These days, you can’t be online for any length of time without checking into social media. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have come to dominate our lives, which has made them a bit of a tricky situation for businesses. On the one hand, it’s a quick and easy way to reach out to your customers, but then again, you don’t want to risk alienating them by being too aggressive with your outreach.

Nonetheless, social media has changed the game when it comes to customer relationships, more specifically customer service. As long as you utilise a competent social media strategy, you can make sure that your audience feels engaged with your company without becoming overbearing.

So, with that in mind, let’s go over some best practices to keep in mind when using social media as part of your digital marketing and customer service agenda.

Find the Right Platform for You

At first, you may think that your company should reach out to customers on any and all social media sites as a way to ensure that you aren’t missing out on any potential marketing opportunities. However, not all platforms are created equal, and what may work well on one could backfire on another. For example, your audience may like it when you tweet to them when they have an issue, but dislike when you do the same thing on Facebook.

The best thing to do is to search on each site for mentions of your company name and various alterations of it. The one that has the most engaged users will probably be your ideal target for customer service, considering that they are already talking about you. Also, don’t neglect other social media platforms such as Google+ and LinkedIn. Just because they are not as popular as other sites doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth your time.

Pay Attention to Content

They say that when one person complains about something, it’s an opinion, but if two or more do, then it’s an observation. With that in mind, you should be looking at the comments regarding your brand to see what people are saying so that you can customise your service responses accordingly.

For example, if people are frustrated with technical aspects of your business (site not loading, etc.) then you will want to have more of an IT approach. If they are complaining about the service at your location, then it could be that you need to retrain your staff.

Overall, look at what is talked about the most and respond in a way that shows that you are handling the problem specifically. A general apology or statement doesn’t work as well as a targeted and specific resolution. This is also true for positive services, such as letting your customers know of upcoming promotions or deals. Find out what they care about the most and cater to that.

Respond Quickly

Even if your business is relatively small, you should take the time to dedicate resources toward customer service online. If someone sends a direct message or tweets @ you, the sooner that you can reply the better it will be.

There are two benefits to doing things this way. First, it allows you to get ahead of an issue before a client starts spreading their message, and it shows people where they can reliably find you. So, if you respond instantly on Facebook, then they will be more likely to message you there.

That doesn’t mean that you should ignore other sites but put the focus on what makes the most sense for you, and even direct customers on other pages to search for you there. Overall, it provides greater control of where and how you interact with your consumer base.

Filter Your Responses

As a smaller company, you can usually afford to reply to most mentions or messages, since you most likely don’t have that many. However, as your influence and social media presence grows, you can’t expect to have that same kind of attention to detail once you start getting thousands of mentions per day. As such, you need to learn how to filter through the “noise” and reach out to those who are actually looking for service.

So, a comment like “I ate at @yourrestaurant today, it was the bomb” doesn’t have the immediacy as something like “I can’t believe the horrible service @yourrestaurant! I’m never coming back!”

Overall, you want to come up with a ranking system for these kinds of things so that you can prioritise them by importance, not necessarily in chronological order. However, it’s also important that you respond to the positive reinforcement, as it will encourage others to do the same. If you can manage to do both on a constant basis, then hopefully you can increase the number of good mentions and reduce the number of negative ones.

Know When to Make Responses Public

Not every mention needs a public reply from you. Sometimes, you want to take it “offline” and deal with it in either a private message or a phone call. In fact, if you are dealing with a particularly irate customer, a call will usually be better so that you can add more of a personal touch.

For the most part, try to bring negative messages offline, and post positive ones in the public eye. Again, this will allow you to control the overall perception and reputation of your business, so treat it accordingly.

Bottom Line: Be Professional!

No matter what, never manage your business profiles the same way that you would with your personal one. Making jokes, lobbing insults, or going on a rant is never a good idea, so be sure to have a professional mindset when replying to customers, even in lighter circumstances. Ultimately, this will make your social media presence much more respectable and engaging, and won’t come across as pandering.