Monday, February 11, 2013

Social Etiquette For Businesses Online

Etiquette is something the majority of Americans grow up learning from their parents. Socially acceptable behavior is generally expected of people when we interact on a day-to-day basis, but what about the internet? The internet is notorious for being a breeding ground for what internet die-hards call "flame wars" or "trolling" - situations where anonymous (or known) internet users will just stir the pot to get a rise out of a community or online presence. As a business owner, this is a very real possibility, even with the internet becoming even more personal as Google and other search engines work to create even more authentic search and authentic online results.

On the other end of this, businesses are even more likely to sink their own ships by responding to unhappy customers inappropriately, or simply by not responding at all to a customer complaint. While there is no way to predict when an angry customer will pay you a visit (short of providing 100% stellar service, which is a challenge in itself), there are ways to respond to help your business keep a positive image in the public eye.

Establish company-wide social media protocol to prevent inappropriate posts.

It happens to the best of us. You write something raunchy, hit send, and then sit back in horror as you realize you've a) sent the message to your entire contact list, b) Tweeted as your company, transmitting your post-work shenanigans to the entire company audience, or c) posted news in haste that turns out to be false or in poor taste. Oops! Or maybe you start out your social networking approach by spamming everyone you can find, telling them to buy your product - also in poor taste, and hard to recover from.

Your company may want to, at the very least, hire a social media consultant to give you some basic protocol for how to communicate with your audience. Social media is just that - being social with your audience - and saying or sharing inappropriately can have the same effects that it does in the real world...rejection. Have a plan, and make sure each of your employees understands your company stance on social. It's great to have employees getting social, but if they're also into posting about that wild week in Cancun they just had with a complete stranger, you may want to make sure they understand how account privacy settings work, and make sure the platforms they post from as the company are kept separate from their personal accounts.

Concerned about the online reputation of your company team members? Do a quick Google and make sure everyone is upholding a positive online presence. If there are team members making disparaging remarks about your company, you may want to evaluate both their level of commitment and your level of employee care to make sure everyone is satisfied. This gives your employees a chance to correct the situation as much as it gives your company a chance to see what you can do better to keep employees happy and productive.

Don't be rude! Even if the customer started it!

Customers are unpredictable. Even the highest level of quality is bound to have a rusted silver lining for some customers who simply cannot be pleased. And we all have a bad day or two, when we're just not up to delivering the best service. Customers use social media to reach out and share about these negative experiences - sometimes more often than they share about the positive experiences. They're not always polite about it, either, using your Facebook page or Twitter handle to rant and rave about why they deserved better from you. However, no matter what the customer says, this is an opportunity to listen and see if you are able to resolve the situation and restore faith in your product or service.

This potential to rebuild a relationship is exactly why it is essential to never let a negative communication prompt you to respond in a negative tone. Instead, read the post, share the post with your team, find out what really happened, and then respond immediately to let the customer know you are listening and that you care. Even if there is no immediate resolution, this says "we're here and trying to find a solution for you," and gives the customer a positive view of how your company handles negative situations. Is there something you can offer to the customer to help your apology seem sincere? If there is, providing that extra apology and going the extra mile can be a great way to patch up a weak customer relationship, giving your customer a reason to share your company in a positive light with others.

Once the problem has been solved, make a point to stay transparent.

Now that you've resolved the situation, make sure you stay transparent by keeping those situations open and available to all of your customers and audience. This part of netiquette is about maintaining a level of honesty and integrity that shows your audience that you're constantly working on making your business a better one. Honesty only helps you online, giving customers a view into your continuous efforts to provide a positive experience. Let's be honest - no company is perfect, and if a customer only sees glowing reviews, they may grow suspicious of what they're not seeing. Sharing everything gives customers a real insight into the humanity of your company and grows stronger customer relationships.

Etiquette and netiquette go hand in hand when it comes to customer service. Always think before you type, and take that extra few minutes to discuss a social dilemma so your company maintains its positive image online.

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