There is absolutely no getting away from social media. Even though these online global communities can be somewhat intimidating, many of the best are available at no cost and with amazingly easy access. Think of the possibilities when millions of people can be reached all around the globe just by pressing "enter."
So how does all of this fit into the ever broadening sea of customer service? Large and small organizations are all taking the plunge, and diving into Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and forums, but as we all learned when we were younger, be prepared and make sure you know how to swim first. In other words, before venturing into the world of social media, have a plan and define your goals.
Simply stated, a business needs a person in charge of all social networking to respond to their audience. It becomes a full-time job once the decision is made, and the position requires constant focus. That one person has to have the authority to make decisions for the organization and respond within a short amount of time. That particularly would apply to customer service complaints and questions. Twitter is a fast-moving conversation, and the tone of a question can change when there is no one responding. The positive outcome reinforces relationships; large organizations become real people, and customers see the companies as human. Their complaints are immediately addressed, and their questions and concerns are answered in Twitter fashion - 140 characters per Tweet. If a follow-up or a more involved answer is needed, the person in charge can quickly rein it in for a private conversation.
Part of the strategy to be engaged in social networking is to make the company seem more approachable. Facebook can serve as an informational platform, and a place to reinforce branding while Twitter can cut to the chase on customer service issues and immediately direct the conversation to direct contact with the customer. When it's used to help customers and consumers solve their problems, it becomes a positive reinforcement for any company.
And don't forget to make social media useful for customers. Hire someone to start a blog for your company. Use the blog to educate, and give out good advice. Make people want to check out what is being written, because the popularity of your blog or forum, can bring in the potential for many new customers. Also, make your blog and forums convenient for your readers, and don't make them sign up before being allowed to read. Those companies who essentially over deliver for their customers and fans realize the positive impact on business.