand on social media that line up with your overall business goals and your bandwidth,” he says. “You don't go from zero to 100 in a single quarter, so choose a few networks that merge nicely with your brand and put some effort behind them—it's much better to do a few things well rather than many things poorly.”

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