Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Social Media is Customer Service

By Joe Flood, communications manager, National Weather Service

Social media is more than just sharing news. Social media is social. That means engaging with the public and answering their questions. Social media is customer service.

That was one of the interesting points brought up in the recent FCN forum, “Social Media: What’s the Right Strategy for Your Agency?” Social media managers from the VA, USGS, CIA and ICE discussed the challenges and opportunities of this medium in a panel discussion at the Partnership for Public Service.

Federal communicators probably never imagined that they would one day be in customer service. But, if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, then you’ve received questions from the public that need answering. How do agencies respond to this never-ending stream of inquiries?

Megan Moloney, Director of Digital Media Engagement, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, highlighted the work her agency has done with #VetQ/Veteran Question, a hashtag where veterans can get their questions answered on Twitter.  To get answers, all veterans need to do is tweet their question with the hashtag #VetQ.

And it’s not just the VA that responds. Other organizations such as Women Vets Connect respond to questions, typically on the same day. As one commenter stated, “The Vetwitter-verse out there can help!”

In addition, these questions are captured in Storify pages on frequently asked subjects such as benefits, jobs and insurance coverage. This web archive serves as a useful reference for veterans who aren’t on Twitter.

The U.S. Geological Service has a sense of humor, according to Scott Horvath, Bureau Lead for Social Media. He stressed the importance of having a human voice in social media (they make jokes about rocks) and employing a customer service team to answer questions from the public. Social media is not a one-person job. Nor is it a 9-5 occupation – he is on call 24/7 in case of emergencies (like an earthquake).

The moderator of the panel, GSA’s Justin Herman, pointed out that doing social media correctly could mean less traffic to your website – a good thing. Answering questions on Twitter (or, even better, having other organizations do it for you) means fewer calls and emails to your agency.

In summary, while you may not view your mission as customer service, you’re going to get questions from the public on social media.  Have a plan in place to answer them. Identify people in your agency who can help – or enlist your partners, like the VA does. Speak in a human voice, like USGS. Increase engagement and support for your agency by responding to the public.

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