As eMarketer recently reported, when it comes to online retail sites, “usability” is a customer’s most important concern.

Yes, your customers enjoy “bells & whistles” like online customer service or access to social networks, but if they can’t figure out what your product costs — or how to buy it — they won’t come back.

Usability is all about clarity + expectations.  Your customers expect a certain experience when they walk through your digital doors.  How well you live up to those expectations determines how good they’ll feel about their experience with you — and, how likely they are to return.

But what do your customers expect from your social media channels?

What Problems Is Your Social Media Solving — and How?

If you use social media for customer service…

  • How quickly should customers expect an answer to their questions?
  • Should they expect you to “hear” them, even if they don’t contact you directly?
  • Is your social outreach a lead-in to phone-based or email-based customer support, or should customers expect to have their problems solved entirely within the framework of Twitter or Facebook?

If you use social media for marketing and promotions…

  • How often should customers expect updates from you about new deals?
  • How easily can customers convert those updates to actions (like sales)?
  • Can your customers control the frequency of your updates?
  • Are these updates different from your emails, blog posts, snail mail, etc?
  • Can your customers ask questions about your messages, or are your channels only aimed one-way?  (If so, where can a customer go for interactive assistance?)

If you use social media to foster a personal community within your brand’s culture…

  • Do your customers know who’s speaking on the company’s behalf?
  • What topics or questions are “fair game” or “off-limits,” and why?
  • Will customer comments be moderated?
  • What constitutes “acceptable behavior” in your digital community?
  • Should customers expect to be sold to while they’re engaging with the community?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions now, that’s okay.  You can still implement a social media strategy, and then amend it as you learn from your customers’ feedback.

But let your customers know that you’re learning from them and adapting to their input.  Not only is that a crucial aspect of social media transparency, but it helps your customers know where they stand, what might change, and why.

Just as your own employees need a social media policy to govern their internal (and their public-facing) social media conduct, your customers deserve to know what’s expected of them — and what they should expect from you.

Want to know what to expect from us?  Follow us on Twitter and find out.