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November 13, 2016 / achanguris

Flipping the Script: Making the Case for Customer Service Professionals to Handle Your Social Media Service

In the beginning of any social media program, it makes perfect sense for the social media team to handle the customer service requests that come in through the adopted channels. Your team knows the platform, the community, and your company’s voice — even if it doesn’t know the answer to every question and can’t resolve every issue without help. But as your social media efforts take hold and people see you’re available to help them, the volume of requests has a tendency to grow. Eventually you can reach a point where your social media team is spending too much time and effort fielding feedback and complaints and not enough on strategic messaging and community-building.

Social media customer service isn’t any less important — I’d argue it’s absolutely essential — but when you reach that point of critical mass it’s a good cue to reconsider your approach and see if the professionals primarily responsible for customer service can take over the same function in this new medium.

As part of the social media team at Highmark Health, I watched our average number of service requests grow from an average of 100 per month to nearly 300 per month in a little more than a year. If you’re an airline or major retailer, that’s nothing – but you also probably have a much larger team to handle your social care workload. In our case, we took turns monitoring our channels, but it was becoming a challenge to juggle our day-to-day workloads while addressing, trafficking and documenting the resolution of every inquiry. It was time to make a case to flip the script to let our well-trained customer service representatives take the lead.

I should note that we had support from our front-line friends in customer service from the very start. They were working alongside the social media team daily and could see there was an opportunity to improve the process — for everyone involved.

Learning to Make the Right Case

Our first attempts to convince the higher-ups responsible for customer service centered on the growing number of requests the social media team was handling, but we quickly discovered those statistics weren’t impressive to supervisors who were used to managing a far more substantial workload through more traditional channels. In retrospect, it was a bit of a mistake to focus on our team’s pain point. While it’d be nice if our cries of “hey! We could use some help over here!” were met with an outpouring of support and resources, we all know today’s business realities mean everyone is stretched thin and can’t meet every need (especially when someone else is covering it).

Our next tactic was more altruistic. We highlighted the fact that many of the requests the social media team was passing along to customer service for follow-up offline were simple tasks (password reset requests, coverage questions, etc.). With the right people manning the accounts, we could answer those questions right on the social media platform, making the process easier for our customers. After all, any time you can shorten the distance between a question and the answer it’s better for all parties involved.

That assertion got some of the right people paying attention, but the wheels of change continued to grind slowly.

In the meantime, a couple of members of the social media team started tracking the time we were spending on essentially duplicative efforts — fielding, trafficking and following up on inquiries we received on social media. Those results are what really got the executives’ attention.

The social media team was spending 20-25% of its time (that’s at least one full day out of each week for each member of the team) on social media customer service. The majority of that time was dedicated to following up with a variety of specialized service teams to make sure each inquiry was resolved and to try to ascertain the members’ satisfaction levels for tracking purposes. The email chains felt endless and the whole process was fraught with inefficiency. Plus, the company was paying the social media staff for all of that time (at a higher hourly rate) and the only things we could actually do were internal hand-offs and follow-ups.

That was the ticket.

Making it Happen, in Stages

With the blessing of the necessary leaders, our friends in customer service formed a dedicated social media customer service team. We trained the five-member group to use our social media dashboard tool and helped them understand our voice and social care philosophy. They took to it like ducks to water. Helping customers is their specialty; all we did was change up the medium.

Still, we didn’t shove the new responsibility at the team and run. As thorough as we tried to be in developing the training materials, they had a lot of good questions in those first few weeks. The social media team was always available to coach, guide, or just answer a question, and I’ll admit I kept a close eye on things (initially) to make sure everything was in line with our standards. I’m a worrier by nature, but my worries were short-lived; the leaders in customer service had selected a top-notch team for the job.

At first, the social media team was still responsible for monitoring our channels and assigning the customer service inquiries to the newly formed team. After a little more than a month, they were ready to take over that part of the process, too. Today the customer service representatives are right on the front line, picking up their own assignments and letting the social media team know if there’s an issue we need to handle (comments related to a marketing campaign or company news, for example). The dedicated representatives keep our response times low and the new workflow is saving a ton of the social media team’s time. The customer service team is available from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every weekend and, correspondingly, at least one social media team member is available to pick up assignments during those hours as well.

And the best benefit of these efforts? Our customers are getting the help they need faster and more efficiently. They’d always noticed our responsiveness and willingness to help, but now they’re getting exactly what they need as quickly as we can provide it.

And, at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about.

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July 24, 2016 / achanguris

How to Work with Your In-House Social Media Team

Social media is an odd bird. Just about everyone uses it to some degree. The barrier to entry is intentionally set low to encourage quick, in-the-moment sharing. Even in a business setting, a quick online search can teach you how to do everything from writing an engaging tweet to optimizing your Facebook Canvas ad.

So it’s not hard to understand why a lot of people think they’re social media experts. It’s a lot like any aspect of marketing and communications; the mechanics are fairly simple – the artistry is in the execution. But damn it’s hard to convince people of that.

Lately I’ve been spending more time at work fighting back would-be social media marketers from a wide range of departments (some well-meaning, others less so) than – you know – actually managing and leading the fine group of professionals who happen to have the words “social media” in their titles.

And no, I’m not saying you have to be 100% dedicated to social media to have excellent thoughts and ideas in (or out of) the space. I love working with people who bring different perspectives to the table. It’s exciting to explore the different ways we can use social media to support our organization.

What’s been missing lately is the spirit of collaboration.

Collaborate, Don’t Dictate

For some reason I’ve yet to discern, several groups have picked up a habit of paying vendors and agencies to develop their social media plans. Then they hand those plans to my team and say, “do this.” And I guess I might see that as helpful if those plans made sense in light of the many rules we have to follow (channel-based and those that come with working in a highly regulated industry).

I’ll give you an example.

If you do any work on paid social media campaigns, you know that Facebook doesn’t like it when you try to promote an ad or post with a text-heavy image. For years, they didn’t allow it at all. Lately they’ve said they eased that rule a bit, but they still devalue text-heavy images in their algorithm. So no matter how you slice it, using an image with a lot of text is a bad idea.

And yet, when we’re presented with the assets for these plug-and-play social media plans, the images are chock full of text. Literally. Every. Time.

We’ve also received content that’s grammatically incorrect or breaks our very strict (although admittedly confusing) branding rules.

We talk to our co-workers, we educate our vendor and/or agency partners, we redo the images, we make other, often-wholesale changes to make the plan a better fit for our social media channels. Everyone agrees it didn’t come together the way we’d hoped and makes what I believe are sincere promises to do things differently next time.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The Wisdom of Vanilla Ice

I know I’m not alone. I know other social media professionals who’ve hit the same wall and I can very clearly recall similar situations from my hospital marketing days.

It’s not always easy to work across departments and specialties, but as I’ve gently explained to many nurses and doctors over the years, we’re all better off when we play to our strengths. I’m happy to let them take the lead when it comes to caring for patients; I’m very capable of leading the social media strategy. It requires a little trust from everyone involved.

This approach hasn’t been doing the trick lately, so I got to thinking about a short, sweet list of requests I could make of my coworkers. Almost all of them are smart and supportive, but how could I lay out some suggestions to help all of us work together a little better?

Enter Vanilla Ice.

Vanilla Ice

Courtesy: Wikipedia

 

No, seriously. Stay with me here.

There are three things I would ask all of my coworkers to do if they’re thinking about asking someone other than a member of the internal social media team to put together a social media plan:

  1. Stop
  2. Collaborate
  3. Listen

Stop

Yes, it’s a bit direct and abrupt, but the first step is to stop. When someone thinks or says, “you know, we should ask [Awesome Agency] to put together a social media plan for this campaign,” it’s an opportunity to follow through on those “do better next time” promises and change course.

Collaborate

Now’s the time to reach out to your in-house social media team. Pick up the phone, write an email, send a tweet, visit in person, set up a meeting – whatever. Bring in the agency or vendor, too, if you’d like. Get the smart, savvy people in a room and start cooking up the social media aspects of your campaign.

Listen

…to everyone.

You’ve taken the time to get these people together, so listen carefully to what they have to say. Your social media team knows how the channels work, along all of their quirks. Trust them. The marketing team is best equipped to explain the goals of the campaign, the rationale behind it, and the details of how the traditional media pieces will be deployed. The agency or vendor might offer important information from an outside perspective (and that outside view can be a real game-changer).

You’re all on the same team, trying to communicate a message to an audience on behalf of your employer. You all bring expertise to the table. Let everyone play to their strengths and do what they were hired to do.

Beyond saving a little bit of each other’s sanity, you’re saving the organization a chunk of money. You’re not paying an agency or vendor to come up with a plan in a vacuum, which means when the plan is complete (with or without outside assistance) it’ll be ready to rock and roll.

Or rap – whatever the case may be.

Word to your mother.

October 15, 2014 / achanguris

Taking Social Media from Personal Interest to Professional Endeavor

I’ll confess: I’m an over-preparer.

When I was invited to be a guest on Carrie Kerpen’s All the Social Ladies podcast I received a list of possible questions, so I sat down and wrote responses to each of them. One question we didn’t get to cover went a little something like this:

What advice would you give to a young woman just about to get into the social media field?

Ah, where to begin?

First, I’d highly recommend getting your personal social media profiles in order. If you expect a brand to trust you with its social media handles, you’d better be able to show you know what you’re doing on your personal accounts.

I’m not just talking about getting rid of those keg stand photos on Facebook or the tweets from your last visit to Victoria’s Secret (true story). I mean using your personal accounts to help others, to engage and demonstrate you know social media isn’t all about YOU. It can be as simple as sharing interesting links with your followers through your own tweets or retweets (or posts/shares/etc.).

Second, if you’re not writing on a regular basis (online – I’m not talking term papers), start now. It doesn’t even need to be public, really. Write blog posts about a topic you love, then write a few tweets and Facebook posts you could use to drive traffic to the blog. If you make it public you can test the tweets and posts to see what approaches convert more readers, but even if it’s private you’re practicing your writing skills and developing a portfolio you can share with potential employers.

All the Social Ladies Quote 2

Third, don’t wait for an opportunity to find you; go get it. Try volunteering for a local non-profit that could use some help with their social media efforts. Whether you learned the ins and outs of social media in a classroom or by trial and error in the real world, show what you know in a meaningful, professional way.

Fourth, get and stay plugged in to the ways social media is growing and changing. This field shifts constantly, from new rules on established channels (like those ever-present algorithm changes on Facebook) to new channels that pop up (and might be a great opportunity if your audience is there). You’ll never really know it all, but don’t use that as an excuse.

I use Twitter to keep up with the constant change. I follow some smart, helpful industry leaders along with aggregators like Mashable and Social Media Examiner I also follow some great Twitter chats like #hcsm, #blogchat and #getrealchat (I’m often a lurker). Those chats have connected me with peers who’ve helped me along the way, whether they realize it or not.

Lastly, challenge yourself. Don’t just laugh or be aghast at the social media crisis du jour, ask yourself how you’d handle it. Before complain about how awful the service is at your cell phone company/cable retailer/restaurant/etc., ask yourself how you’d respond to a critical post if you were the person responsible for that corporate account (yes, there are people behind those accounts). When you see a new social channel or a change to an established one, ask yourself what kind of business should be jumping on board or how you’d recommend a business adjust to the latest change. Be able to support your argument with sound logic.

Overall, the best way to learn how to be a social media professional is to get your hands dirty and do it. There’s no one stopping you. Start now.

October 8, 2014 / achanguris

Skill-Building for a Career in Social Media

Last month I had the opportunity to join Carrie Kerpen for her All the Social Ladies podcast and discuss my somewhat unconventional career path. I’m sure it’s not a unique path, but — at least for the time being — there isn’t a truly traditional way to establish a social media career. I fully expect to see a convention develop, and soon, but for now variety is the spice of life for social media professionals.

Listen to the podcast by clicking on my face!

Listen to the podcast by clicking on my face!

During the podcast, Carrie and I talked about the skills professionals need to find success in social media. We got through most of my list:

  1. Writing – If you’re planning to pay the bills with a career in social media, you’re going to need a firm grasp of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Social media moves fast; you’ll need to be able to write — and write well — quickly to keep up.
  2. Be a Storyteller – The fundamentals of writing are a start, but you’ll need more than the ability to string together a cohesive sentence. You’ll need to be able to tell compelling stories, and often with tight restrictions on your character count.
  3. Personality – The best social media accounts allow a writer’s personality to shine through and connect. Yes, even if it’s a business account. The more human and relatable you can be, the more successful you’ll be in the all-important engagement metrics.
  4. Speed – You won’t need to be cool under pressure 100% of the time (thank goodness for that), but you must be able to push through whatever emotional response you may have to craft an appropriate response — fast. You can say a lot of things out loud you’d never type and send, but never let venting keep you from a timely (and helpful) reply.

    But I didn’t get to mention one last group of skills during the podcast:

  5. Multimedia Skills – The written word is essential in social media, but we live in a visual world. Photography, videography (and the ability to edit both formats), graphic design and at least an appreciation of typography are skills that can set you apart from other job applicants at any point along your career path. They’re also virtually guaranteed to come in handy when there’s a last-minute photo opportunity or you need a simple infographic on the double. You don’t have to have all the skills of a professional photographer, videographer, or graphic designer; the ability and willingness to step up in a pinch will make you an invaluable asset.

You can probably see how my background in journalism helps me in my social media career. For most of my TV news career I shot, wrote and edited all of my own stories — and all on daily deadlines. I’ve been a one-woman content factory for more than a dozen years now, I’ve simply adjusted to new formats and platforms where that content lives.

What did I miss? Professionals, what skills have helped you establish or further your social media careers? Students (of any age), what skills do you see as the most important for the social media professionals of today and tomorrow?

January 21, 2014 / achanguris

Social Media Theory: Continuum of Permanence

Out here on the Internet, not all content is created equal. Some of it has legs, some of it doesn’t. Keeping this continuum of permanence in mind can help you stay in the right frame of mind when responding to a social media crisis.

My theory of the Continuum of Permanence (as it relates to social content).

My theory of the Continuum of Permanence (as it relates to social content).

Let’s start with Twitter. It’s all the way to the left of the scale because, by it’s very nature, its content is the least permanent. Tweets fly by in rapid succession (particularly if you follow a large number of users). It’s important to address critical tweets, but a single unflattering remark isn’t likely to ruin your business or reputation.

Facebook is a little more permanent as compared to Twitter. There’s still a good amount of turnover (to the chagrin of many Facebook page managers), but the fire hose effect isn’t quite as strong. My policy is to respond to 99% of the posts on the Facebook pages I manage. Most of the posts are compliments, so it’s a fun part of the job.

YouTube comments are more permanent than Facebook remarks because the comments stick with your video content. Whether it’s been five minutes or five years, that comment someone made about your video is going to be front and (nearly) center for anyone who watches it. In my experience, spam is the biggest issue on YouTube. The situation has improved over the years, but it’s best to keep a close eye on these comments since they live on well after the original post.

Your blog is similar in permanence to YouTube, simply because comments stick with individual posts. Again, you’ll want to be sure the content that’s living as an extension of your blog post is relevant, useful, and that you’ve engaged with the person commenting as appropriate.

Your website is the most permanent space you have. If you allow comments (we don’t, and I wouldn’t necessarily advise it, but to each his own) you’ll need to watch very closely and manage with care.

I call this my Continuum of Permanence, but you could also call it my Continuum of Panic. I’m (slightly) less likely to need anxiety medication when someone posts a negative tweet than I am when they post something critical on Facebook and so on.

What do you think? Where would you put Instagram on this continuum? Where do Pinterest or Google+ fall on the spectrum? More importantly: why?

December 5, 2013 / achanguris

Facebook’s Folly: Reviews

For reasons I haven’t been able to guess, Facebook seems to be growing more and more interested in soliciting reviews for business pages. At first, the addition of the Reviews box elicited nothing but a shrug of my shoulders. A handful of people posted reviews on the healthcare page I manage, most of them very positive.

Facebook Reviews

Then a very frustrated patient posted a scathing review.

That’s certainly not good, but the situation was made far worse by the fact that Facebook does not notify page managers when a review is posted. As a social media soloist who relies on notifications heavily, I didn’t see the complaint until the next day – long after the patient had been discharged from her visit to the emergency department.

That morning I started researching ways to remove the Reviews box from our page.

I want to make it absolutely clear: I have no issue whatsoever with any feedback posted to our Facebook page (as long as it doesn’t violate our comment policy, but that’s another story). The reason I’ve removed the box is the lack of notification – period.

We did take some minor flak for disabling the function (from the patient who posted the negative review), but

  1.  That criticism was posted to our wall, so I got a notification(!!)
  2. It also gave me the opportunity to explain my motivation, not only to the patient, but to anyone else who may have been looking for the Reviews box.

Several months passed in Reviews-free bliss… and then, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, without warning, the box was back.

Once again I turned to Google for help, and discovered the  only way to keep the Reviews box disabled was to remove our street address completely. Lovely.

Still, as with most Facebook-related issues, I didn’t have much of a choice. It’s either remove the address or check the Facebook page compulsively 24/7 on the off chance someone is having a problem and has posted a review. My husband I can’t live like that.

I did add the hospital’s street address to the About field, but I’m left to wonder – is this a trend? What will I have to remove from the page next?

Facebook could fix this with a simple notification, but will they?

Update: I’m told Facebook is now offering notifications for reviews (as of March 2014). I’ve changed jobs since my original post and I’m no longer a social media department of one, but my new employer has also disabled the reviews  function — and we don’t plan to reactivate it anytime soon.

November 1, 2013 / achanguris

Overcommunication

MegaphoneStop me if you’ve heard this one before:

“Well, we can’t overcommunicate the message…”

In my experience It’s usually delivered in an off-hand manner by someone with a job title that means I can’t respond by screaming bloody murder and running from the room. It’s also usually followed by a laundry list of “suggestions” like a slew of newspaper ads, TV and radio spots and (my personal favorite) billboards.

At some point after I quiet the internal screaming I attempt to calmly explain that it IS possible to overcommunicate. In fact, getting your message out there too much is just as bad as not getting it out there enough (or getting it to the wrong people). There’s a sweet spot in the middle somewhere and finding it is a key component of any communication strategy.

How much is enough? How much is too much?

There’s no one answer, of course. You have to know your market, your audience, and track results to see what works best in terms of ROI. It takes work. It’s work worth doing.

The most intensely communicated message I’ve ever worked with was the launch of my employer’s new logo in 2012. We pulled out all of the stops: TV ads, radio spots, print ads, posts across all of our social media channels, t-shirts, pens, bags, notepads, and even cookies and cupcakes. We had five different events to reveal our new look, three for employees (hospitals run 24/7 and we hit all shifts), one for VIPs and donors and a final event revealing the logo to the public. We went so far as to hire a video crew to capture the moment as our updated signs were unveiled across the campus.

While launching a new logo isn’t something I’ve been able to tie directly to dollars coming in the door (I’m open to ideas on that point), we were able to track media coverage (huge spike, including our CEO appearing live on a DC TV news program) and social media interaction (big uptick in mentions, comments, views, likes, etc.).

More often than not, of course, we can’t take the kitchen sink approach. For a typical hospital-sponsored event, we may run a print ad in our local paper  two or three times, but the rest of the marketing is generally of the “free” variety. We can request PSAs on the radio, post the information to our website and social media properties, and include the details in our email newsletter.

In this case, less investment translates into less return – but that’s fine. For the price of a couple of newspaper placements and a little bit of my time we may attract 50-100 attendees (depending on the subject matter). Of those attendees, some will sign up for our email newsletter. Others might learn about a procedure that could improve their health or the health of a loved one. Most will at least learn something interesting and we’ll start building a relationship. All good things, some measurable and some not.

Consider these two examples and then picture yourself in a 100% imaginary world where we had the ability to go kitchen sink on every message. The community would be under constant bombardment, overcommunicated to to within an inch of their collective sanity.

Find the middle ground, that balance point between whispering from across the room and assaulting the senses of your audience. There may be some trial and error and it will require finesse, but the effort pays great dividends.