Social media is in a really interesting place right now. It’s been through an evolution where it started out being overlooked, it grew in impact until it couldn’t possibly be ignored, and now there’s a bit of pullback as CMOs remind themselves that there is more to life than Facebook ads.

Along the way, we’ve seen a massive increase in the amount of time and resources committed to content. I remember a time not long ago when the idea of a photoshoot dedicated to social content seemed ridiculous. Now we see whole teams of producers being built to create social content. It’s also become a given that senior marketing leaders are versed in social media strategy and that they’re able to bring that perspective to the executive board room.

The one area that hasn’t seen a universal investment increase is in community management. In the early days, community management was nearly all that we had. Twitter and Facebook were places that you went to have conversations, so the brands that were investing there were spending time seeking out people to talk to, and responding to customer service issues. That was when the idea of a surprise-and-delight was born out of a single idea executed perfectly by Morton’s steak house, and someone at Samsung was given the ability to take a badly drawn dragon and turn it into a massive PR win.

Those now-famous success stories drew attention to the social media teams, bringing with them budget, professional oversight, and ultimately a much higher overall quality of content. That’s been fantastic for the users, who now receive great content and storytelling from a lot of the brands that they follow. But as we’ve scaled up professionalism in photo, video, and advertising, we’ve forgotten to also invest in the practice of community management.

Every day people are tagging brands, raising issues, mentioning them and having conversations about the very problems that the businesses exist to solve. Meanwhile, amazing software solutions have sprung up all around us that make discovering those posts, analyzing them, and even indexing them as easy as a few clicks. So what are most brands doing with that opportunity? They’re using the best as user-generated content and, at best, the rest get a canned, potentially robotic response. I had been concerned about that shift when just a few days ago DHL swooped in to my Twitter replies as if to offer both validation and a fantastic example of exactly what I’ve been worried about.

My first reaction was to write this interaction off as a sign that we had lost the battle against the bots and that they had taken over all customer service interactions, but then I looked more closely at the last tweet. “Your are welcome…” Robots are bad at many things, but grammar is not one of them. As if to add an exclamation point to our interaction, my new friend, ^NR, let me know that without question they are a living, breathing human.

The bad guy in this story, however, isn’t ^NR. They’re just doing their best to get a job done where they’re likely overwhelmed, under-resourced, and under-trained. The culprit here is the senior manager who decided that it was a good idea to set up an entire Twitter account to be dedicated to customer service, then failed to equip it with the resources that it would need to be successful.

I’m reminded of a line that we heard constantly in the early days, and rarely gets brought out these days: Every mention, comment, tag, and tweet is no different than a ringing phone or knock at your door. All of those internet notifications are coming from real, live humans who are reaching out and trying to make a connection. None of us would think that it’s a good idea to let the phone ring, and we now generally agree that automated phone recordings are not good business, so why don’t we apply that same value to online interactions?

My question to you is: Do you have an ^NR on your team? Perhaps you are the ^NR, and you’ve been raising your hand for this very issue. The first step is acknowledging that there’s a problem (or in this case, opportunity). Whether you’re a famous brand or a startup, an enterprise organization or a team of one, there are people out there posting about what you’re up to and they’d love to get some of your expertise.

Fortunately, there are fantastic examples of brands that have taken the time to invest in their people and their process. They are treating internet users like humans and, in general, both their brand’s value and revenue growth are reflective of that attention to customer service. To see it in action, check out:

How can you step your game up? Simple:

  1. Hire and pay people like they are valuable members of the organization (because they are)
  2. Give them clear expectations of success, and support them at the top by communicating the value of those expectations to the executive/board
  3. Invest in a professional training program that will draw on expertise from outside the organization and build a baseline of knowledge inside

I feel so strongly about those three pieces of advice that I built an entire company to provide that support to businesses. Junction’s specialty is digital strategy, training, and consulting and we happen to have a particular soft spot for social media, so if you feel compelled to invest in your team, we’d love to talk.