After speaking recently at the SN4BW Online Global Training Event, I was asked if I recommend small businesses hire Virtual Assistants to respond to business tweets on Twitter. My initial reaction was a strong negative. I reasoned that outsourcing your social interaction on Twitter is equivalent to sending a secretary in your place to a cocktail party or a networking event to which you have been personally invited. The value and the beauty of social media as a marketing tool is that business participation in the media feels personal to the customer, makes the customer feel special and valued. I suggest that the use of “auto-tweets” while generally used for promotion and information, are not good practice for developing relationships or enhancing the value of your brand to a customer.
I tried to think of how and why you would want to outsource responses to your tweets if you are a small office/home office so I decided to consult with Carle Henry , CEO of Chrevian, Inc. and a TeleWeb Service Consultant. Carle is one of the first executives I worked with whose focus was on looking at the business from the outside in, viewing everything in the business from the perspective of the customer and then designing processes and systems around the customer’s perspective and needs. Carle has worked with companies like Harrods, Eddie Bauer, Monster.com, and Sealy to create multi-channel customer experiences. He pointed out several issues with the concept of having a VA respond to auto-tweets.
“The whole cache of social media, what makes it cool and clever is the personalization of the customer experience. My first reaction is that it is way too personal an interaction to outsource. Essentially, the challenge is that most cannot keep a VA knowledge base up to date for traditional inquiries. Once you apply this concept to the Social Media world, it’s as if you’ve put the somewhat acceptable flaws on steroids. The result will be an obvious, exaggerated ‘cheat’ on what should be an intimate, personal experience.” Carle went on to say, “The knowledge base is the most relevant point. If a customer gets a bad answer from a VA, they will search your website for a 1-800 number until they find a way to contact a real person to respond. In other words, customers who interact with you using twitter want a personal exchange: knowledge bases won’t cut it.”
Carle acknowledged he projects most customer service outsourcers of the future will include responding to Tweets (and some do already) from within large corporate customer service departments. The key to making it successful is to train the VA or outsourcing agency (with a long-term commitment in mind) in order to transfer relevant brand knowledge, product knowledge, and company culture and policy. Companies who do not properly train their outsourced service providers suffer the consequences of lost customers, reduced loyalty and brands with tarnished reputations. Some large brands such as Comcast are using Twitter and other social marketing tools to repair brand issues and poor customer service reputations.
If you are a small business, you have a natural desire to build your business with social marketing tools. But, if you are going to use tools such as Twitter, Facebook status updates and such to promote your business, think twice about the frequency and content of your status updates. Too much promotion comes across as Spam. So much self-promotion that you cannot respond to your own tweets is definitely Spam. Outsourcing your status updates and social marketing to a VA can be done ONLY if you have invested enough training so you trust the VA to represent your brand, your products, and your culture in a seamless way. Are your customer and your brand reputation worth the risk?