Billions of people worldwide use apps like Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Snapchat to connect, with new users logging on every day. Even more so than other iterations of social media, messaging is all about relationships. Global trends indicate that messaging is poised to take over—usurping email and call centers, playing a crucial role in retail commerce and changing the way we play.
Below are five strategies businesses should implement to increase brand loyalty through social messaging.
Why messaging? Anyone who’s not on messaging right now is about to be. Some sources say 40 percent of mobile subscribers in the U.S. alone use messaging applications monthly. Globally, the numbers are estimated much higher, thanks to countries like China, which skipped Web 1.0 and where everything is done on mobile. The most popular social messaging apps boast hundreds of millions of monthly active users: Messenger sees 800 million, and WeChat, a favorite in China, 650 million.
But making the most of messaging means more than quick replies to customer complaints (although that’s a crucial aspect). Like any other kind of social media marketing, messaging is all about building relationships and offering engaging, relevant content to rise above the noise and keep customers’ attention. What sets messaging apart is its media-driven power to make immediate impacts, fuel hyper-personalized interactions and enhance customer experiences by blurring boundaries between the physical and digital realms. Messaging is about to change the world: Which brands will reap the rewards?
Stay true to your brand
While it’s useful that Messenger (for example) offers canned replies for brands, it’s important to humanize chat—especially when a customer is already unhappy. Copy-and-paste replies do little to assuage annoyance, and they can often increase ire. Your company works hard to build your brand’s unique personality and strengthen its reputation; it’s critical to carry these attributes through every expressive aspect, not the least of which are messaging app interactions. Don’t risk destroying a carefully constructed brand through overuse of canned copy or by regurgitating scripted marketing-speak—anything brand reps post to messaging apps will live forever on customers’ smartphones.
Provide real-time customer service
You can convert unhappy customers to brand advocates if complaints are handled swiftly and thoroughly. For decades, customers have dreaded the limited hours and interminable wait times that come with calling 800 numbers, and call centers’ high staffing costs mean that businesses don’t feel much better about fielding concerns over the phone. Social messaging apps not only give customers 24/7/365, almost instant access to service representatives—who can now efficiently handle multiple conversations at once—but also have the power to create more of a real-time impact than a call ever could.
Messaging is more connected than texting or earlier versions of chat programs; it’s an integral part of a media-rich app ecosystem where everything from photos and videos to links, live-help and e-commerce can be performed with the tap of a touchscreen. Just remember that real-time means your brand handles requests right then and there; don’t redirect customers to your company’s website, an email address or that aforementioned 800 number. If follow-up is needed, it’s your brand reps’ responsibility, not your customers’.
Move seamlessly between public and private
Customers complain @yourbrand on Twitter or post to your Facebook page to get immediate attention, but most want to discuss details in private. Twitter recently released a feature that allows businesses to embed a direct message link in public tweets. Facebook’s feature that allows brands to reply in a direct message to a customer page post is another way messaging facilitates seamless moves between public and private spaces. Consider taking it a step further by sharing a story that went private back in public (with permission, of course) by filling the behind-the-scenes blanks in so everyone can see how your brand addresses issues.
Treat customers like people
Be personal, don’t just personalize. Treat everyone like friends and family. Listen to customers, acknowledge their emotions and understand the context for their concerns. Software tools will soon make it even easier to engage on this level. A running record of conversations can help your brand connect personally about the things customers really care about.
Did Customer Bob mention that he was heading to South by Southwest the last time he chatted with your rep? Whoever he speaks with next should be able to see this and know to ask how his favorite indie band’s set went—or better yet, embed a video they found of the show. Whoever represents your brand on messaging should feel empowered to go beyond quick solutions and draw on the app ecosystem to deepen interactions and cultivate long-term relationships.
You can enlist a bot’s help to manage queues, but don’t rely on automation. After all, one of the best benefits of messaging is that it makes it easier to be, well—human. People know when the voice on the other end of the chat screen is a robot, and it makes them feel neglected, like your brand can’t be bothered to grant the courtesy of a conversation. It’s important to stay on-brand, but messaging app chats should sound like person-to-person conversations, not automated jargon. Beyond that, why not take advantage of a universe of tools to engage customers with entertaining content that doesn’t always have to pertain to your brand? Why can’t brands be friends with their customers?
As futuristic as messaging is, some of its strengths harken back to a time before digital commerce—before catalogs, even—made online shopping convenient, albeit impersonal. This mobile marriage between personal, real-world relationships and media-rich, digital connectivity is what gives messaging much of its power, blurring lines between physical and online commerce. Any brand that takes the time to understand the capabilities of this technology is poised for success as messaging becomes more and more ubiquitous. After all, the principles behind messaging are, in many ways, the same as those behind every other social strategy—even every branding program. Messaging just provides the media-rich infrastructure to make executing these strategies smoother.
Peter Friedman is a social media visionary and veteran with 32 years of online community and social media experience helping companies engage one-on-one with customers at scale. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of LiveWorld, a trusted social media partner to the world’s largest brands, and author of The CMO’s Social Media Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide for Leading Marketing Teams in the Social Media World. Connect with him on Twitter.
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