Brands are ignoring advice offered by consumers on Twitter and Facebook, according to a YouGov survey released today that was commissioned by social media monitoring company Brandwatch.

Social media platforms have quickly grown as the place where consumers like to vent their spleen or take brands to task when they feel that something is not right. But it’s not all whining for the sake of it.

The online study, which questioned over 2,000 British consumers on brand interaction, found that half of respondents actually complain because they want companies to learn from their mistakes. If you’re faced with the wrath of angry consumers this might not be your first reaction, but there’s some method in the madness.

The study found that contrary to the idea that  people complain on these platforms to publicly embarrass brands, only 17 per cent said they take their qualms online for this reason.

The survey ran in conjunction with the Customer Service Index (CSI) 2012, Brandwatch’s annual report into social media customer service. Unfortunately it seems that learning is slow with many brands and they’re just not picking up the pace with online social interaction.

The CSI 2012 study found that although brands have had a year to learn from the lessons offered by social media feedback, customer satisfaction levels still have not improved. Only three of the 40 brands analysed emerged with a score above zero – indicating that their customer service experience was successful overall. Just over half of all customer service experiences were classified as negative.

Everyday’s a school day

From the results of the survey, it looks as though there are some clear lessons to be learned. Over a third of online respondents who interact with brands on the internet do so to complain. That’s a large enough response which might encourage brands to consider the size a social media team and the type of training they have.

44% of respondents who interact with brands on the internet use online interactions to request information. This either means the information is not clear or easy to find or that there is a percentage of this survey that didn’t necessarily look too closely.

Over a quarter of UK adults online share information about things they buy online. This could turn out to be a loyal customer base with the right management. Engaging with positive reviews can go a long way to help brand reputation.

Almost one fifth of UK adults online discuss what they think about brands. Again this is a neat way to tap into sentiment and work out better social marketing strategies.

“Some people just love to complain – you can’t get away from that fact. But what our results also show is that consumers are sharing information via social media because they genuinely want brands to be better at what they do. The problem comes when brands think they know best. They’re behaving a bit like teenagers, and being too petulant to actually see what’s in front of them,” said Giles Palmer, Founder and CEO of Brandwatch.

Those are hard words, but brands who make a meal of engagement online can reap far more damage than good. Listening to responses can create a much better service all round and lead to the good things like customer retention and a good reputation.

Not where, but how

Having a social media presence these days really isn’t enough. It’s no longer a matter of where you are but how you work there that is important. As Palmer explains, “Speed isn’t enough. Too often, when faced with a negative comment brands are too quick to ping back an automated message. Perhaps this is the industry’s fault for placing too much emphasis on speed of response. It’s not about speed: it’s about understanding what your customers are taking the time to tell you, learning lessons, and acting on this feedback.”

All of which might sound like a hard task for social media managers facing a large group of customers seeking attention. But if social media is to live up to its name, then social etiquette is required. In a face-to-face conversation, an automated response would not be acceptable, so a little conversation, though time-consuming, really can go a long way.

Image Credit: NinaKSimon