Over the better part of the last decade, social media has become another link in the chain of how businesses and organizations deal with their customers and constituents. From the early pioneers who ventured into forums and message boards to those who attempted to wrangle bloggers' comments and complaints to our current landscape of tweets, Facebook comments, and even multimedia, brand, PR and customer service managers have had their work cut out for them.
This isn't going to change – and will only become increasingly challenging – in a “nuclear war” of offensive (and defensive) salvos by individuals, businesses, and others.
For any of us who touch those “front lines” today (and frankly, it's pretty rare that anyone whose job isn't “classified” doesn't touch customer service or “represent” his or her job at some point, even when not at work), one of the biggest daily challenges we face isn't so much how to track down all the comments, complaints, and compliments. It's how to best respond, react, or manage them – and follow that up with a usable metric from which to learn.
For the teams I work with, we handle each client on a case-by-case basis. Some clients want essentially anything that's potentially an issue, complaint, or compliment responded to, either directly or indirectly. For others (and this ends up being more frequently done, especially with larger consumer brands) it's about setting thresholds. That doesn't mean that everyone's comment doesn't deserve or warrant a response. It's simply a matter of finding the most appropriate way to include everyone's feedback and not just say we are including him or her in the improvement of our business, but showing that we're doing so.
For instance, a financial services company might decide that a certain number of mentions of a particular issue with its mobile banking require flagging to the tech team, while internally tracking 100% of those mentions and using them as a sort of “early warning system.” In another case, I've heard from other professionals that they truly look to not just respond to the “most followed” users on Twitter or the blogger with the most traffic, but truly find a cross section of those interacting with the brand, again, case by case.
Sometimes it's less scientific than it sounds, but in a world where truly anyone can stir up enough of a customer service concern, picking and choosing based on fans, followers, or other metrics isn't always the most effective path. Is it a good directional metric? Sure. Is it the be-all, end all? Probably not.
Obviously this is an oversimplification of what can be a time-consuming activity for communications teams of all shapes and sizes, but what's important is to recognize that those of us on the agency side have a responsibility to properly track, manage, and – when necessary – mitigate conversations for our clients. And as nice as it would be for us to have someone literally (no, the real “literally,” not the new accepted definition) watching three computer screens full of social and news mentions go by, it's simply not realistic for most organizations.
This is where goal-setting, determining “worst-case scenarios” for anything you are representing (similar to building an executive Q&A for a media tour), and being up front with your clients (or your internal teams) on what they're “paying for” and what that truly looks like from a rapid response standpoint is so crucial. It's only getting faster and “busier” out there. It's important that we all do our best to keep up, while ensuring that our budgets – and our people – are able to scale appropriately.
Tom Biro is VP of Allison+Partners' Seattle office. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tombiro.