Get More Twitter Followers Now Managing Your Online Reputation

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Regardless of the size of your business and whether or not you or your business participate in social media, you need to pay attention to what is happening in the social media world. You can no longer bury customer complaints and problems in the bowels of your service department.

Customers and prospective buyers have unprecedented access to increasingly powerful social media tools such as YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook, Forums, Blogs, Rating Sites, and more, to express their frustrations and dissatisfaction with lousy services and products.

There are new reports every week of customer service and/or PR debacles for businesses caused by their own poor or indifferent response to customer problems and complaints. Companies that don't pay attention to what their customers are saying about their business/brands/products/services/solutions via social media sites pay a serious penalty in bad publicity and lost revenues.

Your business/brands/products/services/solutions reputation is open to positive and negative social media discussion online. This is your reputation - you need to be engaged - you need to monitor what's going on - you need to respond appropriately.

The first step is to monitor who is saying what related to your business, brands, products, services, solutions or other business properties. The easiest way to do this is to setup Google Alerts [] to monitor any activity for each term of interest. Choose the 'Comprehensive' search type and have it delivered 'as-it-happens' to an email address you check regularly. Although this is a good automated, no cost monitoring service; I recommend doing direct searches on various social media sites on a periodic basis - depends on the frequency of post incidents for your business.

Once you find a post, do a quick and careful analysis of the situation:

* If it's positive, thank the customer for the comment. If you want to reward them with a coupon or discount do it privately not to set a precedent for everyone to comment just to get a reward. If it's negative, continue reading...

* Get the facts and reading of the situation from both sides. Listen without being defensive no matter how harsh the criticism.

* Assess the situation - there are different degrees of negativity.

* Get an unbiased view from a neutral 3rd party if necessary. Sometimes you're too close to the situation to objectively interpret the intended message of the comment.

* Check whether this person has posted other complaints elsewhere. There are some constant complainers and angry people out there. Do a search on their name or alias to get as much information about them as you can - make sure you understand who you're dealing with.

* Get agreement and ensure everyone knows and understands how you will respond and the ideal final resolution you wish to accomplish.

Now you're ready to respond:

* Be ready and be quick - don't exacerbate the problem by letting the comment sit out there for more than a few hours without a good resolution. Other Internet users will see it.

* If you don't have the definitive answer immediately, respond anyway that you're aware of their comment and you're checking the situation to get back to them ASAP.

* Before you reply, remember that you are replying to the social media world, not just the complainant - be professional and use regular, moderated language.

* Stay calm, be sincere and don't get into petty arguments. Rise above any bad language or baiting from the complainer. Sometimes the complainer wants to make you look like a jerk - don't get sucked into their agenda.

* If it just requires clarification of a misunderstanding, step in and explain.

* If your business screwed up in any way - make amends in the best possible manner. Bite the bullet for a replacement or refund if needed - it costs much less than the bad publicity and potential for lost revenues.

* If the customer has buyer's remorse or they screwed it up - try to resolve it in the most amicable manner for the customer. Even though they may be annoyed, you can turn them into a fan with a good resolution.

* Respond quickly, fairly and decisively - don't let it drag on for others to pile on with "me too" supporting comments.

* Once resolved, end the discussion with 3 take-aways:

1. Thank them for bringing this to your attention.

2. Offer them an alternate route to get this type of issue resolved directly with your company if it should happen again. That way, you avoid the whole social media rigmarole for future incidents.

3. Promise to do better - whatever is relevant for the situation.

Taking action for your business:

* Regardless of your personal social media participation or opinion, you cannot disregard social media conversations about your business/brands/products/services/solutions.

* Develop a social media monitoring and response plan for your business incorporating relevant points discussed above. Communicate it to everyone in your company - not just service staff.

* Develop a crisis plan if things go wrong and the problem escalates. You need to respond and resolve the problem before someone makes a video.

* Educate everyone in your company on the importance of good customer service, the ramifications of indifferent service, and everyone's customer service role.

* Don't let these situations fester - respond quickly and resolutely.

* Develop consistent messaging that everyone in your company follows for communicating with customers.

* Minimize PR and reputation damage. You may have to offer a resolution that you're not entirely comfortable with. Bite the bullet and minimize the damage.

* Use the opportunity to respond and resolve in a manner that will turn the dialog into a favorable experience for others to read.

* Treat every incident as a learning experience to communicate with everyone in your company.

Social media is an integral part of your customer communications environment. All businesses need to pay attention and proactively manage their reputation in the social media world.

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