The “feedback” British Airways’ customers posted online and the airline’s largely inadequate responses show how big businesses can still get social media very wrong.

Too many consumer-focused businesses treat social as a tactical engagement channel, rather than a pillar of their customer engagement strategy.

Here are my thoughts on where they are going wrong and what needs to change.

Customer service

Increasingly customers expect instantaneous feedback through social channels, particularly Facebook or Twitter, and even more so if they’ve made a purchase online.

But many brands still operate with 24-hour response times. This is simply not good enough. It leaves the brand owner exposed as customers grow angrier by the minute.

“Word of mouth has the potential to reach dozens of other consumers, but word of web could easily reach a few thousand”

Word of mouth has the potential to reach dozens of other consumers, but ‘word of web’ could easily reach a few thousand on Facebook.

And if it gets picked up by the press it could go further.

This week H&M has had much press coverage after a young customer – Lowri Byrne – used the brand’s Facebook page to highlight sizing issues.

“The fear of a social media backlash should impact on the standard of the offline customer service you deliver too”

She showed her struggle to squeeze herself into a size 16 H&M dress, when she normally wears a size 12.

In the US, United Airlines saw exactly how bad word of web gets when a video of an elderly customer being forcibly removed from a plane was replayed online around the world.

When treating an individual customer so badly can knock nearly $1bn off your market capitalisation, the fear of a social media backlash should impact on the standard of the offline customer service you deliver too.

Marketing

This is the opportunity to promote products or services and engage with customers, ultimately to drive sales.

Ao.com sells fridge freezers, tumble dryers and washing machines – not the most exciting products.

“When was the last time you checked Glassdoor to see what your employees really think about you?”

Yet its focus on fun, content-led social marketing means it has around 1.8 million followers on Facebook, more than 150,000 views of videos on YouTube every week and significant engagement across all social channels.

AO.com founder and ex-chief executive John Roberts’ dedication to sending written replies to customer complaints also pushed many customers back onto social to sing his company’s praises.

This happened even if their initial experience was negative.

HR

Think about how you use social to build your employer brand too.

When was the last time you checked Glassdoor to see what your employees really think about you?

Prospective employees increasingly will be, so if you want the best candidates then your HR team needs a strategy to ensure reviews of your company are positive.

CRM

Retailers want to build relationships with their customers, ultimately so they become loyal and buy more. But if you sell one or limited product categories then there are limited opportunities for engagements.

Clever brands don’t let this stop them.

The jeweller Tiffany encourages anyone posting a picture on Instagram that includes its duck-egg blue brand colour to add the hashtag #TiffanyBlue.

It’s since been used nearly 350,000 times, and allows fans of its brand to enter the conversation even when they are not active customers. 

Social media isn’t simply about being social. It’s a core strategic opportunity for your business and as such, needs to be taken more seriously.