Businesses are increasingly recognizing the importance of having an online presence in social networks. Consumers have come to expect it and, whether you’re there or not, they will have conversations about you. Every year sees a higher percentage of consumers turning to business’ social media accounts for a variety of reasons including praise, complaints and support. Simply having the accounts and posting content is insufficient. Consumers expect responses. Not only do they expect responses, but also they expect them fairly quickly. When no response comes, many consumers interpret that in the same way they would if you didn’t answer your phone.

Many small businesses, however, don’t have the knowledge, experience or time to effectively communicate with customers via the various social networks. They therefore look to partner with a company that can assist them in this effort.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a partner.

1. Find a partner that has the ability to adapt to your voice as well as deliver your message in a consistent manner. Many providers offer canned content that is irrelevant to your business or industry. Ask for examples of their work through active social media accounts that they manage for current clients. You’ll want to look at whether there is a consistent voice that matches the company’s, the types of content being posted and whether or not their audience is engaging with that content. Are they interacting with their audience when asked questions or are they simply posting content? Is the content being posted for them unique for each client or being re-used across multiple clients? How current is the content?

2. Remember when choosing a partner that you are effectively giving a third-party control of your brand in those spaces.  They are controlling your brand and speaking on your behalf. There is no difference between speaking to your customer on the phone or communicating via Twitter or on your Facebook page. A company doing proper social media will be engaging with your customers. If they aren’t, they are simply providing content marketing. You should pay attention not only to whether they are responding but how they are. What are they saying? Is this something you’d say to a customer on the phone?

3. Another thing you should be looking for is if the company itself is outsourcing their social media. Just as consumers can tell that they are speaking to a call center when they call a company’s customer support line, they can also spot when the same is occurring via social media. Some companies use branded apps to post content and even custom URL shorteners. There should be no branding on any of your social media accounts other than your own. Having a customer realize that they aren’t really talking to you defeats the purpose of having an online presence. In fact, it can actually do more damage to your business than having no social media presence whatsoever.

By taking the time to examine real examples of live social media clients being handled by a potential partner, you’ll be able to more effectively select one that is right for you. Companies that practice effective social media through relevant content and engage your customers will almost always be more expensive than companies that simply post content for you. However, your customers will not only appreciate it, they will begin to develop a connection with your business that will result in higher levels of customer loyalty and retention.

Sara Callahan | Carter West Public Relations