By Leon Chaddock, managing director, Sentiment Metrics

As more people choose to communicate on social media platforms, it is no longer enough for brands simply to have a basic one-way social media presence. Popular forums such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn do present an opportunity to spread the word about products or services, but they should be seen first and foremost as an opportunity to listen and engage with customers and prospects too.

Now, digital-savvy brand marketers are adopting smarter social media strategies and using the latest social media monitoring tools in order to encourage brand engagement as well as react to potentially damaging feedback and prevent customer loss.

Here are a few of our top tips for getting closer to customers and prospects:

Make your presence felt

Establishing yourself online is a simple way to get the right messages out online, in turn enabling prospective customers to research the brand and product or services before they buy. If you have no social media presence, you run the risk of not being found or passed-over for a competitor.

Use it or lose it

The online world is fast-evolving, so if you have created a social media presence it’s crucial to use it regularly. In a nutshell, if you’re not going to do social media properly, don’t do it at all. As well as using forums to subtly spread the word about new products, services or campaigns, basic housekeeping, such as replying to messages from customers and prospects, is also essential.

Drop the sales pitch

If a customer or prospect has taken the time to find your brand or sees it online, they will quickly get turned off by sales-like direct messages that, if they were received on email, would promptly be deleted. Special offers for online users are a valid idea and may lead to short-term sales but, to effectively maximise potential engagement and maintain brand reputation and integrity, it is even more essential to monitor what is being said about the brand or product and react accordingly.

Listen and learn

Using online and social media monitoring tools, it is possible to intelligently measure, analyse and understand what is being said about your brand online and proactively engage with customers. With the right solution you can...

•Manage the market profile of your brand online and proactively react in times of crisis

•Monitor online conversations and, by identifying the most important topics being discussed, target focused activities on the most influential social media channels

•Identify new business opportunities

•Provide cross-channel customer services

React fast to manage reputation

Our social media monitoring tool is used by a number of companies to monitor their reputation online both at a company and product level. For example, when a UK retail bank recently launched a new mortgage product, it was alerted to the fact that it may receive some negative press. To prepare themselves, the bank engaged their PR agency to work alongside us to monitor online conversations about the bank itself as well as the mortgage products.

A number of alerts were set up so that all negative mentions about the bank and their mortgage products would be emailed to key individuals within the PR agency, so that they could act upon the negative comments as fast as possible. Alongside the monitoring and engagement activities, the PR agency was able to analyse the key advocates and detractors taking part in online conversations, build up a picture of the key influencers, and feed the results of this analysis back into strategic decisions about future marketing activities, both digital and traditional.

Raise the bar in customer service

As more people choose to communicate on social media platforms, not engaging with customers on the same medium could be potentially damaging in the long term. Just because, traditionally, customers might have phoned with a complaint or with feedback, it doesn’t mean they will want to forever. If they level negative feedback on Twitter, for instance, and you respond to them on that channel, they are much more likely to engage with you - because that’s where they chose to engage.

It’s still early days but what is clear is that more brands are now starting to recognise the importance of using social media and its’ role in providing good customer service.

Where do you see customer engagement and social media monitoring going in the future? Contact us on Twitter @smetrics