This might not be the sexiest of subjects, but it's important and let's face it, not many brands do a very good job of helping their customers on social media (even the big ones with huge teams dedicated solely to customer support). Even if you are one person, running a business from your kitchen table, you are a brand, and how you treat your customers plays a big part in how your brand is perceived.
I have a lot of rules for myself on social media, whether I'm working on my own brand or someone else's. Take a look and adopt the ones that might work for you:
1. Never leave a comment or question unanswered. Ever.
This might seem time-consuming, especially when your brand gets really big and you have millions of fans on social media (like many of my client's accounts have had) but it's really important. You need your fans to know that you hear them, appreciate them, and that you are a human being behind that keyboard.
It doesn't mean you have to spend time writing detailed responses to every comment, most comments might only require a smiley face or an 'I'm glad you like it'. Or a 'like' or 'heart' if it's on Twitter or Facebook. It won't take very long to do, even on larger accounts, I promise!
If you get a question you can't answer, don't just ignore it. Tell them you'll find out, and absolutely, positively make sure you follow up with them when you find the answer. There's nothing worse than waiting for a promised response that never comes.
If it's something a bit ridiculous, or it really doesn't make any sense, ask them if they could give you more information.
I can't tell you how many times I've then seen people say "OMG (insert brand) just responded to my comment, you guys are the best!!!' or 'You have the best customer service ever, I'll never buy another brand's (insert product). This simple action has the power to make someone's day and turn them into a fan for life. And loyal fans buy much more than new or one-off purchasers!
2. Be polite and helpful. Every time.
Even if it means you have to scream into a pillow, mediate for five minutes, or eat half a pint of ice-cream first, and then come back to respond.
I could tell you stories about customers that would make your toes curl, and boy-oh-boy have I wanted to respond with a sarcastic or snippy comment from time to time. But you have to bite your tongue. They are your customers, your fans, and this is a public forum! Other potential customers will take note of how you treat your existing fans.
Seriously, I have so many stories about dealing with frustrating customers, like the kid who was trying to get free product, and when we didn't bite got all of his friends to troll our happy customers, on every....single...social....media...channel. For a full week. Yep, he was on summer vacation and had nothing better to do than to spam us 10 hours a day.
Or how about the lady who commented on everything we posted, telling people not to buy our products. When we finally got her to talk to us directly, so we could try to solve her issue, she realized she had the wrong brand to begin with.
And those are just two of the more tame examples. We've had photos of people's junk on our Facebook walls, death threats because we wouldn't give out free product, porn stars tweet about our brand for no apparent reason - which then got retweeted 15,000 more times, threats of law suits because we required proof of purchase before sending out a replacement, and the list goes on and on. But you have to treat every one of these people with kindness. You can't afford not to.
3. Don't hide or delete comments
There are very few exceptions to this rule, or times when I'll block someone or hide / delete a comment. I will never do it if they have something legitimately negative to say, or a constructive complaint about my product or brand. Instead I'll try to help them and turn their experience around, which can actually result in a much more passionate and loyal fan than if they'd never had an issue in the first place.
However, I will block you if you consistently post inappropriate content on my channels: nudity, harassment of other fans, excessive cursing etc. - although I'll usually let comments like "that's fucking awesome" or "you guys are the shit" slide. ;)
4. Be a problem solver
This applies beyond social media, but take ownership if a customer has a legitimate issue with your brand or there is something wrong with the product they received. Replace it if you can, but if that's not an option try to think of other ways you can make it right for them. A discount, a different product, early access to a new product that isn't officially for sale yet. Sometimes it is really their fault, but it might be in your interest to suck it up and fix it for them - as long as it's not going to send you bankrupt.
A mistake I see brands make a lot is trying to rationalize with angry customers, and explain the ins and outs of their business in an attempt to get the customer on side. "We have to wait for more XYZ from our supplier before we can..." Or "Each one of these takes me six hours to make and I have orders for the next three months..." To put it bluntly, customers don't care how you run your business, they just want their issue fixed. So, while it's tempting to try and rationalize with an angry customer, don't do it. It never turns out well.