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Chat bubbles containing a question mark and a telephone, representing a customer service discussion.

Social Media Customer Service Best Practices

Lance Concannon

Oct 27, 2023

When you have a disappointing experience with a company, do you ever take to social media to voice your dissatisfaction? You’re not alone. It’s estimated that 67% of consumers use social media to complain directly to brands, and it’s easy to understand why. 

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People know that emails often get ignored and nobody wants to waste their time on hold to a call center, but if you complain on social media, your grievance is visible to the whole world. Companies are likely to be more motivated to help you quickly, demonstrating their great customer service to other potential customers.

Even though social media has become the preferred channel for customer complaints, businesses are allowing a third of all complaints to go unanswered despite the obvious risks of leaving unhappy customers without a response.

And it’s important to remember that customer service isn’t just about fielding complaints. Potential customers will often use social media to make enquiries during the consideration phase of the customer journey, because they hope it will be the fastest way to get an answer from the brand. Failing to respond to a consumer who is actively asking questions about your products is leaving cash on the table.

So, for many businesses, implementing a robust social media customer service strategy could be an easy win, improving customer experience and retention while working magic for their brand reputation. Before putting a strategy in place, it’s worth focusing on why exactly people complain on social media. Sure, the most obvious answer is that they see it as the speediest path to a resolution for their problem, but there are other, more surprising motivations.

Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology looked into this very question, and here’s what they found: 

  • To bond with others who have experienced the same issues. A problem shared, as they say, is a problem halved. 
  • To get a self-esteem boost. Complaining about others can make us feel better about ourselves.

So, when thinking about your approach to social media customer care, it’s important to understand that there are sometimes other drivers behind a complaint beyond the need to get the problem fixed, and that can often cause people to use more negative language than necessary.

What Is Social Media Customer Service?

In the simplest of terms, social media customer service is just customer service delivered via social channels as opposed to more conventional mediums such as telephone or email. In practice, it’s a complex activity with lots of different elements that need to be considered.

First of all, there’s the question of how you actually identify complaints and enquiries on social media, when they can appear on any one of a growing number of platforms, and they might not directly tag your company profiles. To do this effectively, especially at scale, you need a third-party social listening solution like Meltwater Explore.

Engagement is also important. Not every social post that mentions your brand will require a customer service level response, in many cases a simple acknowledgement by way of a like or short comment will be enough. Again, a third-party social media management and engagement solution, such as Meltwater Engage, can facilitate this. 

The mechanics of identifying and responding to queries and complaints are only the beginning. The big issue is how to ensure a high standard of social media customer service is delivered using these tools, as there is a wide variety of issues that will need to be dealt with, for example: 

  • Product information
  • Technical assistance 
  • Problem troubleshooting
  • Faulty products
  • Delivery issues
  • Customer complaints

All of these issues have to be quickly assessed and then dealt with in the most appropriate manner. Do they need to be directed to some online resource that can provide help, or escalated to the support team? Can the social media team resolve the issue themselves, or do they need to obtain more information from the customer before progressing the enquiry? Should the rest of the conversation take place on the social channel where the customer instigated it, or does it need to be moved to another communications medium?

For large organizations, close integration between the social media team and customer support team will be essential, and often this means that the software platforms used to manage customer service and social media need to be integrated as well, so case details and progress can be passed seamlessly between them. Meltwater integrates with Salesforce, for precisely this reason. 

Social media customer service also plays a key role in crisis management, because disgruntled customers on social media can quickly snowball into a bigger problem, especially if the customer has a large social following. So as well as generally striving to respond to all customers on social, paying close attention to any complaints that are gaining visibility is important. 

It’s clear that social media and customer service come together to create a complex problem which can be difficult to tackle. It requires the right social media customer service software, well-trained staff, and a process of constant improvement. To achieve this, in-depth analytics and regular reports are used to measure how well the whole system is working, and where improvements can be made.

Tip: Take a look at these social media customer service examples to get inspired.

Why Is Social Media Customer Service Important?

Delivering excellent omnichannel customer service (just like an omnichannel customer experience) is something that most businesses should aim for, because it’s an essential part of building a powerful brand. But the role of social media in customer service has become vital for a number of reasons.

Firstly, for better or worse, we live in a world where consumers simply expect businesses to be available and responsive on social media. Failing to meet that expectation leads to customer dissatisfaction, ultimately damaging their perceptions of your brand. All other things being equal, if your competitors are delivering great social media customer service and you are not, they have an advantage over you.

It’s not just a matter of customers being over-entitled either, it’s about accessibility and convenience. People have complicated lives, and the conventional customer service channels might not always work well for them, so being able to reach out to your business via a channel of their choosing, at a time that works for them, means a lot.

A frustrated consumer angrily shouting into an old style telephone, unhappy with the customer service he is getting.

Don’t forget, what’s good for customers is good for you. By actively responding to customer queries and problems on social media, your company is very publicly demonstrating its values, showing the rest of the world that it takes customer satisfaction seriously.

In its own way, this is very powerful PR for your brand. It should come as no surprise that customers who enjoy a positive experience of social media customer service are far more likely to become repeat customers, and brand advocates

At the same time, all of these comments, complaints, and queries in social media can provide a valuable source of consumer intelligence and customer intelligence. Are similar issues and questions coming up regularly? Perhaps a new topic is suddenly being mentioned or asked about a lot.

By analyzing this data, businesses can gather information about customer preferences, pain points, and needs, which can be used to improve products and services. What’s more, all of the data gathered through social media customer service operations provides a lot of consumer insights and intelligence that will add rocket fuel to your marketing campaigns.

If you get social media customer service right, it can also reduce costs in a big way. Think about the time and resources expended every time a complaint or query goes through your customer service department. Much of that overhead can be eliminated with a smart social media customer care strategy, either by providing quick resolutions to common issues directly through the social channels, or deflecting them to self-service resources where they can resolve issues by themselves.

What Are the Advantages of Social Media Customer Service?

Let's take a look at five advantages of social media customer service:

  1. Accessibility and Convenience
    Offering customer service through social channels makes life a lot easier for your customers, empowering them to get answers to their questions and solutions for problems in a quick and convenient manner that suits them.
  2. Reduces Costs
    Responding to customers on social media can reduce the overall cost of customer service delivery, giving people quick resolutions or directing them to self-serve resources, so that fewer cases are passed to the customer service department.
  3. Builds Brand Equity
    By delivering excellent customer care in social media, your business is proving that it puts customers first in the most visible way possible. People can see that if they have a problem with any of your products or services, your company can be trusted to put it right.
  4. Data and Insights
    Social media customer service produces a lot of data about your customers and their relationship with your brand and products. This data can be harnessed in different ways to generate insights that could lead to improved products and better-targeted marketing campaigns.
  5. Crisis Management
    Many potential crises can be averted entirely by swiftly responding to customer service issues raised on social media. In the event that a brand crisis does begin to blow up, social media customer service can help mitigate it by quickly answering questions, addressing misinformation, and reassuring customers that your business is handling the problem.

What Are the Disadvantages of Social Media Customer Service?

Let's take a look at five disadvantages of social media customer service:

  1. High Visibility
    While showing off your commitment to customer service in public can be a positive, things are also very visible when they don’t go so well. For example, your team might struggle to placate a particularly upset customer, or to resolve a difficult issue. In these situations it’s important to escalate quickly and resolve the issue as soon as possible. 
  2. Volume of Requests
    For larger brands especially, the volume of requests for customer service in social media can be huge, making it an unwieldy problem to handle. The problem can be addressed with the right social media customer service tools, which will make managing the volume much easier, but also appropriate staffing levels and well-planned processes.
  3. Trolling 
    A common challenge for social media managers is dealing with trolls in their owned channels. This can take many shapes, from harmless jokers trying to have a little fun at a brand’s expense, to more vicious attacks from people who possibly have some real or imagined grievance. Appropriate training and processes are the best way to deal with this. 
  4. Operational Silos
    When a business begins to offer social media customer service, there’s a risk of a disconnect between that team and the existing customer service function, so you end up with two teams working at cross-purposes. Integrating your social media management solution with your CRM platform (e.g. Salesforce) is a good way to tackle this. 
  5. Customer Expectations 
    When communicating with a brand via social media, customers can often expect a much faster response than they would after using an email or online form for a similar request. Depending on your resourcing, this can be unrealistic. Set expectations in your support channel profile, stating hours of operation and typical response times.

How To Create an Effective Social Media Customer Service Strategy

Hopefully by now we’ve convinced you that social media customer service is something that can give your business a strong advantage, but also given you an understanding of the numerous challenges that need to be addressed in order to do it well. 

So how should you go about mapping out a social media customer service strategy?

1. Define Your Goals and Objectives

As with any kind of strategizing, the first and most important task is to define your goals and objectives. We’ve already outlined the benefits of customer service in social media. Do you need to improve service response times, increase customer satisfaction, enhance your brand's reputation, or all of the above? What social media metrics will you use to measure progress towards those goals?

2. Understand Your Social Media Audience

The second stage of your strategic planning should be to build a clear understanding of your audience in social media. Which channels are they most likely to use, and what topics do they typically discuss in relation to your business?

Good social media monitoring tools like the Meltwater will help you do this easily.

3. Allocate the Appropriate Resources

Next you need to allocate the appropriate resources. This includes the right social media customer service software platforms, the right staff, and training where necessary.

But remember that this resource should not exist in isolation and, assuming you already have a fully functioning customer service team, you should work out how these two teams will work together to deliver optimal results.

4. Develop a Triage System

Develop a triage system so that the frontline social media team understands what kind of queries it can respond to directly, when they should escalate to a different team, and what that escalation procedure looks like. As you build this plan, bake in reasonable Service Level Agreements for different types of engagement, so everybody understands what response times they should be aiming for.

5. Develop Clear Policies and Guidelines

Illustration of an image showing social media branding guideline in our post about social media customer service

It’s important to understand that your social media customer service team will be representing your brand in a very public arena. Clear policies and guidelines for how they should interact with customers on your brand social channels need to be developed and properly documented, and all staff should be trained extensively, with regular scheduled refreshers.

It’s also a good idea to develop a broader social media branding guide as well as an employee social media guideline for how staff talk about the business on their personal social media profiles.

6. Prepare for Crisis Scenarios

As you create policies and guidelines, be sure to include planning for crisis scenarios. The team should be able to identify the early warning signs of a potential crisis, using a social media listening tool like , and be fully trained in how to manage those situations. There should be a clearly established ‘chain of command’ so that when a difficult, fast-developing problem arises, there’s no question about roles and responsibilities. Everybody should know what part they have to play, and who has the authority to make decisions.

Finally, pay attention to legal and regulatory requirements for all of the countries your brand operates in, with regard to privacy, data protection, and any other relevant considerations. An enterprise-grade can help streamline this.

Meltwater social media engagement tool screenshot for showcasing the tool in a social media customer service setting

What Are Social Media Customer Service Best Practices?

While all of this might sound challenging, the good news is that social media customer service has been around for long enough for early adopters to learn the hard lessons on behalf of everybody else. So other businesses can benefit from their experience. 

Here are some best practice tips to employ in your own social media customer service efforts.

  1. Be responsive: People tend to use social media as a customer service channel because they want a quick response, so even if you can’t provide a full resolution straight away, at least acknowledge that they’ve been heard and will get an answer soon.
  2. Use a professional tone: It can be tempting to use a casual tone on social media, but remember to stay in your brand voice and keep things business-like and avoid over-familiarity, as this can annoy customers, especially if they have a complaint.
  3. Be discreet when necessary: Providing positive customer experiences in a public channel is good, but when things aren’t going well, or sensitive topics are involved, it’s often better to move a discussion to a more private channel.
  4. Know your business: Make sure your social media customer service team is kept up to date on the business and its products, so they can more readily understand customer concerns and offer better support. 
  5. Set clear expectations: Communicate expected response times and next steps with customers. If a resolution will take time, make sure they have a realistic estimate of how long they can expect to wait. 
  6. Maintain consistency: Ensure that your customer service interactions are consistent in tone and style across different social media platforms. This helps position your brand as one that is reliable and dependable. 
  7. Keep up to date: The world of social media is constantly evolving, with new platforms emerging and growing their own audiences. Make sure you periodically take stock of where your customers can be found online, and whether there are conversations about your brand that you might not have spotted. 
  8. Embrace feedback: Encourage customers to provide feedback on their social media service experiences. Use this feedback to improve your processes and social media customer service strategy.
  9. Improve constantly: Use data and analytics to monitor the performance of your social media customer service team. Identify bottlenecks and weak-points, or areas that need better resourcing. 
  10. Look after your team: Don’t underestimate the emotional toll of spending all day dealing with unhappy, sometimes angry customers, while maintaining a calm and professional demeanor. Celebrate success, check in on your team regularly, make sure they have the support they need to do a great job.

Building a strong social media customer service strategy can deliver huge rewards for your business; stronger customer relationships and repeat business, increased brand equity, better word of mouth, and so much more. But it’s no small undertaking. It needs to be implemented well if it’s going to pay off, and you need a partner with deep experience of helping global brands achieve these objectives.

How To Improve Your Social Media Customer Service with Meltwater

Meltwater’s suite of solutions provides the perfect platform for your social media customer service strategy. Seamless integration with Salesforce makes it easy for your customer service teams and social media staff to work together to deliver consistently exceptional customer experiences. 

Our social media management solution, Engage,  is built for cross-team collaboration, with customizable workflows, role-based dashboards, and a unified inbox to make sure all customer engagements are identified and handled by a team member. 

For identifying brand mentions outside of your owned social media channels, our social listening solution, Explore, integrates seamlessly with Engage, monitoring a comprehensive range of social media channels. It offers automated reporting and alerts to warn you when your brand mentions suddenly spike so you can identify problems early and react quickly. 

If you need enterprise level insights into your customers based on how they discuss your brand and products in digital spaces, our consumer insights platform, Radarly can provide that.

Contact Meltwater today to talk about how we can help you execute world-class social media customer service.