A Guide to Social Media Etiquette

by Joe Pelissier on May 22, 2013

At start of 2013, I was involved in a project for an international luxury brand to create a social media etiquette guide for their client service advisers.

As part of the research, I discovered that most big name brands are fairly clueless when it comes to dealing with clients via social media. They mistakenly assume that because social media is informal they should behave the same way. The result is postings and tweets that are banal, repetitious and completely out of kilter with the values of the brand.

The ‘right-on’ approach from Virgin Atlantic

If, like my client, you have 12.5 million Facebook ‘likes’ and 1.5 million Twitter ‘followers’, you can’t really afford to take a relaxed and casual approach. Nor can you if you are a little shrimp of a company. There’s always some mad, bad client out there with the canny ability to cause you long-lasting harm. To avoid this you need some boring old rules and a process or two, all skillfully brought together in an etiquette guide.

Why do I need an etiquette guide?

Your clients go to your Facebook or Twitter account for lots of different and perceived reasons

  • It’s convenient – “I’m online, I can quickly go to their Facebook page…”
  • It’s fast – “It won’t take me a minute and I’ll soon have a reply…”
  • It’s public – “If I complain about this they won’t dare ignore me…”
  • It’s guaranteed  – “I know they will respond to my request…”

Research from MN Incite’s 2012 survey reports that 71% of those who experience a quick and effective brand response are likely to recommend that brand to others. In other words – advocacy, which is the most compelling of client service returns on investment. And, as 1 in 3 social media users prefer to contact a brand via social media than the telephone, it suggest that the brand needs to know how to meet their expectations as professionally as possible.

Zappos has a happy customer

In most instances, your involvement with social media has 4 distinct areas of activity

  1. Listening – you are actively listening to the conversations that are going on, and if you are smart will have identified the types of conversation that clients want to have on social media
  2. Communication – you are promoting awareness of various products, offering or services (usually determined by marketing)
  3. Handling requests – satisfying clients by the brilliance of your answers
  4. Growing the community – as a result of the way you manage the above, your clients love you more and more and want to tell others

The challenge with this is two-fold. Firstly, most companies fail to ‘listen’ so they are blind to the types of conversation clients want to have and secondly, because they fail to listen, they ‘handle requests’ in a reactive or sub-standard way.

What does the etiquette guide contain?

Your etiquette guide covers all the things your client service team needs to know to provide an exceptional service.

It will deal with

  • Types of conversation – the sort of things that clients want to talk to about. Make a list of all the key topics e.g. Delivery, Product News, Complaints etc and the issues these are likely raise
  • Public or Private? – which topics you are happy to deal with publicly and those you would prefer to be dealt with privately
  • Answer Rules – when to answer publicly, when to go private and how to transfer your client to another channel e.g. the telephone
  • Handling Rules – the things advisors must be aware of to protect the integrity of your brand e.g. time of response, sounding positive, avoiding humour etc
  • Writing Rules – these will vary depending on your brand values, but they will give guidance in relation to how clients are greeted, the level of informality you can use (do you want to use lots of ! and :)s), words that reflect the brand and how to sign-off etc
  • Examples – if you have a list of Writing Rules, it’s important to have examples to illustrate what you mean. When done correctly they become an invaluable reference library
  • Scenarios – once you have defined all of the above, you can create scenarios that are driven by the type of conversations you have identified. These can then join the writing rule examples you created.

As you can see it’s a lot of work. But as you are know, clients are an unforgiving bunch, they demand answers that are simple to understand and solutions that are lightening fast.

Graze’s ‘relaxed’ writing rules

Maurice Saatchi, knew exactly what was going through their heads, when he said, “It is easier to complicate that to simplify. Simple messages enter the brain quicker and stay there longer. Brutal simplicity of thought is a painful necessity. The 21st Century requires us to be even more brutal. And even more simple”.

But is it worth the effort?

Some of you will be losing the will to live by now. After all, isn’t social media supposed to be a quick and easy method of communication? Yes, that’s the perception, but serious players take the trouble to go into detail, enough detail to make it look simple and effortless. And remember, advocacy is what excellent social media client service delivers.

But before that happens, social media must provide a premium service, strengthen your relationship with your customers and to foster a sense of community. When all those are in place you find yourself in enviable territory.

Brands worth looking at in this context are John Lewis, Nespresso and Appliances Online. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to get a feel how well they treat customers on social media.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Victoria Johns May 23, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Joe, thanks for this and the many other mini-guides you’ve published, they often make me think about things in a slightly different way, so I thought a little note of thanks was in order, best wishes Victoria (Hope this is one of the banal ones – sorry if it is)

Tania Suástegui May 23, 2013 at 6:45 pm

I love to read your articles!! They are always useful and very easy to understand!

admin May 24, 2013 at 9:17 am

Hi Tania – thanks for your kind works. I’m really glad you find them useful.

admin May 24, 2013 at 9:19 am

No thank you is ever banal! That’s very encouraging feedback, thank you so much. Joe

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