These days, interaction with customers via social media is a given. While it might seem an impersonal way to deal with queries and complaints, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, the way you respond online is one of the primary ways in which customers will judge you, so it pays to be conscious about your manner when replying over social media.

Most of us will consider this an ordeal more than anything; after all, when we think of responding to customers online, we inevitably think of the negative. From bad reviews, to complaints about customer service or abusive commentary, the internet has become an outlet for anyone to express their opinions.

However, engaging with customers doesn’t have to be limited to responding to questions or complaints. If a customer thanks you for your services, or mentions your brand in a post, you might like to respond back to them, complimenting them on a photo well taken, or giving them a heads up to other things they might be interested in.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are replying to or engaging with customers online.

Private vs Public Posts

Engaging with customers, whether they are high influence or loyal followers, is important for for your CRM. Strong consumer relationships can result in creating powerful advocates for your brand, but getting there is a delicate process in itself.

How do you create meaningful relationships without overstepping any lines?

While a user post may be made in the public domain, it may not necessarily be intended for a public audience, or an invitation for interaction. People create social media accounts to share their experiences with others, ranging from friends and family, to acquaintances, or the public at large.

Differentiating the sometimes user from the blogger and the loyal customer can be an exercise in discretion.

The Extrovert

This poster’s profile has all their details filled out on their social media handle. They might have a public blog or instagram account, post regular updates, or have a substantial following on their chosen platform. Liking posts by this type of poster, or following their profile is a good way of engaging in a non-verbal manner.

“Fave coffee house @thebrew on campus is closed. Where to go now? #help #suggestions #unilife”

The Lurker

This person will have few to no public posts, a sparsely filled platform profile and a low follower count.

Family/Friendly profile

These are posts and profiles that might reference your brand, or one of your locations, but is ultimately intended for close friends and family of the poster. The post might have something to do with a special event or moment that is significant to the poster. More often than not, these posts will not contain trending hashtags but user made ones.

“@Belle’s back! Gonna hit up the town to celebrate. #eurotripreunion #missedherlikecrazy.”

The Malcontent

This person might be unhappy with your service and post about a particular issue or grievance they’ve encountered with your brand. This can be an opportunity to turn them into an advocate or a loyal customer, if you respond promptly to remedy their concerns.

The Antagonist

This poster makes negative or abusive comments. They might dismiss your service or brand as awful, but ultimately give no explanations as to why they are doing so. Any effort to offer help is rebuffed and followed with more vitriol. Often, there is no need to engage with this type of poster.

As a general rule, it is usually alright to engage with posts that mention or tag your brand directly. You might reply to the post as a comment thanking them for a good review or positive mention and welcome them back another time/happily offer your services again. Simply liking or marking the post as a favourite is enough to acknowledge that you are listening and responsive to social media, and is often the most appropriate way of engaging with a customer.

When you decide that you will reply or comment on a customer post, here are a few golden rules to help you give the best possible response.

Keep your responses on track – make sure that your response is relevant to the post, and that you’re not commenting just for the sake of having to do so. Engagement must be meaningful, and if your reply does not develop a relationship with the poster based on your brand, then there is no point.

Exercise discretion – Knowing when not to engage with a customer is just as crucial knowing when to engage with them. You don’t have to respond to every single post about your brand. A captionless picture can be acknowledged with a like rather than a worded reply. However if someone makes a strong statement about you, asks a question or points out a flaw in your content, then these are worth looking at.

Often, when hostile posts are made about your brand, it can make you turn defensive. If the post is abusive or critically negative of your brand without offering explanation, then you might want to remove the post from your page.

If the consumer addresses a particular problem with your brand, and you have a solution to the issue, then it is advisable that you respond.

It also goes without saying if a post doesn’t mention or reference your brand directly, there is no need to formulate a response or engage.

Reply promptly – People who post complaints on social media expect a response in under an hour. On Twitter, this percentage is as high as 72% and 60% of people have stated they will take to expressing their frustration in an unpleasant manner.

So don’t dally. Even if you don’t have a solution immediately, you should acknowledge that the complaint has been made and assure the poster that you are working on solving their issue.

Remain professionally personal – it may sound like a contradiction, but it is possible to be professional and personal. Just remember to be polite and remember you are talking to a real person, so you should reply like one too.