For MSPs, the power of social media cannot be underestimated. This is a double-edged sword: although social media can be a strong positive force, it is also an easy way to lose the hard-won trust of your customers in a very short time.

Let’s consider the positive side first. Social media is immediate. Your message can be sent to groups or to the public without the time it takes for printing/mailing, or the cost of postage, which by its very nature will be targeted. A Tweet is to everyone; a Facebook post can be public or directed at specific audiences. Other social media platforms operate similarly to these two. Therefore, social media is a good way to get marketing messages out there quickly, or to raise issues where immediate action is required (for example, where a security breach may have happened).

Social media is also an excellent place for recruiting and using superusers to provide help to customers. Such a group shouldn’t be too constrained or difficult to join, otherwise it will dissuade people from using it. The value of having actual users providing levels of technical support (for free) to other users is solid. These users, offering their advice, are dealing with your services in real life and will be seeing many of the same problems that others might need help with, while your own support staff may only be able to work from scripts and/or previous customer details.

Keep in mind, though, that these helpers will need to be made to feel valued by you as the company – ensure that they are thanked for the help they provide. You may even want to introduce a badging system (bronze, silver, gold independent supporters) or small prizes at regular intervals for the person voted as being the most helpful by the end users community.

The less happy side of social media

A bad Tweet or Facebook post can be easily amplified through re-Tweeting or Facebook re-posts. Some of these may be based on an initial false premise, or an error made by the person posting the information. As such, your own team must be alerted when any post is made on social platforms. Sentiment analysis may help here, although it’s accuracy is still very hit and miss – particularly if the post contains irony.

A negative post must be picked up as early as possible and dealt with. If the poster is struggling with something that is a known problem, then post the cure or workaround to the problem while also encouraging the user to contact you directly. If it is a new problem that seems as if it could be real, thank the person for raising the issue and ask for further details – while also encouraging them to contact you directly. If the poster is incandescent with rage, then you may have more of a problem.

In many cases, this will be because the poster has already attempted to solve the issue unsuccessfully through other channels. Many times, what has caused the anger is a lack of connected systems – leaving to the poster to go through many of the same steps over and over.

The only way to minimise such posts is to ensure that all your support systems are aligned with a single database of contacts and information regarding the user and any issues they are experiencing. Such a system needs to cover phone, email, web, social media and and other points of access your organisation operates, so that when the person does move from one platform to another to air their complaint, whoever is dealing with the issue can see the entire picture – not just the bit that applies to the platform they are now on.

Another area to be very careful of is censorship. Do not delete a social media post just because it is negative: this is guaranteed not only to upset the poster but also many of the broader community who will perceive that your business is only interested in positive attitudes and sentiment.

However, any post that breaches legal or common decency standards (e.g. racism, swearing, calling out individuals by name) can be deleted or hidden with a reason provided as to why that has been done. Ask the individual concerned to repost with a less incendiary message if they want to maintain the discussion.

Certainly, create some community rules and make sure that any person who has posted an issue who is then being faced with negative responses (e.g. “Anyone with half a brain would know that …”) are supported by you. Let people know that such comments will be hidden or deleted, and that those who continuously break the rules will be blocked.

You will also need to moderate some discussions. In many situations, a discussion that starts off on one subject will disappear down the rabbit hole and transform into a completely different discussion. Use moderation to put discussions back and track and to move different subjects into a new discussion, when necessary. Always be reasonable as to why this is being done and thank people for raising the new discussion areas.

Social media can be a powerful tool in an MSP’s tool box: it can also be a means for trust to be broken. Focus on amplifying the first aspect and controlling the second.

Photo: Bloomicon / Shutterstock

Clive Longbottom

Posted by Clive Longbottom

Clive Longbottom is a UK-based independent commentator on the impact of technology on organizations and was a co-founder and service director at Quocirca. He has also been an ITC industry analyst for more than 20 years.

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