Why You Should Have a Social Media Plan

By Michelle Dunn

Many business owners don't have a business plan or a marketing plan so it is safe to say many don't have a social media plan. Having a plan is an effective way to get things done and avoid the many pitfalls that can happen. Using social media as part of your business practices, whether it is to research a customer or locate information in order to collect on a past due invoice, can be tricky. Make sure you have some guidelines and procedures in place so you don't end up making a costly mistake.

Businesses have started "fan pages" or are just establishing themselves on social media sites in order to connect with their customers or potential customers. You may even have your own social media pages for your business. The purpose of creating those sites is to participate actively and engage with your customers, not to collect money, though they can be helpful for that purpose. Due to the wealth of information users share online you can now have a very detailed view on the lives of your customers. Some people post things about their jobs, vacations, purchases and the stress in their lives. Some post about personal problems, relationship problems and problems they may be having paying their bills. Some businesses are using this information to check the credit worthiness of a new customer or an existing customer.

Recently I heard about a businessman who had failed to pay a large debt. He said his business was failing and he was filing for bankruptcy. Not uncommon in this economy. When the creditor checked out his Facebook page it was a different story. He had pictures up of his new boat and car with comments bragging about his great lifestyle and new toys. During the next call to try and collect the debt, the credit manager brought this to the businessman's attention and there was a very long silence. He paid his bill in full right then on the spot, over the phone.

Your social media plan can help you make educated decisions about where your going, what information you are looking for and what you will do on these social networking websites in regards to your customers. Your plan needs to outline what you want to get out of using these social media websites in your credit department. Are you looking to just keep updated on customers who are slow payers? Do you want to know when someone has new employment information or when they have moved? Are you looking for assets to get paid on a judgment? There need to be boundaries and you need to set them before you log onto any social media website.

Your next step might be to figure out how you are going to go about this, are you going to assign one person to visit specific customers social networking pages, and will they do this for 1-2 hours a week, a day? Decide which social media websites you want to utilize, will it be just Twitter, Facebook, all of them? Where do your customers hang out?

You will also need to come up with some rules for using social media in your collections. What are you going to do when someone calls you an idiot? How will you react when they tell the world that your company is deceitful and made of nothing but liars? Having this plan in place before you start using these networks can help you stay in control of situations like this. Some rules to think about adding to your social media plan could be:

* Never disclosing financial or confidential information
* Never "friending" a debtor with the purpose of using that "friendship" to gather information to collect a debt
* Not engaging in impolite dialog or responding to negative comments made about you or your company
* How will social media be integrated into your credit policy or plan
* Who from your company will do the searching and be in charge of this aspect of your collections and who will they report to?
* How much time will you spend doing this?
* How often will you meet with upper management to review if this is working or what needs to be changed if anything

Having this plan in place can streamline your efforts, keep you on track and help you avoid any problems that could arise. Not having a plan can end up costing you money, customers or your business reputation.

Michelle Dunn is an award winning author and columnist. She is one of the Top 5 women in Collections, and one of the Top 50 most influential collection professionals in her industry. This is an excerpt from her latest book Getting Paid using Social Media available now www.MichelleDunn.com

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