While there are general principles of success that can be applied across every industry, different industries will inherently have different challenges. This seems obvious. Yet, many businesses on social media seem to employ a cookie-cutter approach to their use of Twitter. And Facebook. And LinkedIn. And, well, you get it. Customers and industry peers won't embrace that 'just show up and go through the motions' mentality. They'll see through it. The lack of any real value offered will be glaring to potential followers. To fully realize the benefits of being active on social media, a business must create a plan catered to the unique demands of their industry and the people in it. In this post, we're going to discuss web hosting specifically.
Most businesses don't have to be on social media. They should be on social media, but they don't have to be. Web hosts have to be. With premium web hosts being similarly priced and essentially having the same class of equipment and talent available to them, ultimately what separates them from each other is communication. In the modern environment, communication happens on many different channels. Some users are going to prefer telephone. Others will use email. Yet another group will demand online chat. And then there's social media.
There are three main reasons that a person will follow or communicate with a web host on social media. Outages, customer service issues, and sales questions. Effectively dealing with these three situations should form the foundation of any web host's social media strategy.
Even for a cloud as large as Amazon's, outages happen. This is the nature of the business. You might be hearing crickets on social media for weeks, but the moment an outage happens, your @ mentions blow up and your Facebook messages fill up. While no client is going to be happy that their site is down, with some simple and honest communication, you can show that you actually do care and assuage their fears a bit. The worst thing a web host can do in someone's time of crisis is ignore them. Even if you don't know what's going on or don't have an estimated resolution time, communicate that. They're not going to be happy. They might even be mean. But that doesn't change the fact that you need to keep clients up-to-date even when there is no good news.
The potential for an outage should also impact your social media scheduling strategy. Our advice to any web host is that you should not schedule posts if you're not going to be in a position to quickly unschedule them. There is nothing worse for a client than your site being down, having sent a series of unanswered tweets, and then seeing some inane blog post go by in your feed courtesy of your non-communicative host. Or even worse, a tweet that talks about said web host's great service.
"We don't offer support through social media."
Don't be that web host. Even if you technically don't offer 'support' through social media, you can be communicative, helpful, and redirect as necessary. Use these tweets and Facebook comments as an opportunity to leave a public record of your commitment to customer service and proof that you care to solve every potential problem. Many social communications will simply be a matter of a client checking in on a issue that they haven't heard back from the support department on. They just want to know someone is there and that someone is aware. You need to have a plan to deal with these interactions. Our advice to any web host is that you treat these questions and concerns differently and bump them to the top of your priority list. The people who are most likely to bring their issues to social media are also the most likely to sing the praises of a business on social media. Honest and open communication is the easiest way to turn an unhappy client into a brand advocate.
Touching back on the scheduling issue we brought up in the "Outages" section, the same rules apply when it comes to support. If you're unable to unschedule tweets at a moment's notice, then don't schedule tweets. You may not have an immediate answer for a support question that comes through social media. It may be a weekend. You may be at a wedding. There might be horrible cell coverage. It might just be that support doesn't have enough information yet to offer any meaningful update. And that's okay. What's not okay is your scheduled tweet going out while you have yet to answer a client concern. Seeing that "You don't have time to answer my question, but you have time to tweet Simpsons' GIFs" tweet makes for an uncomfortable moment when you get home from that wedding or cell phone service returns.
24/7 sales is a rarity in the hosting industry to begin with, so it's understandable that 24/7 social coverage isn't a realistic option for most hosts. However, any web host who makes themselves more available than the average host will see the benefits. It's common to see a potential international customer tweet a sales question when it's 2am in the states, only to sign with another host overnight by the time you see the tweet in morning. That frantic message late in the day on Christmas Eve? If you see it, don't ignore it. You may not have a salesperson around who can help, but at least make sure to let your potential customer know when they can expect to hear back from a member of your sales team. Your communication during the sales process gives a potential client a window into what they can expect from support down the line. Impress them early on, because you may not get a second chance.
What Do You Post?
When your time on social media isn't spent catering to client concerns and answering questions, what should you post? As part of our social media marketing strategy, we recommend employing a mix of post types that include brand content, industry content curation, and the all-important personal posts.
Social media serves as a signal booster for your brand message and your content marketing. All blog posts and original content should be optimized for distribution on social channels. Our experience shows that about one-third of your posts should fall into the brand content category. Anything more than that and your account will start to feel too self-promotionial, which is a turn off to many followers.
Web hosts love conferences. They're at them all the time. However, many of a web host's followers/clients will not be at the majority of these events. That's not a problem. If people can't attend an event, bring them to the floor with you. This is a great opportunity to use all of the live technology that is permeating social media. Let your followers see what you're seeing and make them part of the experience. Are you planning on some awesome booth giveaways? Keep your non-attending followers engaged all day by giving them a chance to score some of that swag through a contest
As we mentioned above, you can't just share your own content. So, where do you find high quality content that provides value to your followers? First, your partners. Business partnerships are at the core of the web hosting industry. Make sure to show that social love to your best industry friends on a regular basis. Even if this content doesn't get the most clicks or perform the way you want it to, it serves a greater purpose. You want your partners to see that you support their social and content efforts and, on a larger level, their business.
Beyond partners, if you've spent any amount of time working in the web hosting industry, you'll know that web hosts have a lot of amazing clients doing a lot of amazing things. Promote those clients. A great web host is not providing a service as much as they're building a long-term relationship and helping grow a business. Every client may not be a "Partner" on paper, but you should treat them like they are.
And the best part of social media? Meeting new people. Part of your time on social media should be spent building relationships with industry influencers and experts. Sharing someone's content, or giving them a signal boost, with your own added insight is a great way to create awareness and potentially start a conversation without being aggressive or annoying. While a simple social share may not evolve into anything more than that, as long as you share content with the original expectation that it is valuable for your followers, then there is no risk taken.
And at the end of the day, always remember that social media needs to be social. Show your followers that a real person runs your account. Give them a behind the scenes look at the tech, the data center, and the people who work there. One of the best parts about conferences and tradeshows is seeing clients in person for the first time. It's nice for people to put a face to that support guy or gal who has bailed them out dozens of times. Make that experience happen on your social channels. Show your clients who your company is and what you're about outside of the data center.
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