If you had asked an enterprise worker three years ago how they feel about customers or contacts that ignore emails the answer probably wouldn’t have been publishable. It seems we have come a long way. Now, businesses that fail to respond to comments in social channels are committing a major business faux-pas. This, according to Gartner.

Firstly, let’s explain that this is one of the conclusions of research by Gartner, and not just a throwaway comment, and also that it acts as a curtain raiser to the Gartner Collaboration and Portal conference in the UK in September.

That said, some of the conclusions drawn by Gartner researcher and VP, Carol Rozwell, for business workers on the use of social media are worth noting.

Social Media Comments Response

She points out that as familiarity with social media grows, expectations of how social media will be used is growing. Those organizations that refuse to communicate with customers by social media will suffer the same fate as those that refuse to respond to email, or even pick up the telephone.

Social media, she argues, has become part of our business culture and those organizations that fail to see that are not going to succeed. By 2014, she says, responding to inquiries via social media channels will be considered a minimum response level.

To put that in perspective, within 18 months those organizations that have not made the social media jump will be facing considerable business difficulties:

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 … 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,“ she said.

There are two things here that spring to mind immediately: 1. What about organizations that have yet to develop a social media strategy? 2. What kind of information should, or even can, organizations respond to?

Both questions are core. The implications of what Rozwell is saying are that if you don’t have a social strategy, you won’t have a business. The other implication is that if enterprises need to develop means of not just responding to direct messages, but also responding tomessages about a company or product that can be gleaned across all channels through social media analytics.

Respond, or Not?

She also poses the question as to what processes must be applied to decide whether to respond to public or client-prompted social engagement.

Workers need to have a framework, and even the power, to decide whether a comment is relevant and whether the question, or issues, is answerable, or resolvable.

It is not possible, she says, to answer every single query, or respond to every single comment; however, it is important to address criticisms publicly and promptly within the same media it was originally made.

Who Should Respond?

Within the framework developed to respond to social media queries, enterprises also need to work out a set of criteria as to how responses should be made, and, more importantly, who should make them.

If no one has been designated to respond to queries, then the first step towards developing a strategy is identifying who says what. That person, or team, then needs to categorize comments that can range, for example, from general comments to comments that require further monitoring.

Responding, Rozwell says, must become a daily task and part of the job description for someone or some department. Changing this mindset will be challenging, she says, but ultimately profitable for the enterprises in question.

Learning Opportunities

Post-response Actions

While some organizations have already introduced this first stage of social engagement -- over half of organizations monitor social media -- only 23 percent of those collect and analyze data.

This means that organizations have no record of social media interactions even though, for example, in the US, tweets and other social media comments are discoverable in legal actions.

But probably more importantly, from the point of view of daily business, it also means that many organizations do not keep the social profiles for the people they have engaged with, and as a result have no possibility of gathering business insights from those interactions.

In light of these comments she has three recommendations:

  • Participate:Fears of criticisms, or negative comments should not deter companies from participation.
  • Comments: Not all comments require the same level of comment as others. Develop an appropriate response level.
  • Plan: Enterprises should plan for an increase in social commentary over the coming years and adapt communications to deal with it.

This will require a change of mindset, job descriptions and even business processes.

It may seem a little bit obvious, but the fact that Gartner has felt the need to comment on this at all suggests that not as many companies have a social media response strategy as there should be.

Remember, Rozwell has pointed out that companies have about 18 months before the lack of this kind of strategy is really going to impact on them. The time to act is now, not when you are watching your clients walk away.