Answer the social media call!

Would you ignore a customer’s email? Not return their phone call? Chances are, most professionals are going to respond promptly to questions or comments from customers. But does it change if a comment is left on a social media platform?

IT research and advisory company Gartner, Inc. predicts that by 2014, organizations that refuse to communicate with customers by social media will face the same level of wrath from customers as those that ignore today’s basic expectation that they will respond to emails and phone calls. For organizations that use social media to promote their products, responding to inquiries via social media channels will be the new minimum level of response expected.

“The dissatisfaction stemming from failure to respond via social channels can lead to up to a 15 percent increase in churn rate for existing customers,” said Carol Rozwell, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner in a statement. “It’s crucial that organizations implement approaches to handling social media now. The effort involved in addressing social media commentary is not good cause to ignore relevant comments or solvable issues.”

However, not all comments on the social web are aimed directly at organizations. Gartner recommends that organizations develop a framework to deal with social media commentary on relevant topics. The framework must complement how an organization deals with a direct enquiry received through social channels and should address whether a response is warranted, who should respond if it is, and what action is necessary following any response.

Gartner adds that social media leaders must develop a process for deciding whether to respond to public or client-prompted social engagements. A person or team needs to have the power to decide whether a comment is relevant and whether the issue presented is solvable, or whether there are positive dimensions to what is being said that should be recorded.

“Generally the best practice is to acknowledge the issue on social media, but to move attempts to resolve the issue offline,” said Ms. Rozwell.

Gartner says some organizations have implemented the first stages of a social media engagement process, but they make the mistake of treating engagements as ad hoc. While over half of organizations monitor social media, only 23 percent collect and analyze data. This means that most organizations do not keep records of interactions occurring on social media and do not keep social profiles for people they have engaged with.

“It’s important not only to keep records of individual conversations, but constantly to analyze the interactions to see what insights can be gleaned from them,” said Ms. Rozwell.

“We urge organizations to do three things. Firstly, participate — it’s important that organizations don’t let a fear of someone saying something bad about them stop them from participating in social media,” said Ms. Rozwell. “Secondly, don’t assume all comments require the same level of attention — develop an appropriate response for the different types of interaction your business faces. Thirdly, plan for an increase in social commentary and adapt communications practices to cope — this will require changes to job descriptions, performance metrics and business processes.”