• Marketing

Meet your customers where they are: The importance of social media customer service

by Jackson Kushner | Apr 11, 2022


The strategies and tactics guiding customer service organizations constantly evolve as consumer habits and expectations change with new technologies and cultural shifts. Social media platforms are excellent examples of this; they provide a high level of connectivity, and consumers now expect brands to match that level. This means that even if your customer care center provides excellent support on other channels (such as chatbots, SMS, or even voice), you need to be equally responsive on social media. In short, you have to meet customers where they already are, on the channels they use every day to interact with their friends and family.

To better understand how consumers are currently interacting with brands on the world’s most popular social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook), we conducted a survey of over a thousand people to answer four core questions:

  1. How many social media users are reaching out to brands via social media platforms, both publicly and privately?

  2. Do users expect a response, and if so, how quickly?

  3. What happens when those expectations are, or are not, met?

  4. How do preferences vary across platforms and demographics?

Here, we’re sharing our insights on these four vital questions for social media customer care organizations.

Most users communicate with brands on social media

Communicating with brands on social media platforms isn’t just common for users — it’s becoming the norm. According to survey respondents, 75% of Twitter users have used the platform to engage with brands. That’s also largely the case on Facebook, where 59% of Facebook users reach out to brands, and only slightly less for Instagram users, at 34%.

About half of consumers who engage with brands on social media are reaching out about customer care concerns

Many users who contact brands on social media are looking to resolve customer care-related issues, including questions about products/services and airing complaints through that channel.

The top care-related reason that consumers reach out to brands on social media, regardless of the platform, is to ask questions about products and services. 33% of Twitter and Facebook users who communicate with brands reach out primarily for answers to questions. The same is true for 30% of Instagram users.

When it comes to airing complaints on social media, behavior varies more broadly by platform. 20% of Twitter users who reach out to a brand on social media do so to complain, compared to 14% of Facebook users. Instagram sees the lowest complaint rate at just 8%.

The vast majority of consumers expect a response from brands on social media

Over 65% of social media users across all three platforms expect brands to respond, regardless of whether the initial outreach from the consumer was via private message or public post. The expectation of receiving a response from brands decreases only slightly in public comments, compared to private messages.

About half of social media users expect brands to respond within three hours

While most consumers absolutely expect a response from brands when they reach out on social media, they don’t necessarily expect an immediate response, even when the reason they reach out involves a complaint. According to our survey, about half of social media users expect a brand to respond to their message or post about a complaint within three hours.

Only about a quarter of consumers who communicate with brands on social media to resolve complaints expect a response in under an hour.

Despite overarching themes, some consumer preferences vary by social media platform

While there are common themes about what consumers expect on platform-to-platform interactions, there are also key variances brands should be aware of as they create their social media customer service strategies. It’s imperative not to neglect these platforms’ unique needs, as social media users who communicate with brands on their platform of choice are less likely to reach out to a business via any other avenue, be that a different social platform or even a brand’s Contact Us page.

People who communicate with brands on Instagram, for instance, are the least likely to reach out to a brand through any other platform (social media or otherwise), with 76% preferring Instagram to all other forms of communication. These numbers are almost as high with Twitter and Facebook users, at 68% and 66%, respectively.

Ensuring that your customer care team understands the expectations of consumers reaching out via social media, and acknowledging the preferences of each platform rather than treating them all the same, is much more likely to set teams up for success when determining how they’ll handle mentions, requests, and complaints on social media.

Instagram users generally have the highest expectations of brands

Instagram users tend to have the highest expectations, especially when a complaint is involved.

According to our survey, 33% of Instagram users who communicate with businesses via the platform said a brand should respond to their complaint within an hour, compared to 29% of Twitter and 27% of Facebook users. It’s worth noting that 42% of Gen Z consumers use Instagram to communicate with brands, versus only 33% non-Gen Z consumers.

Something else that sets Instagram apart from other platforms is that it’s the only one where users are more likely to communicate with brands so that they can connect to other fans of the brand (13%), as opposed to reaching out with a complaint (8%). For brands that want to grow their online community, a combination of social media, messaging, and other online channels, like a community, is a proven way to do that.

Men are more likely to communicate with brands on Twitter than women

As mentioned earlier, 75% of Twitter users have used the platform to communicate with brands (versus 59% of Facebook users and 34% of Instagram users). But men are far more likely to reach out to a brand on Twitter; 81% have done so, compared to 68% of women. Men also tend to have higher expectations for response time. 27% of men said they expect a response within an hour, even when it’s not a complaint, versus 22% of women.

Gen X is the most prolific generation to communicate with brands on Facebook, but millennials have the highest expectations

Unlike Twitter and Instagram, whose main user bases skew younger, Gen X is the most likely to use Facebook to communicate with brands (63%). This is followed by 60% of millennials, 58% of Baby Boomers, and only 47% of Gen Z.

Millennials, however, have the highest expectations and are more likely, compared to other generations, to expect a response to the private messages involving a complaint in less than an hour (30%). For Gen X, 24% also expect an hour or less, as well as 22% of Gen Z and 14% of Baby Boomers.

What this means for your your business

Okay, we just threw quite a bit of information at you — but what does it mean for your brand? Here are the pros and the cons.

Meeting expectations is easier than you might think

There’s good news and slightly-less-good news here. The good news is that consumers expect a response, but not necessarily a resolution, within three hours. This gives brands quite a bit of time to get a positive conversation started without having to resolve the customer’s issue. According to our findings, the important thing is that a consumer receives a response on social media within three hours letting them know that the brand is on top of their concerns. Part of the beauty of social media is that it’s an asynchronous channel: neither the customer nor the agent has to stay glued to their computer awaiting a response. That makes it a lot easier for brands to meet these timeframe expectations while still letting agents manage work queues efficiently.

Of course, understanding consumer expectations is a moving target, with large variations based on intent, platform, and audience. However, some expectations are clear, and brands that meet those expectations have a lot to gain. As we said above, at least half of consumers on social media expect a response to complaints in at least three hours. Preparing social care teams to respond quickly and efficiently on social media is vital to not just consumer gratification, but also to future revenue and word-of-mouth brand awareness for a business.

Failing to meet consumer expectations on social media have have important implications for your business

The slightly-less-good news is that if you’re missing that three-hour window, you’re probably missing out on an opportunity to meet or exceed customer expectations. It’s important to hit that three-hour mark because as many as 50% of consumers expect a response by that time. Of course, your care team should always strive to respond to and resolve issues as quickly as possible; the faster your response times, the better your customer satisfaction will generally be. Think of the three-hour mark as an SLA baseline, and try to improve as much as possible from there without sacrificing the quality of your care.

There are major repercussions when businesses fail to meet consumers’ timeframe expectations on social media. The main one is that users become less receptive to the brand’s advertisements. They’re also more likely to take their complaints public — whether via social media or in conversations with family and friends — and to stop using their service altogether.

Social media platforms are rife with opportunity to build brand loyalty

Businesses have long understood the value of having a strong social media presence and establishing systems to engage consumers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. But some still don’t understand the importance of responding to both private and public comments from users — especially when those comments include a care-related topic. Brands who get this communication right by keeping response times short can reap huge benefits in terms of retention and loyalty. Likewise, brands that don’t stand to lose customers to their more social media savvy competitors. Managing comments, mentions, and private messages across these platforms, especially for larger businesses, requires a digital-first solution that combines social media management with a Digital Contact Center and omnichannel analytics.

Request a demo today to learn how our customer engagement platform provides a unified hub for brands to manage every interaction, regardless of channel.

Survey methodology

Survey conducted by Khoros. The data is based on a study of more than 1,300 respondents who said they had ever tweeted directly to or about a brand/company on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. (95% confidence level; 2.7% margin of error.)

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