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VIEWPOINT: Social listening and essential response

By Meagan Saxton


How to use social media to your brand’s advantage

Using social media as a tool for customer service is a cornerstone of digital marketing in the 21st century. However, it isn’t as simple as firing off a series of posts on X in response to angry customers. In fact, responding to customers when they are angry is merely one component of a broader social strategy — one that’s only necessary if the other components are struggling to amplify your brand’s message.

Any response strategy begins with building relationships. Communicating with clients — past, present, and future — is a business strategy as old as time. A social-media strategy is no different; only the forum for building those relationships is new. 

Although what you say when responding to customers is an in-the-moment choice, responding should be considered part of a longer-term strategy of community engagement on every social platform where your brand appears.

Responding also begins with listening. “Social listening” is the practice of analyzing online conversations about your brand, competitor brands, and related keywords to learn more about your audience. What are people saying about your products, your customer service, your new logo — anything? 

Most likely, the majority of what is said online will not demand a response from an official branded account. However, responding isn’t the primary purpose of listening. You can always listen to learn.

For example, say your company releases a new product. If users are encountering a common, solvable problem while using the product, social listening can help. Keep tabs on the relevant social channels for the product name and/or your brand to understand what people are saying about the problem. Instead of responding to questions, complaints, or concerns individually, your customers’ comments might inform an article that you post to your company’s website. Then, where appropriate, direct those customers on social media to your site, where they can learn how to solve the problem.

Not every social-media complaint comes with the luxury of time. Experienced social-media teams have the benefit of understanding which complaints are worthy of an immediate response, which can wait, and which can be ignored altogether.

Where an immediate response is appropriate, a response template can come in handy. Remember to acknowledge the issue, apologize, and then address it. While copying and pasting the same verbiage for every message can seem insincere, some variation on “Sorry (name), how can we contact you?” gets to the point quickly. You want to make the situation better, and you want to help the customer outside a public forum via email or telephone. Leaving a genuine question or complaint unanswered is not a recommended approach. 

That’s essentially basic customer service, if only in a new forum. In every instance where social listening turns into a response, the idea is to embrace feedback and turn challenges into opportunities. If people are leaving negative comments about your brand, it might reflect a valid concern where change is needed. Experience is the best teacher for when this is the case.

Ideally, the effect of long-term social media relationship-building is the goodwill between your brand and its customers. For companies with a reputation of fast, friendly responses, any customer who encounters an issue down the road is more likely to be patient, knowing a friendly response to that issue will arrive before long. In effect, your response strategy should be to put out any social-media fires before they start.

Among small social-media teams, or where marketing personnel must monitor social-media channels as one of many duties, quick responses aren’t always possible. Taking time to understand any issues your customers might have with your brand is more important than being quick to respond to their social-media complaints — particularly when the issue is complex. Although social media is built on instant communication, do not lose sight of your company’s long-term customer-service strategy at the expense of speed. 

Over time, social listening and a response strategy can be vital tools to building and maintaining your brand’s reputation.              

Meagan Saxton writes for client and agency needs at the marketing agency, ddm marketing + communications. She has several years of experience creating content and managing social media accounts for health care, higher education, and financial-services organizations.