In practice, though, it's usually a shortcut that lacks a real content strategy for social media, leaving the brand open to all kinds of liability instead. How? Because of a simple turn of phrase used on the phone all the time: starting out by saying your sorry.
On the phone it makes total sense, it's a conversational response that puts someone complaining at ease, makes them feel like they're being listened to.
The issue is that social media is conversational, not conversation.
When your customer service representatives or community managers write "sorry," what they're saying is we "express regret at a mistake or wrongdoing; to accept responsibility for a misdeed.'' That's not what they mean, is it?
So how do you effectively respond to complaining customers in social media? Here's a few A's to think about it without opening up a can of liability:
Say thanks. Seriously, you have no idea how effective simply telling someone thanks for taking the time to let you know there's an issue modifies their behavior, and the behavior of people who are looking at your very public community. Usually people just poke the brand through social to see if some person is paying attention. Let them know someone is.
Ask a few simple questions
Very rarely is a complaint in social the beginning of a customers' conversation with a brand. More likely it's the result of a long line of frustrations boiling over onto your account. The best thing brands can do quickly is gain more context: Is this really about your brand or the community? Have they already talked to someone at the call center, or emailed?
Really, more than an apology, people usually want to know that you're on their side. They want to know that a human is there to help them solve what's wrong as fast as possible. Taking this, "how can I help you," approach is often the best way to weed out jokers, spammers and trolls from people who really want, or are open to, a solution.
After taking this tact, you may find out that you do owe someone an apology. If that's the case, over deliver on it. Again, think about all of this unfolding in public, and the behavior you want to encourage across a large scale community: as a brand that is human and reasonable, or one that is afraid and quick to cover. The decisions you make with your content are the people you'll invite to be vocal.
What's your take on a good, responsive content strategy for brand communities at scale? Drop your idea in the comments or continue the conversation @mleis.