Contributed blog by Russel Lolacher, Director of Web and Social Media Services for the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and author of the Relationships at Work blog
74% of Millennials (18-34) and 58% of GenX (35-54) have a better opinion of organizations that provide social media customer care – Microsoft
Social customer care (using social media platforms as customer service experience tools) can be an amazingly effective way to build relationships with citizens and bring significant benefits to your organization. Building and nurturing these connections as your role as a government social media professional can lead to improved internal and external engagement and deeper public trust.
While some government organizations only use social media as a platform to get their message out or blast people with creative “aren’t we really awesome and amazing” branding (which does feel pretty narcissistic), it’s those that embrace the tool as a customer service channel and build a history of helpfulness that will better serve you.
The secret weapon in social customer care isn’t that much of a secret; it’s all in the name.
But don’t ignore the “media” component of social media either, because the digital medium is where your customers are spending their time.
When it comes to relationships, you have to look at using these social platforms as a long-term strategy. The best relationships are built over a long period of time, by establishing, demonstrating and proving with both words and actions you can be trusted through accessibility, transparency, helpfulness and empathy. Think of the best relationships in your life, personal or professional, and the strongest connections you have with organizations. I’m guessing none were just assumed to be deep and trusting right off the bat, but rather they were nurtured and built over time.
Great social customer care can do the same. It’s not only about how you engage directly with the public, but also in how you are perceived by those watching you as a spectator. Everyone sees how you engage — or not engage — with others and make personal impressions.
So, for argument’s sake, you’re doing it right. You’ve invested the time and resources into the strategy and tactics that make you a strong social customer care presence everyday. Here are the some of the benefits of that effort:
Social capital/Public trust – Being consistently available to your customers (your community), answering their questions and listening to their concerns will build trust over time. Your audience will more likely provide positive feedback and defend you (your organization) as a trusted advisor, against misinformation or general vitriol. They become your “friends” and extensions of your brand, and act as friends would: far more open to listening to you and giving you the benefit of the doubt when things go bad (ie crisis).
Increased engagement and reach for announcements and campaigns – As you build a reputation for being helpful and social, announcements and campaigns you want to bring attention to will see an increase in the amount of engagement, interest and shares. It’s like if a friend tells you something they think you should know after a history of helping, listening and sharing with you. In that environment, customers are more apt to engage and further promote announcements due to the established back-and-forth relationship. You're not the narcissist that just keeps talking about yourself, you're the trusted friend that just helped move their couch and now has something they think you’ll find interesting.
Improved and humanized brand reputation – People build connections with people. Not logos, not websites, but other human beings. Social provides an opportunity to speak plainly and approach-ably, so the public feels they are being heard and engaging with another person, rather than simply receiving “government-speak” style messaging. Language like that only puts up a barrier between the organization and its audience, making it harder to be relatable and accessible.
Source of truth – Traditionally, organizations use media channels (earned media) and marketing/advertising (paid media) to share its information, or treat social media as if it were like these channels. With a long-term strategy, social media customer care (owned media) can establish itself as a direct source of information for the public, without involving a third party. Through consistent social interaction, answering questions and being helpful, the organization can set itself as the place to go to, rather than from a competitor. This is especially helpful during emergency communications or if there’s misinformation being circulated.
Learn or correct issues that need to be addressed – Bad news: putting yourself out into the social space does invite citizen feedback that can be critical of your work. The good news: this is unbelievably valuable information and should be embraced. People only provide feedback because they care, so you have an opportunity to either learn about an issue you may not have been aware of or correct misinformation that is being shared by your audience. If you notice a continual trend around a specific topic, it means there's a gap in good information. Update your website or create content that addresses the concern.
BONUS BENEFIT! Knowledge transfer – one of the surprising benefits of customer-centric content and social media is the education it can provide to new employees. Sure, a great onboarding program can get them up to speed in many ways, but learning how the organization runs operationally, answering questions and explaining its work in conversational language can really help internal and cultural understanding.
What has been a positive benefit in your experience with a long-term social customer care strategy? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Director of Web and Social Media Services for the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
Russel defines and leads TranBC and @DriveBC in social customer care, emergency communications and public engagement. Sharing his thoughts through his blog, Relationships at Work, he has been internationally recognized as a top customer service expert by Microsoft and Hootsuite and in Forbes and Huffington Post. Follow Russel on LinkedIn.
Best communicate with the public you serve by becoming a part of the free Government Social Media network — only available to full/part-time employees of government or educational institutions.
We support the largest network of government social media professionals in the U.S. by guiding government agencies through complex social media issues. Government Social Media helps you successfully communicate with the public you serve, protect your agency and keep public trust while finding your support community.