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Customer service used to be handled either in person or over the phone. These days though, consumers are turning more to social media for their customer service needs.

According to a study by social media marketing firm Sprout Social, consumer messages that required a response from a company increased 178 percent. Utilities such as cell phone and cable providers have seen the biggest increase in consumer engagement on social media, according to the study.

The problem is that consumers using social media expect a quick response and brands just aren’t delivering. In fact, according to the study, the average response time has increased from 10.9 in Q3 2012 to 11.3 hours in Q3 2013. Unfortunately for brands, inbound messages from consumers also increased during this same period, the study says.


According to Sprout Social CEO Justyn Howard says, this marks a significant shift in how consumers are interacting with brands and brands need to act accordingly. “Businesses need to regroup and retool to shift from a largely marketing-driven focus in social channels to one that revolves around the customer,” he says.

The study indicates that brands may be struggling to keep up with the increase in inbound consumer messages. Indeed, response rates on both Facebook and Twitter, the networks where consumer messages have increased the most, have dropped below 20 percent. This means that four out of five inquiries goes unanswered, Howard says.

“This would not be tolerated in traditional channels like phone and email and is not a sustainable practice,”  he says.

Unfortunately, the bigger the audience, the lower the response rate, the study says. And while brands with smaller audiences are more responsive, they still do so at a leisurely pace.

If this study is any indication, brands need to direct more resources to responding to consumer on social media. While it might be tempting for brands to focus their energies on content marketing, social engagement is also about taking care of the consumer needs.

By Kimberlee Morrison

Image credit: the UMF