If you think you're seeing more and more brand interactions on your social feeds, it's not your imagination. According to a recent report by social media management tool Sprout Social, the number of social media messages customers send to brands has increased by 77 percent since 2013.
"The general volume of social [messages] increased, and that's not surprising," said Andrew Caravella, vice president of marketing at Sprout Social. "What is surprising is how many of those messages are inbound toward brands and how many require a response."
The 2014 Sprout Social Index found that the number of customer messages that need a response or issue resolution (i.e., questions about products or complaints about services) has doubled in the last year. The problem is, the rate at which brands respond to these messages has actually gone down: Five in six messages that need an answer from a brand never receive one. [For a side-by-side comparison of the best social media marketing services, visit our sister site Top Ten Reviews]
So why do businesses fail at giving customers the responses they need on social media? Caravella said that it's partly due to the overwhelming volume of responses, which may indicate that businesses simply don't have the right tools and resources in place to manage their social media activity. But he also noted that social networks weren't originally created with businesses in mind: Instead of just using social media for branding and marketing, companies now have to adapt and learn to use it for a number of other purposes.
"Social networks were built for personal use," Caravella said. "It's a relatively nascent channel [for businesses, and] it's changing and expanding into other areas of business — talent recruitment, customer care and service, etc. It's a big undertaking, [and] people want to get it right."
Based on the Sprout Social Index, Caravella offered the following tips for small businesses that want to boost their social media presence and keep up with the tidal wave of messages and mentions they receive.
Know your capabilities. Based on both your bandwidth and your available staff and time, conduct an internal social audit and understand what you're capable of, as well as your limitations. That way, you can determine how to best allocate your resources. It's better to have a very strong presence on two networks than a mediocre presence on four.
Focus on response rate and time. The companies that do social media best are the ones that make a concerted effort to engage with and address customer comments and questions that come through on their feeds. Depending on how many social interactions your business receives per day, it may be impossible to respond to each and every customer. But it's a good idea to get to as many as you can in a timely manner, whether the sentiment is positive or negative.
"People are on social media for recognition, [to know] that what they say matters," Caravella told Business News Daily. "People love when businesses acknowledge and recognize them, [whether with] a favorite, retweet or actual response."
Understand your customers. Pay close attention to the way your customers talk about your brand, whether it's directly to you or indirectly to their friends and followers. Knowing how your customers feel about you can help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses as a business — and better serve customers' needs on social media.
Don't get hung up on the numbers. Engagement rates, rather than follower count or number of "likes," are the hallmark of true social media success for today's brands. Caravella noted that businesses should focus more on improving engagement than upping the raw numbers.
"Growth comes organically, by having conversations, responding and being participatory," he said. "If you have a million followers and don't talk to them, [it's not effective]. If you have a thousand but build relationships with them, that's more useful."
Originally published on Business News Daily.