The Language of Social Media

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“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Social Media, as the name implies, involves person-to-person or group-to-group communications that use a wide variety of technological mediums. It can be delivered or accessed online through blogs, instant messages, social networking sites, email, websites, webinars, live chats, and any place where you can leave a comment, thought, or opinion. It is also available in growing popularity via mobile phones and smart phones which offer text messaging, video messaging, online internet surfing, and mobile connections to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many more.

Social Media has done a lot to bring our planet closer together and we are connected like never before, able to interact with people all around the world anywhere, anytime. But Social Media is also a bubble-like environment, insulating us from having to deal regularly with other people in person or via phone. Without the benefit of vocal tonality that only phone and in-person conversations can provide, customers may not accurately hear the enthusiasm in our response or feel calmed by our knowledgeable, professional approach. And without the verbal cues that our faces and body language provide, how do we serve our customers effectively?

Fortunately, savvy businesses have already begun to rewrite the book on virtual customer service, which requires a deep understanding of Social Media’s unique language and communication requirements. In many ways, the language of Social Media is similar to that which the best upscale marketers use to reach their target audiences – analytical, thoughtful, focused, and intentional. Hence, Social Media communications demand more in the way of expressive words, punctuation, and absolutely impeccable skills in spelling, sentence structure, capitalization, and grammar. Social Media practitioners must also possess considerable foresight to grasp the immense power and reach of a poorly written post, text, chat, or email and have wordsmithing proficiency that is second to none.

Facebook/Twitter – These communications aren’t just between the customer and the representative; they’re from the company to the world. That ups the ante significantly with regard to word choice and how the message will be received and interpreted. As we have seen many time, the world at large takes a great interest in how companies respond to challenging posts, so for that reason, a good deal of forethought is required when responding to posts and tweets, especially when dealing with upset or critical customers. Consequently, this is not a job for those who cannot see the forest for the trees. It takes a strong writer with exceptional interpersonal skills to succinctly respond to every post with tact, warmth, intelligence, and professionalism, as well as insight, hindsight, and foresight.

Chat/Instant Message – Instant access to real-time service is a huge draw for customers, making chat a particularly valuable tool for more and more companies, especially retailers. Accordingly, the representatives who chat with individual customers must be as well versed in the written word as they with the spoken word (perhaps even more so). Poor grammar and language skills do not make for a quality chat experience, so great care has to be given in the representative selection process. In addition to the above, the best chat reps are engaging, experienced, highly responsive, empathetic, interested, respectful, professional, and not overly casual in their conversation.

Email – With today’s focus being on managing high volumes with low handle times, it is easy for contact centers to forget that email, like letter writing, is an art form that demands attention. It takes only a few seconds for a customer to read through an email and make a quick (and probably very accurate) assessment about the writer and the company. A well written, properly punctuated, and grammatically sound email tells the customer that care was taken with the response and that communication skills are a high priority with the company. Poorly written missives, on the other hand, send a message that very little thought and attention was given to the customer and his or her situation.

The biggest mistake an organization can make is assuming that everyone who is proficient on the phone is equally proficient in writing, and vice versa. Quite simply, the results can be disastrous, not to mention embarrassing. Learning the language of Social Media involves a focused approach to the process of quality writing. To that end, some companies have integrated business writing courses into their core training curriculums to produce as many good writers as possible for their customer service operations. Others have created assessments to help identify those on their teams with exceptional phone skills and those with stellar writing skills. Still others have established employment screening tools that assess the writing strengths of prospective team members from the moment of application.

No matter how you slice it, Social Media is here to stay and that is a very good thing for those of us who choose to be on the cutting edge of service delivery. It keeps us relevant, makes us better at what we do, and like anything worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” ~ Mark Twain

1 COMMENT

  1. This excellent and well-written contribution from Teresa warrants the question how the (future) users of Social Media are educated for this .. To what extend do schools and higher education offer adequate courses in order to prepare their students for what Teresa wrote about?
    So that they can deliver the right words from their hands and “know how to combine them”?

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