Back in 2009, it used to be easy to reply to comments and private messages as a brand. And then multiple social media networks popped up, and social media managers struggled with checking different platforms many times throughout the day.
Along came Hootsuite, and everything was ok for a while. And then social media became the de-facto “official” communication channel for brands, and things got serious. An intern couldn’t cut it anymore, and replying to customers, reporters and other interested parties became a full time job for a “community manager”.
Now, social media has pivoted to the era of transient story formats (Instagram stories) and short form videos (Tik Tok reaction videos). Have you evolved along with the times, or are you still stuck in the 2010s?
What do you need to manage social media responses as an enterprise?
In this article, I’ll address a few aspects of response management on social media.
- Rules of Engagement (ROE) or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
- Authorised users and proficiency training
- Performance and quality tracking
- Indexing and categorising messages
- Escalation protocols
- Crisis communication plan
If you’re an enterprise with more than 1 social media account, you should not be replying to comments and messages directly. Instead, you should subscribe to a SAAS platform like Sprinklr or Hootsuite to get all your messages sent to one place (regardless of format or social network), and reply to them from there.
In my opinion, Sprinklr is the gold standard for most international brands. But they’re priced the tech-equivalent of gold as well. For smaller businesses, check out Hootsuite, Buffer, Sprout Social or Khoros as alternatives.
So why do you need a SAAS platform? To me, it saves time by consolidating all messages, and it prevents me from missing out on answering any comments or messages that I can by randomly come across when I check in regularly.
More importantly, it helps me classify and report the many different types of messages my brand receives, and tracks my community managers’ responses to ensure timeliness. Moreover, all responses are logged and tagged to the responder, giving me clear accountability that is everything when the annual audit comes round.
Rules of Engagement (ROE) or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
So what do you when you get a comment in? Do you think up of an answer on the spot, or spend the next 30 minutes scrolling through past replies to find a suitable “pre-approved” one?
The smart money is on having a process in place, to handle all types of possible messages with prepared responses ready to use on the go. In my experience, I usually start with some way to classify all possible sorts of messages, like this:
- General comment
- Contest entry
- Sales lead
From there, develop general responses to common types of messages. It should cover responses to common queries, addressing customer complaints, handling feedback and thanking users for participating in contests – among others. It is pretty common to have a list of 100 or more responses!
The response management process should also define how you categorise such comments in the system, and how to archive them after you’ve responded – so no one else takes on the case and does the same reply too.
Authorised users and proficiency training
As an enterprise with multiple social media accounts and round-the-clock global operations, you may need more than one person handling response management. While having an SOP or ROE goes a long way to make sure everyone knows what everyone else is (or should be) doing, having individual roles also reduces the risk of someone doing something unauthorised, whether by accident or maliciously.
Hence, a Community Manager role is perfect for this. Natively on Facebook and LinkedIn, you can set up such a role to manage that account. On a platform like Sprinklr, you will need to build a custom role and allow specific permissions, essentially building up a Community Role from scratch. This also makes it a more flexible solution, as sometimes, a Community Manager also ought to have report viewing permissions – like in a secondary quality assurance role.
After setting up these roles and before assigning them out, you need to ensure all users are trained to reply to comments. Often skipped because of the hassles and since “replying someone on social media is common sense”, this is critical because of the aforementioned processes and to prevent the Community Manager from accidentally posting something wrongly as a reply. After all, anything online has a tendency to live on, even after you delete the offending content.
Performance and quality tracking
A common refrain in the corporate workforce is “if you can’t track it, it doesn’t matter.” While debatable, it does imply that you should have detailed metrics and statistics to justify your job as a social media (or community) manager.
To me, 3 metrics are key in response management:
- Turnaround time: How long it took the brand to reply to the first message that the customer sent
- Volume: How many messages are received, categorised and replied to. For those that are unreplied, do they really not require a reply?
- Compliment-Complaint/Query ratio: By taking the volume of compliments divided by Complaints and Queries, and then tracking the trend, you can see if your brand is getting more advocates than detractors over time.
Of course, when done natively on the social media networks themselves, you need to do these on an Excel sheet and it will kill off the enthusiasm of even the staunchest social media supporter. Instead, you will need a SAAS platform to help you out here.
Indexing and categorising messages
We touched on categorising messages earlier, but there’s more to that. In a regular Call Centre operation, every call is given a unique identifier number and essential metadata is recorded in a Customer Management System. Your social media response management operations should be no different.
If done natively, you will be hard pressed to record every single conversation. But here’s the thing – if a customer said that he or she had previously sent in instructions through social media, are you able to quickly pull out the details to check? Or as part of an audit, you need to retrieve an old conversation, can you get the messages out without scrolling through months of other irrelevant conversations?
Bottom line again, you need a system to support you on this. Indexing and categorising messages is going to be painful and tedious otherwise.
More often than not, a query or complaint cannot be addressed by a templated reply in the SOP. What happens next is that the Community Manager needs to escalate the case to a specialist, or a senior lead in the department, who might escalate it further up the corporate hierarchy.
Usually part of the SOP, this escalation protocol sets out who in what department is responsible for giving answers and taking over ongoing customer conversations. You also need to ensure that the final escalation party is agreeable with this approach and the buck truly stops at their end.
As a Community Manager, I would also recommend to avoid chatting on social media, given the number of relays in between. Instead, ask for a phone number to call the customer back, pass it on to the final escalation party, and get them to pick up the damned phone and have a normal conversation. Now that’s proper customer service!
Crisis communication plan
Finally, and this is a monster of a problem for many enterprises. Mainly, its because management does not take too kindly to public criticism, and are afraid of the risks of having uncontrolled negative outcry over a variety of risks that any brand is exposed to.
While a Community Manager is just a cog in a larger, synchronised response to a crisis, he or she plays an oversized role in assaying public anger and reducing the chance of it blowing up further. To do so, a proper plan must be drafted, and the right support given to the poor person who will be getting the brunt of ill-will from angry customers, trolls and keyboard warriors.
Drafting a crisis communication plan deserves another post by itself, but suffice to say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Whew. We’ve gone through a lot of things, but each paragraph merely scratches the surface of what you, as an enterprise, needs to do to keep your response management operations running smoothly.
If I were to prioritise, I would always first recommend subscribing to a SAAS platform. After that, look at your ROE or SOP, and make sure the process you implement is robust, well-documented and scalable (especially if you plan to start new social media accounts, and in other countries).
Then the third priority would be indexing and reporting. After all, if you put so much attention into replying, you are surely aware of the importance of responding to comments – so make sure you index them as customer records and have the ability to trace all past records at a moment’s notice.
Did I miss anything? A lot of this had to be invented by social media managers (myself included), no thanks to the lack of structure from Facebook and other networks. Drop me a mail to share if you have something else that is critical in your response management operations, and I would be happy to update this guide too.