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Social media and customer relationship experts share tips on how to use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to enhance customers’ experience with your brand.

As many organizations already know, social media can be a powerful customer relationship tool, driving traffic to your brand. It can also damage your brand when not used properly.

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“Many brands have been severely damaged by not respecting social media, either by engaging on an ad hoc basis or simply having the wrong team or individual [or strategy to] manage it,” says Mark Harrington, vice president of marketing at Clutch, a customer loyalty program provider.

So how can your brand successfully leverage social media? Here are seven proven customer engagement strategies for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

1. Use social media to answer customer questions and solve problems. “You can improve your customer relations [by regularly monitoring Facebook and Twitter and] answering customer questions, replying, as they come [up],” says Avi Levine, the executive director of the Digital Professional Institute, a digital skills training school based in Chicago. “This gives you the opportunity to connect with customers as they are experiencing problems, have questions or just want to share feedback.” Moreover, by posting answers to questions on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, “they will then be available for anyone to read.”

“Because we are a parking company, when our customers have issues, they need help right away,” says Megan Bubley, customer hero at SpotHero, an on-demand parking app. “Twitter is immensely helpful because it enables us to interact with our customers in real time. When issues arise, customers can tweet at our Twitter handle to receive immediate support,” she says, which often leads to positive comments (and feelings) about the company.
“We noticed that two siblings were having a conversation on one of our Instagram photos, saying they wanted to purchase a watch for their dad, but just couldn’t afford it,” says Esti Chazanow, cofounder and brand manager, LIV – Swiss Watches. “We piped in saying we would pitch in by offering a coupon code. Their response: ‘Wow now that is impressive @livwatches awesome customer awareness and service!!!’”

“We have a customer in the home goods space who proactively listens for people tweeting about problems with competitor products, then offers to help them fix the problems they’re having with competitor products,” says Jordan Enright-Schulz, a product marketing manager for Adobe Social. “Unsurprisingly, this outreach has resulted in high rates of new customer conversion.”

2. Use social media to keep customers informed/alert them to problems or promotions. Use social media to “be proactive,” says Davina Kristi Brewer, consultant, 3Hats Communications. “When something’s going on, get out in front [of it]. If your website is down, let people know via social that you’re aware of the problem, that you’re working on it [and] when you expect it to be corrected,” she advises. “The when the website is back, [let people know that] you’ll honor whatever sales or promotions [they] might have missed as a result of the glitch.”

Another way companies can make a positive impression on customers is to use social media to advertise sales or promotions – and provide discount codes to their social media followers.

“We connect with our current customer base by offering our newsletter subscribers exclusive JUST4ME discounts,” says Claudia Montez, founder of Isabelle Grace Jewelry. “Every week, we put one of our pieces on a special JUST4ME discount and advertise it in our newsletter and to our social media followers,” she says. “Not only has this resulted in new purchases from existing customers, but it has also helped us really grow our social media and newsletter following!”

3. Use social media to turn a neutral or negative experience into a positive one. “From a customer service point of view, it is important to acknowledge each and every customer’s point of view [or comment], even if we disagree with it,” says Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner, Happy Marketer. “On social media, if a brand publicly acknowledges someone, half the battle is already won since every customer rightfully demands your attention.”

“If a customer tweets something nasty about your company, view it as an opportunity rather than an insult,” says Gina Broom, marketing assistant, Affilorama, an affiliate marketing training portal. “Let them know you’re sorry they’ve had this experience, and ask how you can help them have a better one,” she advises. “This will douse the fire, demonstrate that you care about quality experiences for customers and potentially even save your relationship with an existing customer.”

“When you’re faced with negative reviews on social media, apologize publicly and follow up privately,” says Adi Bittan, cofounder and CEO of OwnerListens, a customer service app. “Your apology to the original post lets viewers know you’re addressing the issue, and [the] followup makes your response more personal for the customer.”

4. Use social media to highlight your customers. Use social media to “spotlight customers who have done cool and interesting things with your product or service,” says Rani Mani, director, customer success and social strategy at Adobe. “Not only does it shine a spotlight on your customers, but it humanizes what you are offering the world. Lead with the success of the person and make it secondary that some of that success was powered by your company,” she says. “The public is inspired by stories and the people behind those stories. So make it a point to tell compelling stories about ordinary people who are achieving extraordinary results [with your product or service].”

5. Use social media to get feedback from customers.With social media, feedback about a product or service, the purchasing experience or customer service “can be gathered as simple as tweeting or posting a question about [it on Facebook],” says Levine. “You no longer have to go through the hassles of creating a survey. It’s short and sweet and customers can tweet/comment what their experiences have been.” Though if you go this route, be prepared for negative comments.

You can also use your Twitter or Facebook channel to “ask your audience what they’d like to know about [or see] next,” says Broom. “If you’re using Facebook, you can even give them options in a poll, so it’s easy for them to respond, e.g., Would you like to know more about A, B or C? This gives you two bonuses: Your audience feels heard, and you know exactly what content to deliver to keep them happy.”

6. Use social media to humanize your brand. Customers like to feel they know a company, or can relate to it. So by giving your company a human face, that is, assigning an individual or several people to manage each of your social media channels, who customers can get to know by name (and posts and photos), you help build the customer relationship.

“We use Facebook and Instagram to show our users that we are more than just a voice on the phone or a Twitter handle,” says Bubley. “We are real people who are passionate about what we do and who we do it for.”

7. Don’t use your social media channels to sell or pressure customers. “Customers aren’t looking for sales pitches and press releases,” says Brewer. “They want help, support, to get the most they can from your products, services [or] brands.”

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