Earlier this month I interviewed a candidate for one of our social media roles. In talking about his last internship with a huge technology developer, this driven recent college grad explained how he tried to approach their social media strategy.

“They were just pushing out messages from public relations and marketing, but they didn’t really listen to what their followers were saying,” I remember him saying. “I told them they really need to respond to these people, this is what social media is all about.”

Not all of his assumptions about social and business were on, but he hit the nail on the head with this comment. Customers don’t go to social media to be marketed to. They go to interact with their friends and fans.

Late last year, I concluded a research project meant to assess whether 14 of the nation’s top brands have responded to such expectations on social media. The experiment dubbed “The Great Social Customer Service Race” involved tweeting brands such as Coca-Cola and Walmart every weekday for a month. We measured the percent of total tweets they responded to, and the speed of their response for messages that did receive a response.

We sent these messages from four different personal Twitter accounts. Questions were designed specifically to prompt a response. These ranged from “urgent” queries – or messages sent at the point of purchase decision – to negative feedback either addressed directly to the brand, or just with the brand name and no @ symbol.

The infographic here shows the results of the race. Additionally, we picked up a few best practices companies can use to improve their social response. Those are also outlined below.



Listen for Brand Name With or Without the @. Less than eight percent of responses came during the weeks when an @ was not used. The failure of brands to respond to negative, positive or other important tweets leaves a bad impression on the customer and anyone who follows them. Listening for these conversations also presents unique opportunities to surprise and delight the customer.


Important Keyword Triggers are Your Friend. When we designed questions for the race, we specifically included questions with important intent, sentiment or risk of switching brands. Social listening software can be programmed to send service messages to the front of the line if they contain keywords such as “help,” “mad,” “thank you.” These rules are imperative for brands that need to automate tweet prioritization.


Keep the Customer Informed. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s committed huge errors when two of their replies came several days after the questions were sent. For the instant-gratification customer, this is the same as not responding at all. One way your company can streamline social customer service is by integrating listening software with help desk ticketing programs. This enables users to automatically convert a tweet into a ticket, then mark it as open, resolved or waiting a response.


Capitalize on Customer Service for Marketing. Social should not be separated exclusively in marketing, or community management or customer service. You need to look at the bigger picture. In our credit card group, MasterCard earned special recognition by capitalizing on an opportunity to market a customer service interaction. When one of our participants asked whether the credit card is accepted globally, the MasterCard team responded and re-tweeted her message. In another instance, MasterCard used the customer service opportunity to pitch our Twitter participant a new product.


About Ashley Verrill
Ashley Verrillis a market analyst with Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.