Social media can be an incredible benefit to your business but it can also be a bumpy road if you stumble into some bad habits. Being aware of what works and what tends not to work in social media can be the secret weapon your business needs to reach more clients.

1. Getting angry

People are going to talk about your brand in social media and you don’t even need to be an active participant in something like Twitter or Facebook for this to happen. People talk about the good and bad experiences they have on social media, and unfortunately it is likely somebody is going to say something negative about you or your company at some point.

The internet is a funny place. The removal of face to face interaction allows people to be far more aggressive than they normally would. This can produce results both good and bad. On one hand you may receive some harsh criticism that otherwise isn’t warranted or called for, but on the other you may receive some knowledge of a problem in your business that people are too nice to say to your face. Regardless of the type of criticism, it’s important to look at every critique as a way to strengthen your brand.

Your business is your baby, and it hurts when somebody says something negative about it. You will be angry. You will want to retaliate. You will want to find everything this individual has ever loved and burn it to the ground. This would be a bad decision.

The thing about social media is that it’s social (for a concept so basic a surprising number of people forget this). Everybody can see how you react to negative experiences, and if your reaction makes you look petty, cruel or angry it’s a reflection of your entire business.

Take a breath (or a walk if it’s really bad). Respond to overly harsh criticism from a place of calm and offer an apology if it’s warranted. You’d be floored by the number of people who take to social media spewing fire when all they really want is to be recognized and apologized to. Sometimes you simply will not be able to appease someone, and that’s ok. What’s important is that you need to approach the problem in a tranquil, understanding and professional manner. People will see that and in most cases it will benefit you in the long run. You may lose one customer but you could lose many more by throwing a tantrum.

2. Solving problems privately

For many the desire to solve an unpleasant situation one-on-one will be strong. Even though it may be difficult, there are many benefits to clearing the air in plain view of the public.

For starters, if you take the conversation to a private place such as email, it gives the impression that you don’t solve problems or care. You could have made an angry customer your most loyal fan, but to the casual observer it appears you didn’t responded to the complaint in the first place. Nobody expects a business to be absolutely perfect, but they do expect that if something goes wrong a solution or explanation is forthcoming.

Secondly, it lets people know how you handle situations and that you take them very seriously. A company that is willing to admit they were wrong or are willing to attempt an appeasement is a company I want to give my business to. It’s a big cold world out there, and sometimes a little warmth is all that’s needed to separate you from numerous faceless companies vying for your customers attention.

3. Not using social media in the first place

As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the social media realm or not, people are going to talk about your business (both good and bad). You have an opportunity to win back scorned customers, generate a natural buzz about your business and create lasting bonds with people that equate to a consistent stream of revenue for you.

Whatever field you may be in, there is a high likelihood that it’s competitive. Don’t ever underestimate the value of making a positive connection with a customer (even a very basic one). If somebody mentions a good experience with you, a simple “glad we were able to help, please let me know if there’s anything else you need!” could be the difference between a single one-way interaction and a customer for life.

On the other end of the scale is the un-answered negative comment. As mentioned in the previous section, it is not only harmful to the angry individual, but also to the general audience who might see a complaint go unanswered. For the individual who made the comment the sting is a little more intense. Not only did they feel angry enough to post something negative about you, but now they’re being ignored. Double burn. Much as the positive interaction in the paragraph above turns somebody into a lifelong customer, this negative interaction could turn somebody into an disease for your company as they tell friends about how bad their experience was with you.

4. Using social media as a news wire

Many companies will use something like Twitter or Facebook to post news about their organization. I think that’s great, but a lot of the time it’s all they’ll post. If you’re just churning out news then you should at least be commended for dipping your toes in the online pool, but don’t underestimate the value of the ‘social’ in social media (it’s only half the name, but it’s the most important half).

Social media gives you the opportunity to form real connections and bonds, but you won’t do that if you’re just a conveyor belt of news. You come off as mechanical and not something that people feel comfortable talking to. I’ve hesitated to ask a company a question in the past based solely off the fact that I’d never seen them post anything that wasn’t a news release. Don’t be that company.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t post your news. Of course you should, it’s an important part of your business! It’s just that it isn’t your entire business. By making relationships with your customers and displaying yourself as a living, breathing person with feelings and pants, you make others more receptive when you do send out news.

In conclusion

Interaction online can feel like a tricky thing to grasp at times, however it’s important to remember that regardless of being online or face-to-face one single fact remains unchanged: people like giving money to those they find positive and trustworthy. It’s easier to rip a strip off a rude customer, it’s easier to ignore problems, it’s easier to sit on the sidelines and it’s easier to find the path of least resistance. These things may give you weekends off, but they won’t give you new or returning customers. So many focus on building their businesses, but how many focus on building the relationships that keep their businesses moving forward? If you engage with your audience, own up to mistakes, and show the human side of your business, the relationships will follow.

This post was originally written by Russ Fee of FS Creative in December 2011. It has been updated to reflect new processes and tools.