Powering Authentic Social Media Engagement Through Technology

Social Media Week

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By Patrick Cuttica (@Pcutty)
Product Marketing Specialist at Sprout Social

Every brand wants to be memorable on social media. Let’s be honest though, audiences rarely remember those tweets a business sends about their new promotion, but they’ll certainly recall when a brand actually listens and responds to their question or comment.

For example, in a recent Forbes article, the author recounts how one car insurance company swooped in to save the day, solved her problem (and likely won a customer for life) after she took to Twitter to complain about how a competing insurance company was dragging its feet.

These interactions are memorable for consumers, in large part because they represent a paradigm shift in the brand-consumer relationship. Thanks to the explosion in communication accessibility that the Internet and mobile have provided—via social media, in particular—individuals now have a direct line of communication to your brand, one that extends well beyond telephone or email.

Those authentic, one-on-one conversations are what set ordinary social media marketers apart from elite, social media engagers. But as the volume of incoming social messages increases and your team grows in size, how do you maintain and foster that authentic engagement with a growing social audience in an efficient and effective manner?

No technology can replace the people behind the profiles, but the right tool can streamline and amplify the process so your brand can provide value to your customers. In order to set your team up for success and create lasting customer relationships, look for the following three capabilities in your social media management platform.

Streamline Social Inbox Management

For many brands, the sheer volume of incoming messages across multiple social channels can be incredibly daunting. While some brands and industries do an amazing job of responding to just about every mention that comes their way, the reality is that not every incoming message warrants a response.

But how do you identify and prioritize the most important messages? Moreover, how do you maintain authenticity and a streamlined workflow while trying to sort through a scattering of social mentions?

Enter: the smart, collaborative social inbox.

Over the years, there has been a lot of creativity and innovation in the world of inbox management as it pertains to email, but few have successfully tackled the social inbox puzzle.

Unlike the email inbox, a brand’s social inbox management requires real-time messaging, demands brevity while maintaining effectiveness, and calls for personal yet public-facing engagement. In addition, the concept of a social inbox presents a unique logistical obstacle in that the incoming messages being received by a few individual profiles connected to the inbox actually represent a collection of people and/or products that ultimately make up your entire brand.

An interesting analogy can be drawn here, one that our CEO Justyn Howard often uses when discussing social inbox management. Imagine an entire company sharing a single email address and inbox. If you view this hypothetical through the lens that we see email inboxes today (each inbox has one owner/manager, for the most part), you quickly understand how this would become a logistical nightmare if applied to the social inbox.

Sure, businesses set up collective email addresses where multiple persons within an organization have access—info@yourbusiness.com or marketing@yourbusiness.com, for example. But these inboxes differ from the collective social inbox in many ways—their messages don’t require real-time engagement, they often have an automated routing system which inherently creates messaging silos, and they’re not public facing.

In order to scale social engagement effectively, a social inbox should do the following:

  • Bring all of your social messages into a unified platform in real-time
  • Allow for efficient team collaboration without the creation of messaging or information silos
  • Provide powerful historical and contextual signals to ensure more personal communication for building stronger customer relationships
  • Quantify and measure workflow in order to establish both brand and individual accountability

Provide Contextual Signals & Layers

While the right technology can help you to overcome logistical hurdles, leveling the information playing field is a bit more nuanced, especially at scale. To that end, context is critical to building lasting customer relationships and providing an engaging social experience.

In the real world, the context around a personal interaction is implicit and often drives the conversation. For example:

  • While walking to the train in the morning, I see an acquaintance with whom I previously discussed the opening of a new coffee shop. Rather than exchanging banal platitudes—like, “Nice day, huh?”—I ask her if she’s visited the new cafe recently.
  • A colleague emails me regarding a project I told him I was working on when we last spoke. I remember that we had that conversation so there is no need to rehash the basic details of the project he is referencing.

With the right technology, there’s no reason that brands shouldn’t be able to capture the same contextual and historical signals implicit in these real world examples while engaging in conversations on social media.

Having the ability to bridge the information gap between an incoming message and its context is critical if your goal is to garner authentic engagement and provide effective social customer care. Whether your last interaction with a contact was 5 minutes ago or 5 months ago, your social media management tool should allow you to seamlessly reference customer records and past conversations.

Create Engagement Accountability

As mentioned above, the magnitude of incoming messages from social channels can be enormous, and the subject matter of each message can vary greatly. Of the messages that do warrant a response, oftentimes the community manager—who’s on the front line when it comes to day-to-day social engagement—is not always the best person to be crafting the response. Someone else in the organization may have a better answer.

Perhaps one incoming message represents a great sales lead while another addresses an existing support issue. With the proper message routing and task assignment tools, brands can ensure that the right social messages get into the right hands at the right time.

By allowing various teams or departments within an organization to collaborate within the same social media management platform, workflows can be streamlined, customers are able to get the most accurate and direct responses, and accountability can be shared across the organization.

At the end of the day, people want to have authentic conversations with brands on social media—not just receive copy-and-pasted boilerplate responses akin to being read a call center script. The days of impersonal, inauthentic and ineffective customer engagement are behind us—or at least they should be.

Authentic social engagement can and should scale. The sooner brands begin to see social as a communication tool and not just a marketing channel, the better off they—and their customers—will be. If brands don’t adopt this way of thinking, they risk falling behind and becoming irrelevant.

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