Virtual assistants are becoming more common as small business owners find it harder to keep up with their social media marketing. They serve a great role in many cases for small businesses. Virtual assistances are there to assist a business with their social media efforts. They are not there to replace them entirely.
Virtual assistants can help small businesses set up their inbound marketing to attract eyeballs onto the business. But what happens when customers reach out to the small business with specific questions that they expect the business to answer for themselves?
In my opinion, and this is my opinion, virtual assistants should never do the following two things, even at a business owners request:
- Virtual assistants should never pretend to be the business owner or an employee when answering a question from a potential customer or some one from the online community. If they fake the response to the customer, and the customer finds out that the person responding was not the person whom they thought they were supposedly talking to, it could go very badly for the business.
- Virtual assistants must never block attempts by customers or online community members to reach the business. When a customer reaches out to a business, someone directly employed by that business should respond. Blocking customer attempts to reach the business will never end well.
You might say that this never happens. But as small business owners get busy,they might feel that they do not have the time to answer their customers on social media. This is a real possibility. Virtual assistants might be put between a rock and a hard place.
I personally know of virtual assistants who are doing a great job for the businesses that they are working for. (I actually have a client whom I am going to connect with a virtual assistant.) They are sharing great social media content, and they are passing customer inquires onto the business for them to personally respond to. They are doing a great job and are representing their employers really well.
But I am hearing stories of some virtual assistants faking it for businesses. I believe that this will not end well for these virtual assistants. When a customer finds out that their responses, that they have been getting back, are not coming directly from the business, but are in fact from the virtual assistant, the crap is going to hit the fan. Fakery does not win hearts and minds, and will reflect very badly on the business regardless.
Here’s an example of what I am talking about. Say a business owner and I just finished a 5 km run in the morning. I later connect with that business owner and ask how the day went. The response I get back in that the business owner worked hard all day in the office. I realize that this is not true. Huston, we have a problem.
So as a small business owner, who uses a virtual assistant, do not place the virtual assistant in a hard spot where they have to pretend to be you. They can have some standard business FAQ responses; but they should never be put into a position where they are faking responses because the business owner(s) or employee(s) do not want to respond to social media questions.
When you hire a virtual assistant, make sure you give them access to your contact information so they can let you know that a customer or community member has asked a question. As a business owner or employee, you are the one that needs to respond to these questions.
Well I can hear some saying, what about office hours and such? Virtual assistants can answer these types of questions. When it comes to specific questions that need to be answered directly by the small business, virtual assistants should not be faking answers.
Virtual assistants should never block customer or community attempts to reach and engagement with the small business. If your business is on social media, it is my personal opinion that the customer or community member has the right to reach you, or someone from the business who is designated to do so. A virtual assistant that blocks people from accessing the business is setting the business for one giant FAIL.
So if you are going to use a virtual assistant, make sure that you understand that you are going to have to do some of the social media work yourself. You are going to have to respond to customer requests. If you are not prepared to do this, then you should stay off social media altogether.
When needed, I am in favor of using virtual assistants to help your business use social media to put content out on your social networks. What I am not in favor of is exploiting virtual assistants to do all your social media, and making them pretend to be you by answering customer questions. Faking someone’s identity online will not end well.
Jeff Brown is the Founder & CEO of Alpha Social Media inc. He is a certified Workplace Education instructor with the Department of Labour & Advanced Education. He is the author of "Essential Twitter Skills for Business".