By Paul Stallard, director at Berkeley PR

There’s no denying the publicity power of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook which have given consumers a window into celebrities’ lives and provided public figures with another way of communicating with their fans. Organisations are now increasingly taking advantage of these free communication channels to boost the profile of their business, communicate with current customers and generate new business contacts in their industry.

However, a recent study by customer relationship management experts, Convergys, has discovered just how important social media is in building and maintaining customer trust.

It has found that three quarters of consumers who heard about a bad customer experience via social media stopped doing business with the offending company. This shows just how important it is for organisations to keep abreast of what is being said about them online and to take the appropriate action to respond to any negative comments quickly.

Take advantage of new communications tools
Businesses may be initially sceptical about adopting social networking and question whether the benefits outweigh the perceived negative effects. This apprehension towards social networking means that some companies are worried about whether it’s worth their while and how they will be perceived if they post anything that isn’t company news or product announcements.

Organisations should push these reservations to one side. By embracing these tools as part of their communications strategy, small businesses will be able to communicate and connect with new contacts and potential customers. People tend to do business with companies they like, so these sites will give them a chance to get to know the personality behind the company.

Once established, the business should designate an employee, or outsourced monitoring company, to monitor all activity on a regular basis, respond to relevant client queries or complaints, update their profile with interesting developments in their industry and identify key contacts to build relationships with.

Don’t be scared of social networking, but do respect it
The communication opportunities for small businesses using social networking tools are endless, and organisations who decide to sign up should take it seriously. For instance, make sure you keep one step ahead of your competitors by posting regular updates, as few contacts will notice your presence if you only post one update a month. With more small businesses benefiting from joining the social networking circle, you’ll be surprised to see who’s already signed up and is using it.

Finally, ensure you keep an eye on what the public is saying about your brand, and if needed respond efficiently and professionally. Involving yourself in angry dialogue with a disgruntled customer can only have a negative effect on your brand. If this situation does occur I would advise passing on the contact details of the relevant person in your organisation that can help them, or ask them to put a call into the customer directly. This takes the conversation offline and will hopefully mean the complaint will be resolved with little impact to your reputation online.

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