Small businesses and social media need to be precisely aligned

If the value of different social media platforms is to be judged by the time and effort that companies need to put into them, Twitter must surely be worth a fortune. At 140 characters, each tweet certainly places a premium on brevity. However, small businesses that use this service might be missing out on some major opportunities to interact with customers and improve the services that they render.

A recent market survey by Maritz and Evolve24 has found that around 70 percent of companies never respond to complaints or queries that are made using Twitter. Of course, not every single organization needs to use Twitter, but if they do, it's important to do so properly. Otherwise, consumers will become disenchanted with the idea of staying in contact with an organization. Here are some ways to avoid this pitfall and to take advantage of a service that, for the amount of content it demands, is an excellent tool for customer engagement.

Search out complaints
Companies often shy away from criticisms or problems that consumers have with them. This is a mistake, as it alienates people and prevents improvements that can be made. Small businesses should search their own names on Twitter frequently as well as check for messages that have been tweeted at them. Ignorance of problems that people have is no excuse for not responding to what can sometimes be valid criticism.

Bring the debate elsewhere
Small business marketers may often avoid addressing customer complaints because they feel as if they won't be able to respond properly within the context of a 140-character message. However, the obvious solution for this problem is to bring the conversation to another platform. In fact, Twitter should only be a first line of defense and never an in-depth information dissemination tool.

First, encourage consumers to visit a company website or to email a representative who can help to resolve the issue. This is the most direct method, although it will consume some time and personnel resources that organizations could be loathe to spend. The second tactic is to analyze every customer complaint and attempt to address the largest ones on a company website. The primary critics can then be contacted and shown to that response page.

Track customers
The people who are most likely to complain are also those who are probably going to be the ones to take their business elsewhere. No company wants to see this happen, so even if an issue can't be fully resolved, it might be possible to make amends. Add these critics to mailing lists that offer discounts, send them promotional products or even go so far as to make refunds or future savings available. When all else fails, make a last-ditch effort to preserve every single customer before moving on to other consumers and campaigns.  

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