Brands, social media and holidays

Ah, being in customer service on vacation – really the front line of customer experience and brand reputation. In high school or college, you may have taken a retail job while on vacation. Maybe you stood behind a cash register for hours, ringing the queues of Black Friday shoppers. Seeing this frenzy firsthand may have prepared (or deterred) you for a career in communications.

Today, social media managers and brand reps are the frontline communicators for many organizations. For industries like retail, travel and food, the holidays can be their busiest, fueling questions about canceled flights, turkey recipes or what to do when the hot toy runs out.

“As we enter the festive season, brands can expect to see 18% more social posts compared to non-holiday months,” says Jamie Gilpin, CMO, Sprout Social. This “presents a unique challenge – and opportunity – for brands and social media managers,” she adds.


We asked social media communication experts how they prepare for the onslaught of holiday traffic. Additionally, we asked about coverage procedures when teams go dark during the holidays.

Proactive hedging strategy

Jess Turner, Senior Community Manager, 1000heads, prioritizes creating strategies well in advance to prepare for potential social media crises. In addition, planning for essential downtime for his team is a priority.

“If we work with a brand that [normally] sees a spike in sales or activity during the holidays, our goal is to preemptively staff a holiday team in advance that can skillfully reach out to a more active community,” she says.

“Training is also key here,” she adds. Ideally, companies want service that is “always of the highest quality, even with a new team and increased volume.” Customers too.

Being a global agency can help cover vacations. For example, a good option is to hire an international team whose members do not celebrate Thanksgiving.

Prepare for the crisis

As we know, emotions can run high during the holidays. Some people may expel their energy to a social media manager or customer service agent. That’s why preparing those on the front lines of social media during the holiday season can result in cooler heads. You can even defeat your initial enemy.

In reality, 54% of people have a more favorable opinion of brands who responded to customer service questions or complaints on social media, according to Ledgeview Partners. Just being there means a lot.

Gilpin says businesses can handle increased message volume by using “customer service plans” that follow “best practices”. These include social listening, which can help uncover and solve problems. Additionally, Gilpin recommends developing pre-approved FAQ-based posts for quick responses.

Similarly, Turner of 1000heads uses an audit strategy, defining expected missions and setting [reply] procedures for each type of conversation, including emergencies.

1000heads recommends designating a crisis contact that the holiday coverage team can message in the event of a critical situation or emergency.

Sometimes an escalation plan for emergencies” includes a public relations contact. But more often, [the plan] revolves around a brand manager, who can then reach out to PR or whoever else is the next best referral,” she says.

Pinned post

And even if a brand doesn’t anticipate a boost in traffic over the holidays, Turner suggests preparing a pinned post that can serve customers trying to access brands when social teams are offline.

The item “to serve[s] as a summary of key references your community can rely on if they need something during the team’s time away,” she says.

And don’t forget the personal touch. Looping a pinned post with content offering a friendly holiday message can help.

“The holidays are the perfect time to remind your community that you are a collection of humans, not a faceless brand.”

Embrace empathy

Not all social media is product related. The holiday season also sees traffic spikes at drug treatment centers sitesas well as those intended for psychologists, therapistsdoctors and lawyers, among others.

“The holidays can be an especially difficult time of year for many who feel lonely and struggle with addiction, depression, anxiety and other behavioral health issues,” said Austin Armstrong, CEO of SocialtyPro, which often works with behavioral health organizations and other professionals. Thus, the sites of the companies he advises “get more traffic because people are looking for answers on social networks”.

Given that prioritizing these sites’ social media-based customer service is essential during the holidays, “the busiest and most emotional time of the year”, front-line staff require a lot of patience, says Armstrong.

“Holidays can evoke both positive and negative feelings; anyone interacting with customers online needs to keep their cool,” he says. Sites and staff that are “patient and compassionate” will “build relationships and loyalty with customers.”

And if a social platform goes down, say Twitter, perhaps, Armstrong advocates a powerful live chat feature. Yet only deploy live chat “if you have the ability to respond,” he said. Armstrong promotes livechat.com. It connects “directly to your phone, so anyone on your team can answer user questions anywhere, anytime,” he adds.

Nicole Schuman is editor-in-chief for PRNEWS. Follow her @nicoleschuman

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