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The Savvy Business Owner's Guide to Honesty Via Social Media

All customers want to know the truth about the company, even if it hurts. Use Facebook and Twitter to good effect.
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Perhaps you skipped over  National Honesty Day ? It was celebrated this year (and indeed every year) on April 30. But truly for businesses, honesty should not be just a once-a-year affair. Companies ought to build trust with their customers through transparency.

In fact to earn customers' trust, make it clear that they can say anything and the company will let their words see the light of day online.  

In the age of social media, it's easy to push delete after receiving an unhappy message from a consumer. It's tempting to think prospective customers want to read only shiny, happy news about doing business with the company. But the fact is, all customers want to know the truth about the company, even if it hurts. 

The good news is that in the age of social media, it's possible to have a two-way conversation with customers, enabling them to offer open and honest feedback while providing an opportunity to respond.

Here are a few tips on how to make that work well:

Related: How Transparency Can Help You Succeed on Twitter

1. Host many channels for customers to speak with the company. Don’t make it hard for customers to provide feedback. Be clear on the company website that they can send an email or tweet or a Facebook post about what they noticed or experienced.

Follow the example of  1-800-Flowers, which provides many channels on its home page for consumers to easily be in touch. Indeed just this very April 30, an exchange with an angry customer remained posted, after garnering a response and a resolution. This gives customers the impression that 1-800-Flowers is a responsive and caring company.

2Listen and respond to what customers say. On July 4, the Starbucks Facebook page carried a thread debating whether Starbucks regularly sent coffee to U.S. troops. Despite the back and forth, the anger and misinformation, Starbucks representatives were patient and transparent in explaining how much and why the company sent coffee to the troops.

In addition, the Starbucks website carried  an explanation, responding to a myth circulated that the chain does not support the troops. It detailed how much coffee is sent to servicemen and -women annually.  CEO Howard Schultz recently gave $30 million  to returning vets for post-traumatic stress disorder research and committed to hiring 10,000 vets. These efforts demonstrate the company listened to feedback and responded.

Related: 6 Reasons Social Media Is Your Secret Weapon in Customer Service

3. Thank consumers for brand loyalty and sharing feedback (and passion). Hallmark Channel does an outstanding job of thanking and encouraging fans on Twitter. No matter the show appears, the broadcaster's staffers respond to fans and retweet comments from stars on its shows. This gratitude for Hallmark brand enthusiasm amplifies the loyalty demonstrated by viewers. 

The Cheesecake Factory is also active on Twitter, retweeting the comments of fans, favoriting their tweets and thanking customers for their loyalty.

4. Follow up and resolve issues identified by customers. Many companies fall short in followup.  It's easy to apologize on Twitter or send a Facebook message in appreciation, but it is another thing to respond to the customer and show changes have been made to be sure that no other customer has struggles with that obstacle again. A recent study found that only 17.6 percent of companies respond to customer complaints within an hour on social media. This is the next place where marketers have to do a better job in taking transparency to a whole new level.

Related: Social Media is Great, But Don't Forget Old School Marketing