As familiarity with social media grows, customers' expectations about how organizations will use these channels are evolving, according to Gartner, Inc. 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. "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.
To respond or not?
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.
It's also important to accept that it's impracticable and counterproductive to respond to everything. For example, if a comment is clearly inflammatory and unsolvable, it is usually best not to respond at all. However, if a person is an existing customer logging a harsh but legitimate complaint, the issue must be addressed publicly, promptly and within the same media it was made.
"Generally the best practice is to acknowledge the issue on social media, but to move attempts to resolve the issue offline," said Rozwell.
Who should respond?
Every organization needs a set of rules to define who should deal with different kinds of comment, and a process for deciding how a response will be posted to social media. If no one has been identified to determine this set of rules, that is the first action to take. Then the designated social media leader or team must decide how to categorize comments. For example, some comments about a general issue may simply require monitoring and assessment before a general response is issued, whereas others may require an immediate and personal response and further monitoring.
It's not enough simply to decide which people responds to what - the act of responding must be made part of their day job or it will be overlooked. It can be challenging to promote this shift in mindset, and it could require changes to performance metrics and job roles.
We've responded, now what?
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 Rozwell.
To ensure they are not discarding the valuable information being generated through social media, organizations must create processes for perpetuating customer engagements and for sharing social knowledge throughout the organization. Developing a means for acting on social data will provide a competitive advantage by providing exceptional customer experience through increasingly significant social channels.
"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 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."