Many companies jump onto Twitter, Facebook or whatever the latest social media platform may be and end up with something that amounts to nothing more than an ad for their business that’s updated on occasion. While you can (and should!) use these sites to expand your brand’s reach by highlighting products and promotions, you have to remember the “social” aspect of the platform you’re using.

Twitter and Facebook are more than just billboards for your business: they’re a chance to have a conversation with your customers, both potential and current. Using these platforms in this way can expand your brand’s reach in a way that advertising can’t.

Give it a Personal Touch

More and more frequently, people are using Twitter and Facebook in the same way they’d use a contact form on a website. It’s important to remind yourself that contact through a website is discrete and only you and the customer are involved in the process; that’s not true on Twitter or Facebook, where others are likely to see what’s going on. So, how do you approach customer complaints (and compliments) in social media?

The first thing to remember when someone reaches out to you on a social media platform is that they’re a person and they deserve the personal touch. Many people use copy-and-paste responses to clients who complain, asking them to contact their company through other channels. Frankly, that’s not going to cut it if you want to start off on the right foot.

While you should maintain a conversational tone, it’s surprising how many things can be fixed with a few tweets, especially when it comes to technical issues where you can link to a knowledgebase article or walk them through something. Keep it personal and make sure that they other person knows that you’re there to help them, not shut them up.

The Quicker, The Better

In addition to your tone, responding quickly plays a big part in a proper response. Social media is about immediate gratification. Using a Twitter alert service can help and having a series of searches saved (including links to your site) can make things much easier. Both Facebook and Twitter offer contact options where you are emailed whenever your account is messaged or mentioned.

Of course, some problems aren’t going to be resolved as quickly as we’d like. That means you have to contain the problem by being proactive — asking them to message you with contact information, etc — and make it plain that you want to fix any issues before they are exacerbated. Work with your current customer service team to create a plan for these situations and give these people a higher priority in your queue. While that may seem to be unfair to clients that have used traditional channels to contact your company, you have to remember that customer service for people who have contacted you through social media is doing double duty: it acts as a form of public relations along with traditional relationship management. In addition, you should always contact your customer afterwards through the original social media channel and follow-up, either to confirm that the issue was resolved or to thank them for giving you the opportunity to fix it.

Keep it Light and Fun

As I mentioned, customer service and support through Facebook or Twitter also acts as a form of public relations. It’s also a good idea to thank customers and others who mention your company or brand in a positive light. Taco Bell, for example, has a great reputation for their Twitter account’s light-hearted and honest approach to people who talk about them online. Taco Bell, of course, has the time and money to have someone handle their Twitter account around-the-clock and make it into an outpost of their brand, but you can learn a lot from that approach and apply a bit of it to your own business.

You have to do more than the bare minimum to use social media well when it comes to customer relationships. Don’t just put up a sign up for people to look at on occasion; give them a chance to interact and get to know your company or brand a little better.