Every business owner knows that a social media strategy is necessary to remain relevant in today’s digital world. However, not everyone knows how to effectively use social media to listen to your clients and manage your firm’s reputation.

When it comes to your social presence, it’s important that you involve your whole firm. It’s become a best practice to have a single social media owner that manages your channels and is responsible for responding to clients, but it’s also important that your entire staff have the opportunity to participate (or at least understand) your social media strategy. Here are a few tips on how to accomplish this.

Develop simple guidelines

An often overlooked, yet critical step, in building out your social media presence is to develop simple guidelines and socialize them with your staff. These guidelines support how your firm is viewed through the social media lens and how your employees aid in bringing that vision to life. Without specific rules in place, your firm’s reputation is at risk.

So what do these rules look like? First and foremost, they should be simple. Creating a lengthy workbook of rules is the best way to guarantee that the guidelines will not be followed. Your guidelines might be as simple as this: Be transparent, have fun and connect. This prompts your staff to be honest and genuine, while also giving them the freedom to engage with their clients rather than just posting a typical marketing or PR-type response. Authenticity will prove a much better strategy than canned responses. Provide an example or two so that your employees understand what you mean.

Next, focus on how you want your firm to be viewed. For most firms, you want to be seen as authentic, professional and a thought leader. Provide examples of how your staff can promote these ideals and what kinds of social media content will align with this goal. Sharing a relevant (and reputable) federal tax news story with your own insight into how it may affect your clients demonstrates all three—authenticity, professionalism and thought leadership. When replying to someone else’s post or comment, keep those same values in mind and reply as if you are speaking to a client or prospect face-to-face. Respond in a way that they will understand and appreciate, without resorting to overly technical terms or corporate speak. Also, try to avoid using automated replies, such as “Thanks for the mention.” Replies should be as personalized and relevant to the user as possible, often utilizing @mentions or tags.

Lastly, specify what not to do. There are just certain things your staff should not address on social media, such as mentions of specific clients (without permission) or highly emotional or controversial topics (e.g., religion or politics). Most importantly, ensure your employees show respect for others’ opinions in all their interactions. Again, examples may be particularly helpful in this area.

You may also want to consider incorporating compliance with the firm’s social media guidelines into your annual employee evaluation process to ensure buy-in from staff.

Be prepared to respond quickly

Prepare your staff for certain types of messages they might see or receive. When it comes to social media, delicate situations will inevitably come up. Think about the questions and comments that you currently receive in-person or via email from clients and prospects; imagine these same conversations occurring live—and publicly—on social media. Consider how you will want to respond in those situations.

While canned responses are typically not the most beneficial, it’s wise to prepare basic responses for each type of situation (positive or negative). In sensitive situations, timeliness is critical. Clients expect you to respond to inquiries and complaints on social media nearly instantaneously. According to Convince & Convert and Hubspot, 32 percent of users expect a response within 30 minutes, 42 percent expect a response within 60 minutes (72 percent on Twitter), and 65 percent expect a response within 2 hours.

If you have basic replies drafted, or at least outlined, for each likely scenario, you will be prepared to respond quickly with an appropriate answer—even if that answer is “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Dave will be contacting you by phone shortly.” Don’t be afraid to pull the dialogue offline. Oftentimes, it is better to have difficult conversations in private than on a public stage. When you do this, don’t forget to close the loop online. Once the issue has been resolved, add a comment to the original post that says something like “Susan, we’re glad we were able to resolve this issue. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us whenever you have a question.” You want to make sure that other people who are following the post know that you’ve resolved the problem.

Keep tabs on your social channels

When it comes to monitoring your social presence, make sure to keep a close tab on what is being said on your channels and about your firm. With the right setup, you can easily keep track of your channels and quickly respond to comments or inquiries. It may be helpful to manage all of your social channels through a single app, so you can see all notifications and respond accordingly. Some apps even provide the ability to view conversations by keywords, hashtags, people or even the sentiment of the post. To maximize your ability to monitor your firm’s reputation, it may be useful to use a single tool that offers the most functionality you need—from posting to listening to responding. Ultimately, you want to be able to see your entire social presence in a dashboard-type view. There are many applications that will allow you to do this. Do your research to identify the one that best suits your firm’s needs.

Expand your strategy

Remember, it’s a big digital world out there. As you become more comfortable with your current channels, you may want to expand your plan to include new and developing social media outlets and strategies. As time goes on, take time to review and revise your social media strategy as necessary. In an evolving world, it’s important to be agile as you move your firm forward.

For more information, download the free whitepaper, Four Ways to Effectively Leverage Social Media for Your Firm.

Becca Fieler

Becca Fieler

Becca Fieler is marketing manager, Checkpoint Marketing for Firms, with the Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting Business.