Social media poses a quandary for many organizations: It’s a new channel for customer engagement, but acting like a newbie could be devastating to your reputation. Advice is rampant for what to do and not do on social media.   Based on my personal experience at SAP as well as learning from early adopters, here are five mistakes you should avoid when you choose to engage with your customers and fans on social media:

Mistake #1: Responding too slowly or not responding at all.  When responding to a post or a tweet, timeliness is of the essence; and we’re talking hours, not days. If you don’t respond in an acceptable timeframe, you’ll look like you just don’t get it or, worse, aren’t willing or able to meet customer expectations on social media. An acceptable response window is no more than an hour or two.

Mistake #2: Respond with a non-response.  When responding to a message, tell your respondents something they can use, something that addresses their concerns and answers their questions.  Don’t respond with something that looks like a script (the equivalent of auto email response). Sometimes, this mistake is caused by putting a “team of interns” or a marketing agency to manage your social media channel.  Customers on social media expect living and breathing knowledgeable people behind the social media avatar.  So, you need to be one.   

Mistake #3: Always deflect conversation to another channel. In most cases, when a customer contacts you on social media, respond via the same medium instead of redirecting them to another channel.  Of course, there are occasions (such as a complex support issue or privacy issue) where it makes sense to offer a phone number or email address for further discussion, but always try to stay on the same channel; if he or she has chosen social media as his or her preferred contact mode, you need to respect that choice.  According to a study by eConsultancy, 15% of the 16-24 age group prefers to use social media for customer service.  I suspect the breakout might be similar for other age groups and that it will increase over time.  It is simply so much easier to use social media than other channels.  Social media is here to stay.

Mistake #4: Fail to respond to direct messages: Customers see social media as a personal forum, so don’t be surprised to see posts, tweets and other messages direct at you but broadcasted in a public forum. Responding to these posts should be a top priority – don’t let them get buried under the next fire you need to put out. In fact, you should have a process that allows you to see and prioritize all social media communiques that pose a question or comment on you or your company, whether directly or indirectly.

Mistake #5: Ignore your mistakes: If you do make a mistake on social media (and we all do because “to err is to be human”), you’ll soon know about it – customers are not shy about pointing out gaffes. Don’t ignore this feedback; acknowledge your mistakes and either take corrective action or ask how you can better address the issue.  In customer service, this is known as “service recovery”.   And if done properly, mistakes can even be a great opportunity to show how responsive you can be.  

What have you learned from social media customer engagement? Please share your social media pet peeves and etiquette tips with us.  In fact, we are collaborating with SMT to conduct a survey on the usage of social media to engage with customers.  A result of this survey will be published along with analysis from a couple of leading thinkers on this topic later in the year. 

Learn about how SAP can help with your social media engagement here.