Humanizing Social Media Community Management
Chase Koeneke | Associate Creative Director

Most brands today understand the importance of how social media and customer service play an increasingly integrated and integral role in the health of their business. Unfortunately, not all brands have invested in, or have developed, a cohesive strategy that combines the two together.

There are some brands out there, of course, that are doing it right. Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) comes to mind:

They are interacting with fans daily, going well-beyond simply hitting the monthly KPIs, and focused on giving consumers a unique experience in the digital plane. We all know a brand or two that fits this category.

But on the other side of that coin are brands that have never realized or completely forgotten the reality that just because a consumer decided not call into a traditional customer call center (to be bounced around via the automated voice response to various departments for 10 minutes), that doesn’t make their tweet, Instagram story, or Facebook post any less valuable. In fact, it’s easy to argue it becomes more important digitally as the notation in support of or denouncing a brand becomes instantly sharable. And unfortunately, there’s mounting evidence that brands are cutting corners, missing opportunities and failing to leverage best practices in social media customer service — and it’s hurting their customer relationships and ultimately, brand equity.

Quality over quantity

At the end of the day, every chief executive is focused on costs and revenues. And in this vicious cycle, marketing budgets (social media in particular) often see their parts of the pie shrink, being told to work miracles and get wishes granted by fairy godmothers.

This ultimately forces brands with small (or frugal) social media community management budgets to rely heavily on bots or cut and paste (c&p) responses.  Here’s an example:

As someone who’s worked in social media customer service for more than a decade, I find this mind boggling.

Bots and c&p responses have their place in social media community management. However, if a consumer comes to a brand with a legitimate issue — these won’t fly (no pun intended). More than anything, this response made things worse and all 5k+ followers of this consumer — in addition to anyone else who shares it — will now see how this brand treated their loyal consumer who wanted to utilize the benefits of the brand’s loyalty program.

History Lesson

Take a step back in history. How many people know who George Silverman is? What about “teleconferenced peer influence groups”? Nothing? Bueller? Bueller?

In the 1970’s, Silvermen created what is now known at word-of-mouth-marketing (WOMM). The basic premise is that when you have a happy customer, they tell their friends to try your product, who then tell their friends to try your product, and so on and so forth.

Of all marketing, word-of-mouth is the cheapest form of advertising you’ll get and it carries extra emphasis because it’s third party and seen as unbiased. Sure, there’s another side to this shiny coin as the same domino effect occurs when all of the unhappy customers tell their friends too. But positive word-of-mouth is about as good as it gets for any brand.

Fast forward to 2018, where WOMM has moved from telling a friend in person or over the phone about your situation, to posting about your experiences and mentioning brands directly on social media.

And don’t think it’s bitter trolls searching for outlets to unleash their repressed childhood angst.  From my personal experience of working in a call center and in social media community management, I can assure you that more people come to social media for one primary reason:

People want their issue to be acknowledge and resolved in a timely manner.

Yes, you can call into a company to get your issue fixed. But we’ve all been on hold waiting for the next unfortunate soul to answer the call and have to transfer you to the next department because they can’t help. Or maybe you’ve called and while trying to troubleshoot a technology issue and instead you receive a glorious sales pitch. No one wants to deal with that. Instead, we turn to our friends, families and communities on social media to express our feelings on everything from the Oscars red carpet to cable television outages to potholes in the road.

So what should brands do about this? What’s the magic fix?

The Fix

The solution is easier than you may think. Brands have to remember that even though a consumer has connected with them or mentioned them in social media — they are still human, have feelings and want to know their voice is being heard. When communicating with fans, consumers or potential followers it’s always important to remember three things:

  • Humanize the brand online and show emotion: If the person is upset with the quality of a product or service, just empathize with them. Explore the issue and provide a mutually beneficial solution to the problem. When folks are happy or excited, respond with the same enthusiasm.
  • Put yourself in their shoes: You never know what’s really going on with the person who’s on the other side of that screen. As a brand we only know what they tell us, so ask open-ended questions and get a better understanding of the situation before jumping to conclusions.
  • Don’t rely on the quick and easy route – do what’s right for the customer: Sure, responding to 100 comments in five minutes looks great on paper, but really think about how those responses have affected the experience your consumer just had. It’s better to take your time and give more attention than to lose customers over quick responses.


At the end of the day, brands have to understand that the social media CM team is not a robot and social media is still a two-way person-to-person form of communication.

The Takeaway

Breathe. Just breathe. No, this is not a bad reboot of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But seriously, if you manage social media customer service for a brand, consider your audience first. Take a step back before dismissing a consumer complaint on social media — even blowing it off — and really think about how your response will not only affect the consumers brand loyalty, but also the WOMM reaction that will come next. After all, it’s much easier to keep a customer than try to get new ones. We feel that in the agency business every day.

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