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George ToddGeorge Todd

Online forums have been around far longer than Facebook and Twitter and, for many of the people who use them, have become their “traditional” channel for customer service.

These users would rather log on to their forum to ask a question about a product or service than pick up a phone and call a company’s contact centre. The credibility of the forum is high. Users tend to believe their peers in a forum before they will take the word of an employee of an organisation who could be paid to praise the product or service.

Organisations should take all social media seriously. But it’s critical that they understand that Facebook and Twitter tend to be last resorts for customers. People will post a negative comment only after becoming frustrated by a lack of an adequate response from the company via its contact centre or branch or shop employees. It’s rare for customers to use Facebook and Twitter as a primary contact channel with an organisation.

Online forums, on the other hand, are used by people who see the Internet as a primary communication channel – and are extremely skilled, focused, and deliberate in their use of it.”

Apart from having a dedicated person in customer service tracking the more obvious social media for positive or negative comments, organisations should pro-actively search online forums for opportunities to provide support and service to their existing and potential customers.

Organisations need to make social media the responsibility of their customer service rather than their marketing department.

When you enter someone’s social circle, you must expect them to respond in a social way – by voicing opinions. If you put a marketing message out to a Facebook or Twitter community, it’s inevitable that someone will post a negative opinion.

Marketing departments aren’t usually geared to respond to criticism. Customer service departments are. So, if you’re considering a social media channel, then go with customer service before marketing.

About the author: George Todd, operations executive for Merchants.