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Brands Still Struggle to Engage with Customers on Social Media


Social media and customer service go hand-in-hand these days. We know consumers are likely to turn to social media to ask brands questions, complain, praise or to just say hi.

Though brands are more active on social media than ever before, they still struggle to engage with customers. To help us better understand how brands are connecting on social, we consulted the Sprout Social Index. It looks at channel growth, brand responsiveness and consumer behavior across more than 160 million inbound messages on 20,000 brand profiles and fan pages.

Measuring Consumer and Brand Engagement

The Index includes two parts: a Consumer Engagement Index that outlines the industries that are currently receiving the most inbound messages requiring attention; and a Brand Engagement Index, which summarizes industries which are the most timely and responsive to those messages.

Overall, the Index shows a 175% increase in messages sent to brands on Twitter  and Facebook that require a response or attention. That means, in the last year alone, the number of people turning to social channels to purposefully engage with brands has grown exponentially. Who is handling the onslaught the best?

It might be surprising to learn that the utilities industry tops the list of companies with most inbound engagement in social channels relative to audience size, but anyone who ever struggled to get a hold of their cable or internet providers knows better. Real estate, consumer goods, banking and finance, and education round out the top five. 

So do those companies with the most inbound engagement serve up the most outbound engagement? Actually, yes. Utilities and banking and finance tied for first for being most responsive to inbound messages from their audience in social channels. Automotive, retail, technology and business services were among the top five. 

Curious as to which industries were the least responsive? Government, real estate and entertainment companies were the least likely to respond to customer inquiries. 

What About Response Rates and Times?

Being responsive on social media is great, provided it's within the context of the question that was asked, and it's done within a timely manner. The report also looked at brand response rates and times and found that average brand response rates decreased and response times increased in the past year from an average of 10.9 hours to 11.3 hours. 

SproutSocial_response times.png

Overall, business services, utilities, banking and finance had the fastest response times — responding in approximate 9.5 hours, with banking and utilities having the highest response rates. Government took the longest to respond, doing so in 14.5 hours, while once again, the entertainment industry has the lowest response rate of just 11 percent. 

Sprout Social calls the increased response times discouraging, and while being timely in one's response is important, I think it's important to keep response times in context. I know that as a community manager, sometimes tough questions are asked. Questions that don't already have a response. To answer the question accurately, it takes some time to get the right people in the same room.

While answers shouldn't take too long to answer, but it's also okay to let the consumer know that the organization is looking into it and they'll have an answer shortly. I also wonder if increased response times speak to the number of brands who follow up offline. In these cases, it's important to let the greater community know that the company has fulfilled the request through other means, so others don't think that the issue hasn't been resolved. 

Yes, the consumer has high expectations for brands, but it's essential that brands not only work to answer questions in a timely manner, but they have a strategy in place for doing so. Not every company works the same way. A government official may need to have their comment cleared before posting, while others may be free to post without review. Companies need to make it clear to consumers want they can expect. This isn't an excuse to take your time, but it is a way for you to be transparent about the engagement process. 


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