Utilizing social media platforms can help you retain existing clients and build new business. Learn how a good social media strategy can help you develop a positive brand reputation by using these tips.

Social media is one of the most direct channels of communication that small businesses have with customers. In fact, research from Sprout Social shows that social media is one of the first places 45% of consumers turn to when they have a question or problem with a product. This reason, among others, is why it’s essential for you to carefully manage your social media accounts.

Using Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or other social media to bolster your brand requires a bit of forethought. But without a well-planned online strategy, you run the risk of damaging your reputation and alienating customers.

Following are seven ways to protect and strengthen your brand on social media:

Respond to complaints quickly

One of the best ways to boost your reputation on social media is to resolve customer complaints about your products or services with as much care and speed as possible. “The longer you wait to reply and the more ambiguous your response, the less trust users will have in your brand,” says Audrey Strasenburgh, SEO strategist for LogoMix, a digital platform for creating custom business logos.

Personalized service and follow-through are key, says Christina Hager, president of the social media consultancy Ovations Digital and head social media strategist at the multimedia firm Overflow Storytelling Lab. “Offer to address their needs via a direct message or email,” she says. “But then you must address it—you can’t just let the complaint die in an inbox.”

Strasenburgh suggests appointing a dedicated person to monitor your social media accounts for customer gripes. Tools like MentionHootsuite, TweetDeck and Sprinklr make it easier to follow social media mentions of your company.

Fix recurring problems

If you get repeated complaints about the same issue, it’s time to rectify the problem. “Nothing will sink a business faster than knowing something is broken and just not fixing it,” Hager says. “If people complain about a certain product breaking or not working, use social media to address it publicly and talk about what you are going to do about it.” View this as an opportunity to ask customers for suggestions on how to improve the product, Hager adds.

Let customers peek behind the scenes

Customers love authenticity and transparency, and they love seeing stories of the people who make a business tick. Giving followers an inside glimpse into your daily operations checks all these boxes, Hager says.

For example, you could post photos or videos of yourself sketching a new design, building a prototype or testing a new recipe. You could share the details of how you source your raw materials. Or you could offer a first look at the new product you’re launching next month. “If you show that humans run your business, you’ll be more likely to encourage interaction and generate interest,” Hager says.

Think twice before commenting on national news

Resist the temptation to opine on cultural and political trends, even though it might be tough. Businesses that do so risk sounding selfish and tone-deaf rather than helpful and insightful.

“Corporations like DiGiorno’s and Papa John’s took major reputation hits over social media posts that attempted to hijack trending social hashtags,” says Jonas Sickler, marketing director of ReputationManagement.com, which helps companies improve their online presence and recover from crises. “While those companies were large enough to sustain the damage, small businesses might not recover.”

Don’t trade charitable giving for “likes”

Posting on social media that you’ll donate money or products to your pet cause for every follow, like or share you receive sounds more opportunistic than altruistic. Instead, donate the money without any strings attached, Sickler says. Then post news of your donation on social media and tell followers how they can help the cause, too. “That will showcase your generosity and activism without cheapening your business,” Sickler says.

Train staff to represent the company correctly

When dividing social media duties among staff members, Hager advises creating written guidelines to ensure consistency. Provide written examples of the type of posts you want to see. Encourage people to keep posts positive, upbeat and conversational. Update these social media guidelines as needed throughout the year so employees understand expectations and make sure that the guidelines and documentation are easy to find.

Require teammates to proof each other’s posts for typos, tone and the potential for misinterpretation. “Simple grammar and spelling mistakes make your business look unprofessional,” Sickler cautions. “Always err on the side of caution and get a second opinion before posting content.”

Hire a social media pro as soon as you can

Small businesses may not have the budget to hire a dedicated social media manager immediately. But you’d be wise to hire a seasoned professional to lead your social media strategy as soon you can. As Sickler notes, “businesses that leave their social media in the hands of an overworked employee or an intern are inviting crises.”

Despite your best efforts, public relations mishaps can happen. Your best bet is to ensure you’re as prepared as possible to deal with them.

Work now to control the narrative about your company on social media. Build up your following by sharing authentic images and stories. Think before you post to avoid making gaffes you’ll have to apologize for later. Interact with your audience and work quickly to solve customer service issues. The more dedicated and sizable your online following, the easier time you’ll have emerging from the rubble should a crisis strike.

Santander Bank does not make any claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in this article.

Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax advisers regarding any financial or tax strategies mentioned in this article. These materials are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Santander Bank.

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