All this philosophical musing about trees in a forest seems a little out of date. So let's invert the question to make it more actionable and insightful for companies and brands.

If you Tweet to a company and no one bothers to respond, is the sound that follows the collective scream of your angry customers?

Maybe.

Like many deep questions, this one is open to discussion and debate. But one thing is clear: Most brands are still struggling to uncover the full value of social media, not just as a promotional venue but also as a powerful, two-way communications tool.

How Brands Use Social

That's the bottom line from the most recent Sprout Social Index, a report that analyzes channel growth, brand responsiveness, and consumer behavior across more than 160 million inbound messages. It's produced quarterly by Chicago-based Sprout Social, provider of a social media management and engagement platform.

The last issue, released last month, took a closer look at social trends across the media and entertainment industry — tracking and analyzing message volume, response rates, response times and network nuances across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for 15 verticals.

"On almost every front, media and entertainment brands were social anomalies. With 3 times more fan messages than average and a 6 percent response rate, there’s something about Hollywood—as well as journalists, DJs and sports stars—that keeps people coming back. But is the industry responding to fans in a way that resonates?" the company asked.

Ah, no.

The research found media and entertainment companies need to throw away their tired old scripts and start having real conversations on social media.

Granted, you can make that argument with just about every industry. But media and entertainment brands are notable for the sheer volume of messages they attract: about 100 a day, or three times as many as the next closest industry, nonprofits.

While they respond quicker than many other industries — within nine hours, the report found — they don't respond very often. In fact, media and entertainment accounts respond to people at the lowest rate of any industry, just 6.6 percent of the time.

And here's the real kicker: That nine hour response time is at least eight hours too long for most customers, according to Jay Baer, president of Convince & Convert, a keynote speaker, a podcaster and the author of five books including Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers.

According to research Baer has done with Jason Falls, Mark Schaefer, Tom Webster and Edison Research, about 32 percent of people who use social media expect a response within 30 minutes and 42 percent expect a response within an hour.

As Andrew Caravella, VP of Marketing at Sprout Social told CMSWire last month, "We're at a point where businesses finally recognize the necessity of having a presence on social media, but they’re still missing the mark when it comes to meaningful engagement. Although people’s expectations for social engagement continue to rise, brands are failing to respond to that demand."

And the Winners Are ...

So let's get back to that Sprout Social Index, and a few findings of note. In keeping with the media and entertainment theme, let's give a few awards.

Most Responsive Industry: Retailers, who respond to 18.2 percent of messages received

Most Engaged Audience: Travel and hospitality, which act on more than half (55 percent) of the messages received as entry points for conversation

Most Customer Centric: Utilities (yes, not a misprint), which issues more responses than it does promotional updates on social, showing that it prioritizes social customer care

sprout social index

Key Takeaways

Here are the most significant facts to remember from the Sprout Social Index:

  • Brands are being hit with more messages
  • Consumer expectations are increasing
  • Brand response rates are getting worse
  • Brand response times are flat lining
  • Brands are being even less considerate of customers

Overwhelmed? Don't throw in the towel, but don't lose sight of the big picture either.

  1. Focus on response rates, response times and number of promotional versus support updates rather than likes and follower counts, which don’t reveal anything about ROI.
  2. Invest in resources to improve response rates and balance the promotional messages with support messages.
  3. Direct support and sales personnel to prioritize customer service on social media accounts as people’s expectations on social media communications increase.
  4. Prepare for even more volume. Social media messages will continue to flood companies. 
  5. Learn from small businesses. Organizations with less than 200 employees and fewer resources prove more efficient in managing their social media accounts than larger organizations.
  6. Keep up with Instagram. The platform is gaining in popularity, and more people talk to brands this way.

Title image by Mickey O'neil