As companies big and small continue to move into social media to support other marketing and PR efforts, they’re hiring social media managers to help lead the way. These social media managers and other folks they bring on can do a lot to help companies interact more directly with customers and other groups they want to reach. But there’s also another side to the story.

Over the last few months I’ve interacted with quite a few companies via social media outlets (mostly Twitter) as a customer. More often then not I notice that their social media reps do a good job of monitoring conversations and getting in touch. They also do a good job at soothing upset customers and promising to have issues fixed. That may give the company a temporary reprieve from the negative feedback online resulting from other customer service issues, but I noticed companies are missing an important element of effective use of social media — empowerment.

How Good Social Media Managers Become Customer Service Nightmares


It’s great when a social media manager or other rep for a company reaches out to customers via social media channels. It’s like saying “we care about your problem, we’re really listening, and we want to help.” And that’s an important part of an effective social media plan.

The problem is that some businesses and the social media folks they hire forget that a social media manager isn’t just an individual — they speak for the company. They’ll make promises and show concern. They’ll make customers feel better about the business. And that makes the following bitch slap sting even more — when customer service, tech support, or others within a company essentially say “sorry, but it doesn’t matter what our social media folks said; we’re not going to do anything to help you.”

Is your social media outreach perceived as lies?
Is your social media outreach perceived as lies? – Credit:

Not only does the social media manager not solve the problem, but they make it worse. It’s bad enough to have an angry customer. It’s much worse to re-ignite their fury after you’ve promised to fix an issue. And still I find time and time again that social media managers have no real authority. They’re not empowered to go from interacting with customers to actually getting things done.

I’ve seen exceptions too. But in those cases it’s rarely a dedicated social media person using these tools to interact with customers. Instead social media is integrated into other departments and responsibilities for its use are put on those who are actually empowered to make high level decisions and directly assist customers — like support managers.

Converting a Social Media Strategy into Better Customer Service

What’s the solution? I think it’s time to stop hiring dedicated social media managers unless you’re prepared to empower them to make things happen in other departments (something I can’t see going over well in some cases). And I think it’s time companies started getting more of their high-level employees involved in their social media efforts — people who really do speak for the company rather than just knowing what to say to gloss over an issue, and people who can turn promises into actions.

What’s your experience from the customer perspective? Have you run into these powerless social media folks who can talk a good game but not get anything useful done on your behalf? Or have you had different experiences? What do you think should be done about the problems that exist already, and who would you like to see in charge of a company’s social media efforts? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.


  1. I think the point here is how social media managers can highlight issues in your business that need remedying – fast. A social media engagement policy should highlight the realistic expectations of any social media account and the social media manager will know (if they have good client communication) what they can and can’t promise. Fundamentally if you cannot offer a decent service to customers, social media highlights this and should give you the kick you need to sort out essential issues internally within your business.

    Learning from these mistakes and feedback (good and bad) from your social communities can help you provide a more well rounded and tailored service to help you get ahead in your niche.

    In my opinion social media managers can only help your business if you are prepared to have honest feedback to assist your business to grow.

    • I would add that they can only help your business if they’re qualified in the fundamentals first. For example, I’ve seen companies hire someone as a social media manager simply because they ran a blog. Being able to run your own blog doesn’t mean someone is capable of helping you reach your social media goals. Interaction is not enough. You have to know what you’re trying to accomplish and you need someone in that role who knows how to do that from the ground up — not just jump into a new tool or community without a plan.

  2. Interesting discussion, Jenn. As you know, I spent 30+ years in Corporate America.

    At one point in my career, I was a consultant with responsibilities that included auditing customer service departments. The lack of empowerment was (and is) in my mind, the number one problem with customer service – for exactly the reason you cite – they can’t fix the problem. And all they do is exacerbate the problem by frustrating the customer even further.

    If a company doesn’t empower their own employees, they sure as heck aren’t going to turn over the reigns to a social media manager – a.k.a. outsider.

    So, IMHO, it starts with the empowerment factor at the company level-regardless who is handling the customer service. If you have ever seen it in action with a company that gets it, you see it makes a huge difference in resolving customer service issues.

    It’s sad that my experience has been it is the exception when you receive good customer service. I rarely blame the front-line person, but the company that doesn’t give them the tools to do an effective job.

    • I don’t envy you that job Cathy!

      You’re right on about the empowerment issues, and that goes back to what I said to Erin. SM Managers need to be competent in the fundamentals. If they aren’t, I don’t blame companies for not empowering them (they hired the wrong person in the first place). Bring in competent people and give them what they need to do their job. Sounds simple, but it rarely seems to work out that way.

      I think tech-oriented companies have a better shot at most frankly. For example, look at Web hosting companies (or any online service company really). They generally already have a qualified Tech Support Manager. Find a way to delegate and get that person involved in the customer service side of your social media outreach. They’re already empowered to fix things.

      And maybe that’s the key — not to empower new people in SM Mgr roles, but to put already-empowered employees in charge of appropriate aspects of social media.

  3. I think that this can be a communication issue. As a social media manager, I am contracted out all the time and I guess I am an exception to this. I really like to get a sense of the company culture and business structure. And I would NEVER promise their customers something that I wasn’t sure the company couldn’t deliver.

    A good social media manager will keep the situation at bay without promising the moon, but keeping the lines of communication open between the customer and the company. Sadly, I think this type of issue can happen even when the social media is being handled in house. Good communication, and solid company policies are the best ways to keep this kind of thing from happening.

    Enjoyed the post! Thanks for the discussion!

    • It sounds like you’re one of the good apples then Angela. 🙂 It’s just a shame that so many others jump into managing social media without a clue as to the risks involved. And you’re right. That can happen with in-house folks as much as outside consultants.


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