If you sell something online or if you run a business with an online presence—even if you’re just having a good time growing your personal brand—you’ll have the honor and the privilege of chatting directly with customers. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week.

This always-on mentality is an amazing privilege, and at the same time it can provide some challenges for small businesses. How can you best respond when conversations are happening constantly? And what if they’re not all positive?

How do you manage to make customers happy on social media?

I discovered a few tips that might help out here, some strategies and insights that are backed by a fair bit of research. There’s an art to making customers happy on social media, and the good news: There’s also a recipe.

Here’s what’s involved.

customer happiness

The 5-part recipe for making customers happy on social media

These are the five parts I’ve encountered in my research on customer happiness. It’s interesting to note also that the order here is somewhat important: Listen before you respond, for instance.

1. Listen carefully

2. Respond quickly

3. Make a connection

4. Be specific

5. Say their name

make customers happy social media

1. Listen carefully

You focus on listening rather than responding

Among the 10 Buffer values, seldom is there crossover between the specific phrasing of a value and the naming of a social media marketing strategy. We’re grateful for the overlap with listening.

Social listening is the process of finding the meaningful conversations and insights from all your mentions on social media.

In particular, these elements from our Buffer value seem to really resonate when it comes to successful social listening.

You seek first to understand, then to be understood

You focus on listening rather than responding

buffer culture values listen

I really love the way that Lolly Daskall outlines the importance of listening as it relates to business and leadership. I think her description rings true for social media as well.

We listen to learn.

We listen to stay informed.

We listen to understand.

We listen to gain information.

We listen to acquire knowledge.

We listen to obtain wisdom.

Listening carefully comes in a couple of phases:

  1. Finding the conversations
  2. Pausing to listen to what’s being said

In terms of finding the conversations, there was some really neat research done by Mention, who analyzed over one billion brand mentions tracked through their tool.

They found that 92 percent of people talking to brands have fewer than 500 followers. So you should listen for more than just big influencers.

They also saw that 30 percent of tweets containing company names don’t use the company’s twitter handle. So you should listen for multiple keywords and variations beyond just your username.

Mention company names on Twitter

What this might look like in practice

There are a number of useful tools you can put together into a social listening dashboard.

Mention is one of our favorites, as it’s able to track just about any variation of you or your brand name, as well as keywords, phrases, and hashtags. One cool tip is to sync up Mention with Feedly to build a listening dashboard, alongside your RSS consumption.

Additionally, you can dive quite deep into Twitter using Twitter’s built-in Advanced Search. You can drill down into specific accounts or hashtags or keywords, including going way back into the archives if needed.

What happens if you don’t

When conversations happen about your brand on social media, you have the chance to get involved and make a positive impression on those talking about you.

If you miss those opportunities, you miss the chance to make an impression. You miss the chance to provide answers or solutions or to steer the conversation in a meaningful direction.

And to go a step further, people might not think you listen or care. Brands that never respond not only fail to make a positive impression, they can sometimes make a poor one with their silence.

2. Respond quickly

Customers expect a response on Twitter within 60 minutes

Twitter is perhaps the most real-time of the major social networks, with the half-life ot tweets measured in minutes.

Consumers expect this rapidity to extend to their conversations with you, too.

Research by Lithium Technologies found that 53 percent of users who tweet at a brand expect a response within the hour. The percentage increases to 72 percent for those with a complaint. Lithium-Twitter-Report-Response-Time

If you can pull of this quick feat (tips on this are below), you’ll go a long ways toward setting yourself apart. Few companies are able to answer so speedily.

study done by Simply Measured found that nearly all brands—99% of them—are on Twitter and 30% have a dedicated customer service handle. Still, the average response time was 5.1 hours with only 1 out of 10 companies answering within an hour.

What this might look like in practice

Monitoring and listening with the tools mentioned above will be a great start for replying fast.

Additionally, tools like Must Be Present can help you track your response time on Twitter, or you can invest in software like Spark Central to stay on top of your customer support tweets.

If you’ve got a big team of support heroes, then a third-party tool like Spark Central is a great route to go.

If it’s just you, then you might look into the notification settings for your social network. For instance, with Twitter, you can sign up for Twitter email alerts and customize them so that you only receive the messages that you’d like—for instance, @-replies or new follows.

What happens if you don’t

Mark Granovetter in the American Journal of Sociology presented his social network theory that visualizes people as nodes. Those who are connected through a relationship are a single link away, while distant relationships are only a few links away.

Granovetter’s theory came out in 1973, well before the advent of social media (or the modern Internet, even), yet it still applies directly to the power of networking on Twitter, Facebook, and the rest. As a follow-up to Granovetter’s theory, a trio of UK researchers observed that most people are no more than six links away from any other person.

Put another way, word of a poor Twitter experience can spread far and fast. 

Jeremy Waite found that a tweet can spread from one person to 2.7 million within four generations—which is great for the amazing content you produce and share, and good to keep in mind for the conversations you have as well.

3. Make a connection

From a high level view, this strategy comes down to your perspective with social media.

It’s an honor and a privilege for someone to reach out to you on social media, amid the millions of other profiles and accounts to connect with.

When someone chooses to chat with you, be grateful, and respond.

Zappos, well known for its awesome customer service over the phone and online, has the following response numbers:

  • Response Time:  < 20 min
  • Response Rate: 100 percent

Yes, they reply to everyone!

In the book Traction, Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares talk about 19 traction channels to help gain more customers. One of these channels is unconventional PR, which includes customer service.

You can be so great at customer service that it becomes free, unconventional PR for your brand!

Consider: The average top brands worldwide tweet at least 12 times a day, and 54 percent of these brands are sending less than one @-reply per day.

There’s a lot of room to improve (and stand out) amid those numbers.

What this might look like in practice

When possible, connect 24/7 with your audience.

When not possible—and totally understandable if you’re a small business or a one-person team—communicate your availability.

Zappos does the 24/7 thing in a cool way by having their Twitter support team say hello and good-bye as they change shifts.

American Express gives us a good example of how to communicate when you turn off for the night.

Another way to make a one-to-one connection or conversation is through Direct Message.

Our co-founder Leo wrote a great article on Social Media Examiner about Twitter and customer service, and he laid out this quick 3-step guide for what to do when you’re communicating with your many people in your audience about a similar topic or bug.

Send one public tweet explaining the situation. Anyone who finds your Twitter profile will see that tweet first.

Then, reply to any @mentions with a DM. First, you won’t clutter your business’s Twitter stream with @replies for other customers looking for what is going on. Second, you can go into more detail explaining how you can help each customer.

Switch back to sending @replies if there is no acute problem anymore, but only regular questions and support requests.

DMs are also extremely useful when a simple @reply doesn’t give all of the information the customer needs.

DMs are also a great alternative to the “please send an email to [email protected]” line. You make a connection with your customer without sending them elsewhere to talk to you and dragging out the process unnecessarily.

What happens if you don’t

Not only do you risk alienating your community by not responding, you can also create harmful reactions to your brand. A research study in the Academy of Management found that companies who accepted responsibility for a problem saw favorable responses. Those who were slow in responding to complaints did not. It’s all a quite intuitive conclusion, though interesting to see backed by research in addition to intuition.

4. Be specific

This strategy is one borrowed from email marketing, where specificity—often seen in the form of segmentation and personalization—is a key driver of higher open rates and clickthrough rates.

A study by Jupiter Research found that relevant emails drove 18 times more revenue than general, broadcast emails.

Shane Snow and Jon YouShaei tested specificity in a series of cold emails, changing things like the subject line and the thank you message to see what worked best. Of the cold emails, sent in impersonal batches, only 1.7% of people replies, 12 out of 700.

Following the study, Shane cold emailed a single contact with a highly personalized email. He got a reply.

Here’s the email Shane sent:

Subject: Shook your hand at NextJump, would love your advice

Adam,

Fantastic presentation at NextJump yesterday! I was thrilled to shake your hand and say “thanks” right before you ran out. I was also happy to see your book hit the Print+Ebook bestseller list in the Times Book Review last week. The world needs this message.

I feel apprehensive asking you this, since I know you have plenty of opportunities to give already, but I wanted to know if, when the frenzy dissipates, you would be willing to coach me a bit on the work I’m doing for my first book? I just signed an exciting deal with HarperCollins (my editor, Hollis Heimbouch, works with Clayton Christensen and Jim Collins) for a book that I’m hoping will help a LOT of people. (It’s inspired, in fact, by XXXpersonal storyXXX.)

I’d love to tell you more about the book, which is provisionally titled Smartcuts, and pick your brain for one of my chapters. But most of all, I’d be delighted to get your advice on managing the whole process as well as you have. Perhaps we can grab a few minutes at your office or here in New York sometime?

Best wishes,

Shane

What this might look like in practice

Replying with specificity to your customers is a wonderfully smart and simple habit to get into. All it takes is a bit of notice.

When someone mentions you on Twitter, you can click on their username to see a popover with their bio and information.

twitter bio

What you might get from here:

  • Location – “Hope the weather’s great in Boston!”
  • Website – “Love the design on your site. :)”
  • Favorite teams – “How’re the Red Sox doing?”
  • School or alma mater – “Go ‘Cats!”
  • Interests/passions – (attach a picture or gif)
  • Work – “Hope all’s going great at CompanyX!”

From the above bio of Todd’s, I can tell with just a bit of Google searching and Twitter clicking that he’s based in Boston, he does content for a consulting company, he teaches at Bryant University (“Go Bulldogs!”), and he loves running and dogs.

What happens if you don’t

There aren’t too many downsides to an impersonal Twitter response. A response, any response, is better than none.

Personalization is what can help take your conversations from everyday to extraordinary. If you aim to delight your customers at every turn, then personalization in your social media replies is a great route to consider.

5. Say their name

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” ~ Dale Carnegie

A Ball State study found that addressing customers by their real name is considered a best practice of brands on social media.

And certainly, the psychology backs it up.

“You” or your name is considered to be one of the five most persuasive words in the English language.

Some of the biggest brands in the world rely on this personal touch with their interaction. In the book High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service, Micah Solomon shares an acronym used by Apple to help inform its customer conversations.

Apple takes the overall goal to … “Present a solution for the customer to take home today.” 

And they seek to achieve this with the following acronym:

A – Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome

P – Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs

P – Present a solution for the customer to take home today

L – Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns

E – End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return

apple service acronym

What this might look like in practice

In most cases, the customer’s first name will be easy enough to find on their profile. Twitter bios, for instance, allow for a username (the @-handle the person chooses) and for a first and last name.

twitter bio names

Take a quick peek at the name before replying, and you can easily add it in to your tweet or comment.

What happens if you don’t

Like personalized messages, adding someone’s name is neither a deal-maker nor a deal-breaker. It’s just another nice touch. And all these nice touches could very well add up to something quite meaningful over time.

Over to you

What strategies have you found most helpful in replying to people on social media?

I’d love to learn any of your tips on the subject. Feel free to leave any thoughts at all here in the comments!

Image sources: UnSplash, Pablo, IconFinder, Mention

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Written by Kevan Lee

Director of marketing at Buffer, the social media publishing tool for brands, agencies, and marketers. We’ve got a new podcast! ?

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  • Hannah Rodabaugh

    Great post! These are some really actionable tips.

    • Kevan Lee

      Thanks, Hannah! Really happy you found some useful stuff here. 🙂

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      This is a real one stop destiny for the business newbies on how to use the social media which is a powerful business tool.

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  • Great article Kevan. You’ve given me much to think about. Great insight into evaluating what may be working or not working.

    • Kevan Lee

      Thanks so much, Edgar! I’d love to hear how any of these strategies go for you, and very happy to answer any questions!

  • Elizabeth Kramer

    Great tips Kevan! We can see it in action right here in the comments, as you reply quickly, make a specific comment, and use everyone’s name. Perfect demonstration!

    • Kevan Lee

      Awesome observation, Elizabeth! So great of you to point out the connection here of listening throughout all of digital marketing – not just on social. 🙂 Really appreciate the insight!

    • Exactly Elizabeth 🙂

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  • Perfect tips Kevan. Will you ever uncover which terms you’re monitoring in Mention? I’m just curious since your brand is similar to developers who’s buffer has exceeded and also other meanings so it may by inspirational and fun to see what you monitor and what are the results 🙂
    For keeping touch with customers or potential customers, what are you tips? Can you uncover these within Buffer too? In our company we for example monitor what is happening around our keywords in a positive or negative way like “recommend, forgotten, review, lost” etc. and those are very interesting conversations sometime, where we can help.

    Again thanks for the awesome article, I love your posts, they are always inspirational and full of useful takeaways.

    • Hi there Petr, thanks for the comment! Great questions. I think maybe Courtney or Nicole might be more of the Mention experts on the team and I am, so they might very well have some comprehensive tracking in place. From what I’ve observed of our mention tracking in SparkCentral (a Twitter support tool), we track all mentions of the word “buffer” or the hashtag #buffer, which indeed does lead to some false positives.
      In terms of keeping in touch with customers or potential customers, we aim to respond to everyone, which we’re very fortunate to be able to do with the size of our team. I understand that not all companies may be able to do the same.
      Hope this helps! I’d be happy to share more fully on any of this. 🙂

  • ImAndreaGlass

    It’s also a shame that a large percentage of businesses that have social media accounts either 1) totally ignore their customers, 2) take way too long to reply, or 3) make customers jump through just as many hoops to get resolution as they would by calling.

    I’ve seen examples and complaints by others that have reached out to a company through social, such as Twitter, for example, and someone would reply by telling them to call. I think, in most instances, people that reach out to businesses via social media are looking for easier/quicker resolution otherwise they would have just called in the first place. Or they’ve called in the past and gotten nowhere.

    • Makes a lot of sense, Andrea! Yep, I think you’re exactly right about the value of keeping conversations in the same place where they started. 🙂

  • I love when you guys at Buffer send funny GIFs to reply to tweets. Always makes me smile when I see one popup in my feed :D.
    About the DMs on Twitter, I wish it was possible to send one to people who don’t follow you but mentioned you in a tweet. I would rather reply with a DM a lot of times but I have to use the good ol reply because the person doesn’t follow me…

    • Hi Aurelie! Cool stuff about the GIFs, so glad you like those!

      Definitely understand about the DM, too. It sometimes feels better to have those conversations in a bit more of a private fashion first. 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing Mention’s data! I really like the “what happens if you don’t” sections, also. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Brittany!

  • Always look forward to listening to you posts Kevan. SO many companies could do this much better. Listing in person or on social is a huge key to success.

    • Thanks so much, Steve! Really appreciate hearing from you!

  • Love this, Kevan! I tweet anyone who follows me and I do so the old school way; I don’t use an auto reply. Auto-replies annoy me and I try to go by the “do unto others” rule of thumb. I try to look for something special to say to let them know I’m interested, and you gave some great tips to make this happen (sometimes I just get stuck in a rut). I also LOVE the idea of using their name. I’ve always taken their handle for granted and bypassed using the person’s name. Something so simple can really make a difference; you can be sure I’m adding that one to my repertoire. Thanks for the read 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Brittany! Love your approach to things here. 🙂

  • tlmaurer

    Using a customer’s name should be at the top of your list, Kevan. Who doesn’t like to know that you paid attention and know who you are talking to? And, that they are important enough to you that you take the time to notice their name and use it?

    • Great one, Terri! Yes, names are super important and a great way to make someone feel listened to. 🙂

  • Thanks for an interesting and informative post, Kevan! I just want to make one comment about using names. It’s not an issue in Twitter, of course, where space is so limited, but in email, I find it’s easy to overdo it. When people use my name 3 or 4 times, I start feeling like they’re trying to sell me a used car or get me to invest in waterfront property. 🙂

  • I agree on these tips as no one pays attention if you are not in their connection. These tips are up to the point, loved them…

  • gaurav goutam

    Nice article Keven ! I need a suggestion, can you tell me please how many post we can post on social media accounts like Facebook twitter and instagram

    • Hi Gaurav! Thanks for the comment. I’m not aware of any posting limits on these platforms, though perhaps too much frequency per day (100s of posts, I’d imagine) might cause some trouble.

  • Thanks for your useful and helpful tips here. I learn once more to make my costumer feels happy with my service at social media.

  • Mohit Sohani

    @disqus_mnFioldA7Z:disqus It really helpful man, frankly speaking firstly I was reading in a casual way but point by point i was getting interest and found all relevant content for my work. As previous comment said you are showing your implementation on your’s points which you said like quick reply by mentioning name. Good work

  • Kristina Hughes

    Thanks for these kind tips Kevan! Happy client means good business and expected more business in future.. After making a connection with client these two points are more important to keep them follow first Listen carefully and Respond quickly..Response quickly means you never give time to your customer to go other side for shopping!!

  • Kevan, as always on target. For you, and more important any nonprofits who read this, the recipe works in the nonprofit world as well — with donors and prospective donors, volunteers and prospective volunteers, and the wider community. Thanks for again stressing the importance of active engagement.