Sep 06, 2016 / by Jim Dougherty

Recently. Twitter introduced a feature that allows customers to send you direct messages directly from your site. Late last year, Facebook improved pages’ customer service tools and integrated customer service bots into its Messenger app.

Social customer service (sometimes referred to as “social care”) is often a customer expectation that we struggle to meet. And although Twitter and Facebook ultimately benefit from the resultant eyeballs these features drive to their platforms, so too do the businesses who use these platforms.

Clearly, the tools for customer service are changing: in fact there are far more “tools” on the market than you will ever use.

So, what is a communications or marketing professional to do?

What I want to do in this post is take a look at a few best practices intended to help you provide the best possible social customer service (tool agnostic).

1. You should have resources to support your customer service

For a traditional customer service operation, set-up is pretty clear-cut: decide how people will contact you and share contact details with your customers.

In the age of social media, it’s not enough to have a support number or an email. If a customer sees that you have a Facebook or Twitter page they may feel compelled to contact you there AND (spoiler alert) they want you to solve their problems / answer their questions.

How do you determine what types of resources you need? You may need to invest in some sort of CRM software. One of the benefits of the Cision Social Suite is the capability to do social listening and capture profiles across platforms.

Abandonment is often a problem with social care, where someone tweets or posts to you and you can’t follow up with them (presumably exacerbating any problems they had). A CRM tool can link a person’s email or phone number to their social profiles. making it easier to follow up.

Staffing is another important resource decision.

My family and I were traveling to a resort and had a question about the activities on the day that we arrived. I tweeted to ask about where I could find this information when we were on our airplane. They replied to my question the day after we left (seven days later).

Businesses feel compelled to have social media accounts, but may not have adequate resources to meet customer expectations for their social media.

If there are limitations to the hours that you provide social care, make that clear. Use autoresponders during off-hours and leverage this next tactic to graduate your social care customer to a more reliable communications platform.

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2. Convert social contacts to SMS or email

As I mentioned above, one of the big problems with social care is abandonment. This is partly because of how infrequently some people use social media for customer care, and partly because of the way social media platforms limit business utility to generate revenue.

For example, a person may tweet you to share a concern, but if they don’t follow you and haven’t opted in to receiving unsolicited DMs, you may have a hard time generating a conversation with them.

This is where email and SMS (text messages) can be useful.

Many people think of email and text as the cockroaches of digital communication, but they perform one-to-one (and one-to-many) communication more effectively than filtered social content. Of course, social media is both trendy and low-barrier-to-entry (customers would rather like you than share their phone number with you).

It’s important to understand why social fans are easier to get and why email or SMS subscribers are preferable to have.

One way to leverage this dynamic is to quickly move social care to an email or SMS conversation where:

  • You have direct, reliable communications with the customer
  • You’re not airing dirty laundry or concessions in a public forum
  • You can ask to contact the customer with future promotions

Amazon and Walgreens are two examples of businesses that do this transition to email skillfully.

3. Customers expect a near-immediate response


“Today, 39 percent of social media complainers who expect a reply want it to come within sixty minutes, yet the average response time from businesses is five hours.” – Jay Baer

That 60-minute statistic is the most recent quantification of people’s expectations for social care, but there are variations of that theme that have been around for many years. Furthermore, a joint study between Twitter and Applied Marketing Science says that faster responses on social media result in increased customer expenditure.

Bottom line: social customers want a fast response.

More important takeaways from Baer’s insights (in collaboration with Edison Research):

  • Half of email customer service is typically resolved in 24 hours, and customers are not pleased with the lag in response time
  • Just over 60% of social care complaints are resolved within 24 hours
  • Many social care complaints are never resolved or even addressed

Customers are dissatisfied with social care, but with so many options how do you know where to provide it?

4. You probably shouldn’t be doing customer service on a secondary network

What about upstart social networks such as Instagram or Snapchat? Should you be providing social care there in addition to more mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook?

When it comes to social care, customers are so dissatisfied with response times in general that your social care can be a mile wide and an inch deep or you can give your customers a more satisfying experience where most of them are reaching out.

Which isn’t to say that you couldn’t provide social care on a smaller platform, you would just have to be confident that complaints and concerns would go there as opposed to Facebook or Twitter.

According to Baer and Edison, 5% of social care happens on Instagram, so it may make sense for a few businesses to do IG customer service… but not everybody.

5. Same rules apply


In a recent Altimeter study of social customer care, they recommend the following:

  • Develop customer personas
  • Elaborate multiple plausible customer journeys
  • On-board employees to the program
  • Decide on channels for delivery

If this sounds familiar, it is. It is exactly what you would do if you were performing traditional customer service.

There is additional nuance to social care, but elementally social care is customer service. We are trying to find a way to address customer concerns in a mutually satisfying way. Social care is simply a newer model of customer service distribution… and one that companies (generally speaking) aren’t really good at yet.


Social care is a relatively new concept and the tools to provide social care change frequently. Should you try to embed Twitter messages on your site? Perhaps not if you can do the same thing with email. Should you focus on Snapchat for social care? Perhaps not if your response times lag on Facebook.

While the above best practices can get you started, you need to align your social care strategy with your customers’ needs. Pair these tactics with social media measurement to vet out the most satisfying ways to connect with customers.

Download our tip sheet The 9-Step Guide to Measuring Social ROI and learn how to improve future social media campaigns by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of current social efforts.

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About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.