Picture: 123RF/GILC
Picture: 123RF/GILC

At a time when consumers are becoming more comfortable with the digital world and using social media as a means to engage with brands, it is important that brands themselves take opportunities that will lead them to their own digital maturity. However, simply assigning a junior employee to manage social media presence can be to a brand’s detriment.

Social media management is best done by a specialised team that has the ability to engage with customers and respond to their queries, while providing a service that will differentiate the brand in this space, says Michael Oelschig, MD of Cerebra. After establishing a social media command centre for client Vodacom a year ago, Oelschig has learnt much about the skill of social media management.

“In line with the old adage ‘be where your customers are’ it has become imperative for brands to interact with digitally engaged customers in real time,” says Oelschig, adding that marketing should always have the customer at the heart of it, and if the customer wants to engage with brands on digital platforms, is there really a choice?

Real-time engagement is key, he maintains. “Most queries by customers concern a problem or question they have at a particular time that needs to be resolved then and there, not 24 hours later. It’s counterintuitive for a brand to move into a digital space and away from traditional contact centres and then create a situation where customers are likely to get a quicker response by phoning the call centres anyway. Customers have grown to expect service on demand and if they don’t receive it from one brand, they’re bound to look to another,” he continues.

Equally important in this equation is ensuring that social media queries are handled by the right people for the job. “Before the advent of social media, a brand would have two or three ‘spokespeople’ for the brand – highly paid senior employees who in most cases were at executive level, with years of experience in dealing with the media and the public,” Oelschig says.

He continues that these same brands have been more than happy to assign social media management to 21-year-old, inexperienced employees, on the basis that they “get” social. “I may be simplifying a little; however, the principle applies – no brand should take this approach on a public platform,” he says.

The big take-out

Social media management has become a complex business that can be to the detriment of the brand if not handled effectively by suitably experienced teams.  

While social media may need to be carefully approached and managed, it gives the brand an opportunity to ensure that its authenticity and brand purpose are consistent across platforms. “Call centre agents or in-store staff cannot revise or change what they have said; while social media allows agents to write and amend – and even test their responses on colleagues before they press “send”. Added to this, they have brand guides, rules of engagement and other information to assist them in their understanding of the brand. They also have access to knowledge bases allowing them to search for answers when they don’t have them to hand, which means they come across as both helpful and knowledgeable,” Oelschig says.

Before social media, brands spoke at their consumers, who had very little recourse. The advent of social media means consumers are able to talk back, making brands a lot more accountable for what they say and how they say it. No longer can brands risk fooling consumers, Oelschig says. “If brands are not trustworthy, honest and authentic, the social mob will attack,” he says.