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I have been in charge of social media accounts for my business for many years. At first, I found managing comments, concerns, and questions on social media to be difficult. It’s overwhelming to get bombarded with messages every day, and a careless response to a customer can spell trouble. Here’s what I learned about social media that no one ever told me.

Never reply when you’re annoyed

I’m not perfect when reacting to social media comments, and sometimes I get irritated by a negative comment directed toward the company I’m representing. I have learned over the years that even if I have a carefully thought out response, it’s best to wait until I cool down a bit. You can’t mask annoyance online, and if my response isn’t coming from a truly helpful place, it shows. Once I have relaxed and gotten some distance from whatever I need to respond to, I can usually figure out how to best tackle my response. I even usually turn an adversary into a loyal customer by giving the situation some real thought.

Stay on topic

In this age of maximizing engagement metrics, it’s very tempting to go off topic or get a bit controversial in order to get more people to respond to a social media post. I have experimented in the past with this strategy, and it backfires long term. Customers follow you on social media because they like your brand, not because they want a general chat session. More people may respond to a provocative social media post, but in my experience, people will unfollow you for posting something off topic — even if there’s nothing unprofessional about it.

Don’t play favorites

Like in any social situation, there are people who interact with me on social media that I like a lot more than others. If I don’t watch myself, I tend to interact the most enthusiastically with these few customers, and that’s not very professional. I try to give every loyal social media follower equal time and attention by noticing who I may favor. This isn’t just the fair thing to do; it’s the most strategic. You never know who your best customer may end up being, and too much of a cliquish feel will turn off lurkers.

Set the vibe

I was pretty mild and neutral when I first started managing social media accounts, and I quickly learned that wasn’t the best technique for promoting harmony. If you don’t set the vibe on your social media accounts, other people will define it for you. You can be quirky, informative, upbeat, super straight-laced, or irreverent. Take queues from the brand you are representing, and develop that persona on social media. I am not a super playful person professionally, but I do show that side of myself on social media to keep things light.

All trolls aren’t equal

Dealing with trolls is one of the most difficult ongoing problems for social media managers. Whatever your strategy is, remember that there is a huge difference between a new person showing up to troll and a longtime customer having a bad day. I have learned to cut people I recognize a bit of slack, as it may be just a misunderstanding. However, new people who are belligerent or negative are usually as much trouble as they seem.

It’s not about you

People following your company on social media may be friendly and open, but they are not interested in your life. They are there for your company’s brand and products. Even if people share personal aspects of their lives with you, don’t reciprocate in kind. I have found that it is better to listen to customers and learn about them. Engage in a dialog about your product, but don’t let it devolve into more personal topics. I have found that customers stay more engaged if they lead the conversation, and it’s my job to gently draw that back to the business I’m representing.

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