It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that big brands like The Gap or CSV struggle with social media. They have so many priorities, don’t talk to the right experts and often neglect investing in the right resources when it comes to social media…so they even end up making some rookie mistakes.

What should big brands do to avoid these pitfalls? More importantly, what should you do?

Well, here are several social media lessons you can learn from the mistakes of big brands that you can apply to your business no matter what the size.

Increase the quality of your engagement

In a study entitled “Top US Clothing Retailers on their Customer Service Response Times on Twitter,”Conversocial studied over 8,000 Twitter mentions for big brands like Foot Locker, Dress Barn and Abercrombie and Fitch.

They wanted to see if these big brands were taking care of their Twitter followers. For example, did these big brands respond to complaints on their Twitter feeds?

The answer was that only 13 percent of complaints got responses. Some responded to those complaints within 20 minutes…but others it took more like 50 hours.

Some of the companies didn’t bother to answer customer complaints on Twitter or stopped monitoring the feeds during the weekend. Those are missed opportunities because only 9 percent of those were actual negative complaints — where 48 percent of customer service type tweets are a customer asking a direct question.

That means customers are looking and hoping that companies are paying attention to their Twitter feed so they can ask direct questions…whether about items they already bought…or about to buy. If you wait 10 hours, that’s a poor social media strategyand you are going to miss some extremely good opportunities.

So how can you improve the quality of your social media engagement? Here are some tips:

  • View social media as a customer service channel – Twitter and Facebook are not billboards that you plaster your marketing messages on. They are services to allow you to help a customer meet his needs and wants.
  • Understand what customers want – When a customer uses social media to communicate with your company, realize that the one thing they expect is a response. Any kind of response. Make it a core principle of your company’s social media culture to respond to every single comment and you’ve won half the battle!
  • Respond to direct inquiries immediately – Strike while the iron is hot and you can make a major impact on your business’ bottom line as your customers see that you truly care about helping them.

Whether you are a small operation or a global powerhouse, you need to use social media…but you need to improve your social media engagement to make it pay off for you.

Look like you care

While not originally intended for it, social media seems perfect for customer service. One of the first companies to use it this way was Comcast.

They created the @ComcastCares Twitter account to handle requests and complaints from customers. That means the community manager, in this case, Bill Gerth, spends his time responding to requests.

He is front line…but the secret sauce to what makes the account so great is that he is totally transparent. He doesn’t hide anything from customers if they are experiencing problems on Comcast’s end…and he’s always eager and enthusiastic to help a customer out.

Bill’s success opened up the way for several customer service reps at Comcast to have their own accounts to help Bill handle all of the volume of requests.

Create a social media service team

If you look inside a big brand, you’ll see that they have a staff dedicated to social media like their Twitter feed. Often that staff is small, and there is no way that two or three people can keep up with the volume of tweets. Also, they aren’t trained to handle the customer service type questions or comments like returns or damaged goods.

Neil Patel

To help out the social media staff some big brands will enlist a few customer service people. These employees may know how to handle refunds and complaints, but they may not be trained in the social media tools they are asked to use.

What’s the solution? Create a social media customer service team and over communicate.

This is a department made up of about 50 people who are trained in both customer service and the tools used to monitor social media volume and actions.

This is all about the new model of increasing the quality of social media engagement. It’s not just a numbers game anymore.

Here are a few tools to help you manage the quality of your social media engagement

  • TwentyFeet – This is a metrics aggregator for all your social media and web property metrics. It pulls data from services like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, FriendFeed, bit.ly, RSS-feeds, Google Analytics and displays them in an interface.
  • Sprout Social – This platform works with social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Plus, you get business intel, lead generation, brand monitoring, analytics and promotion distribution service.
  • Conversocial – This company provides software to help you to monitor your Facebook and Twitter feeds for customers service opportunities. It promises to help you “never miss a comment or a Tweet again.”

Be social

Sometimes big brands just don’t get social. Just look at Burger King’s “Whopper Sacrifice,” which was aimed at giving people coupons when they de-friended 10 people.

Now, that’s not very social, is it?

The Red Cross of Greater Chicago, on the other hand, got it right. They ran a campaign where users connect their Facebook accounts to the Red Cross campaign and then could watch photos they uploaded to their account burned.

Obviously this caused people to want to share with their friends…something that is very social.

Look like a Fortune 5,000,000

Even though Vans got bought out for $400 million by the same company that owns Wrangler, North Face and Nautica, it still holds onto its skate roots and doesn’t act any different than it did before it was bought out.

It doesn’t look like a Fortune 500, but a Fortune 5,000,000.

One of the critical factors in their success is hiring the right personalities to handle all of their social community communications…people like nikki and amanda. They have the language, humor and share the kind of imagery on Twitter and Tumbler you would expect from people who love skating…but they also are very helpful and responsive.

Another is Vans doesn’t go big. Their original blog was on blogspot…and then they used a Tumbler handle. They didn’t invest in blog domain, but kept it simple.

The big lesson is that if you follow Vans you don’t feel like you are following a large corporation. You feel like you are part of a family or an up-and-coming band.

Social media happens in a glass house

In the rush to be small and personable, you can make some pretty silly mistakes.

For example, one of its vice presidents for the marketing firm Ketchum was heading into Memphis and tweeted that he would die if he had to live there.

He was going to Memphis to visit FedEx, easily one of their largest clients. Well, his tweet was seen by people inside FedEx…and they were very angry.

Social media happens for the entire world to see…including clients, partners, the press and shareholders. Don’t share anything that may hurt your reputation or your companies.

Avoid multiple account mistakes

In a similar situation, an employee for New Media Strategies accidentally tweeted the f-bomb onto their client Chrysler’s account.

He meant this tweet for his own account, but sent it to Chrysler’s and he ended up getting fired.

In a similar situation, a Red Cross employee tweeted about getting drunk. Red Cross responded by pulling the tweet and making light of the situation.

The employee who made the mistake confessed on her own Twitter account. Which ended up being some really good press for Red Cross.

Two lessons here:

  1. Prohibit personal accounts for agency use – If you use a tool like Hootsuite to handle client’s twitter feeds, don’t add your personal account. Keep it separate.
  2. Turn mistakes into opportunities – If you do make a mistake, try to figure out how to leverage so that everyone wins. People are going to make mistakes. Red Cross got a ton of positive attention by handling the situation lightly…Chrysler got negative attention.

Conclusion

In the end, everyone one from the small to the big can finally fix their social media problems and really succeed with these services if they just did one thing: commit to it.

If you commit to social media like you do every other single high-risk venture…then you can leverage the awesome power of direct and instantaneous with your customers into a loyal fan base who love to spend their money with you. But…that won’t happen until you make a full commitment to it.

What other solutions to big brand social media problems can you add to this discussion?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. More from Neil Patel on GeekWireSeven signs that you might just be an entrepreneur Eleven things every entrepreneur should know about innovation… 17 things I wish I’d known when starting my first business

[Brand photo via Bigstock]

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/darwineco Darwin Ecosystem

    Excellent article! It seems as if a lot of the major brands are hoping that social media will go away, instead of looking at these services as opportunities they could use.

  • dpthanki

    Nice post, Neil. It is possible to be quick responsive to customers by making a social media team. I heard in my childhood that orkut Büyükkökten had a team of 5 people just to manage his scrapbook. I thought it is ridiculous, why a person need a team of people to manage a scrapbook? But later on, I learned that he is quite busy in other businesses. 

    However, I know that you are quite responsive to your blog readers who comment on your blog. and that is a quite good thing. :) 

  • http://work911.com/ Robert Bacal

    Maybe they don’t have a social media problem in the sense that there lack of response doesn’t really have a strong business impact. Everyone assumes that brands don’t know what they are doing, but I suggest maybe they DO know, and there isn’t a financial incentive to respond on social media. Why Negative Tweets About Your Brand Aren’t As Important As You Might Think – See more at: http://customerservicezone.com/customerserviceinterviews/negativetweets.htm

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