Using social media poorly can do more damage to a brand than not using it at all, according to marketers on a panel held by hosting and colocation firm, UKFast.
Critical to an effective social media presence is being available to communicate with customers at all hours, the panellists said during the event at the company's office in Manchester.
"If you don't respond straight away, you will lose custom[ers]," said Kate Cargill, sales and marketing manager at the Hard Rock Café.
UKFast CEO, Lawrence Jones, agreed 24/7 social presence is a must."If we were to log off, we would not be able to provide the great customer care that we pride ourselves on," he said.
Companies that do not proactively monitor social media reveal their customer service flaws for all to see, said Heather Baker, managing director for digital agency, TopLine Communications.
"Social media is exposing gaps in customer service - legacy brands that have always got away with poor customer service are still trying to do that, but the way social media is going it is going to cause them to struggle to keep it up," she said.
Kate Joynes-Burgess, head of digital at public relations firm Weber Shandwick, said brands must never neglect social media as a channel.
"You are so conspicuous by your absence on social media," she said. "Even if you're managing customer service though different channels you have to report back to the community that you are sorting problems out."
Businesses should devote resources to social media to meet the task, said James Dempster, managing director at marketing and PR agency, Cobb Healthcare.
"Social media encourages people who don't like 'face to face' to give instant feedback, but you can't afford to switch off from it," he said.
To determine how best to focus social media resources, companies should study their customers, said Nick Edell, head of digital studio at Hill & Knowlton.
"I did some research for a client recently, and found the majority of their Facebook posts happened between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.," he said. "They were targeting an age group of between 14 and 18, so at that time the majority of those people would either be in school or in bed. Unsurprisingly, their social media had very low engagement rates."
Companies should show as much care on social media as they would on other customer channels, said Leanne Forshaw-Jones, managing director of PR consultancy LFJPR.
"There is a fear within brands, that have had their own model of customer service for so long, about moving it online," she said.
"But if you simplify it and say the formula is still the same, the relationship and outcome is the same but you're dealing with it in a different way, they'll soon realise they need to invest in a customer service team that works purely on social media."
"Companies are covering their ears and thinking the conversion just isn't happening. They should embrace it - it's better to be there, using it and to be in control of it."
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