Customer service or customer acquisition
Are you planning to use social media to help acquire new customers or service existing customers? You can definitely do both, but you need a central focus. This will help in defining the initial content on the page as well as the design scheme and structure - as well as what platform to focus on and how to utilize internal staff for your social media endeavors.
If you plan to use social media as a customer service tool, your page needs to clearly display the customer service phone number and email address.
If you are planning to provide long, detailed answers and step by step troubleshooting, you should focus on facebook. Facebook helps to facilitate detailed conversations. More than one person can see the question and answer. It allows for one on one troubleshooting and allows more conversation than simply a question and an answer format. It also enables other customers to jump in to a conversation and ask their own questions or provide their own thoughts. It also enables customers to answer questions before you get a chance to - which, depending on your brand and objectives, can either be a good thing or a bad thing. Over at Lightspeed, we do not mind other customers jumping in on technical support questions - users enjoy sharing their knowledge to other customers.
If you are planning to provide short responses, or mainly links (IE, "To learn how to service your item, please view this link in our technical support site), Twitter is the platform to use. If you also want to answer questions specific to a user and do not want to create a group conversation based on an individual user's question, Twitter is the platform you should be focusing on.
For content, your brand should be posting articles relevant to the industry, "quick tips", links to specific items in your technical support or knowledge centers and other content centered around your product and sharing knowledge.
If you plan to use social media as a customer acquisition tool, you should be have a design that clearly shows your brand's website address and pictures of the product and/or the brand's logo.
In terms of a platform - that is specific to your brand. You need to know your customers - are they more engaged on Twitter or facebook? While you should contribute equally to each platform, having a better sense of what your customers want will help shape the content you post and the efforts dedicated to each platform.
If you realize that your customers are more engaged on facebook, you should focus more on monitoring the fan page and providing a response to questions within 24 hours and focusing on creating a custom fan page. The fan page should provide something exclusive - something that customers can't find elsewhere. Could be a promotion. Could be an exclusive video or article. And you should have a promotion (could be a sale - could be a "sneak peak") centered around this exclusive content. Regular content should be created with the purpose of creating a conversation and informing/exciting potential customers. The last thing you want to do is have someone "unlike" your facebook fan page and you lose access to their social inbox because they found your content annoying/irrelevant/useless.
If you realize your customers are more engaged on Twitter, your efforts should be focused on creating an eye catching custom Twitter background and responding to @ replies within a 24 hour period. Content should be created that informs and encourages the user to visit the brand's website for more information. You want to create exclusive content that will lead to retweets. Random @ replies to new followers should occur. You have a chance to add a "personal" touch to your brand - embrace it!
When you determine the goals of your social media plan, you should focus on metrics. If you are focused on customer service - your metrics would be defined by the number of questions asked and responded to. If you are focusing on customer acquisition, metrics include: how much traffic your website receives from twitter/facebook, total number of followers/fans, total number of retweets and the number of promotional messages sent.
Ben Cathers is the social media manager for Lightspeed Financial (www.lightspeed.com). He has been quoted in the WSJ, ABC News, Fox News, Yahoo! Internet Life and other publications and was named in 2005 by CNN as a member of "America's Bright Future". Ben maintains an active blog on entrepreneurship and social media at BenCathers.com