Why is it so hard to respond on social media?

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

Twenty percent of brands don’t respond at all to customers on social media, according to this PR Daily article from July 2014. That’s better than the 70 percent cited in this 2011 Convince and Convert article.

Responding to people sounds easy in theory. Somebody says something to us, we respond. We do it all the time in offline. Even for big companies with call centers, for many, at some point, callers can at least get somebody on the line – even if we have to push five gazillion numbers and the person has to transfer you. At the very least our presence was acknowledged.

On social media, many times over people tweet at brands to complain, offer feedback or to ask a question. And the response is … no response. Silence. Sometimes a brand responds days later, which is slightly better than silence.

So what’s going on and what can brands do about it? Here are some potential scenarios with the barriers and potential solutions. If you are facing a different issue feel free to contact me here, and I will try to add a solution.

Scenario 1

The barrier: Being responsive or unresponsive on social media can often be traced back to it being nobody’s job. The person in charge of social media is also in charge of 15 other things, and social media was just added last year. So it comes last in the priorities.

The solution: Make social media somebody’s priority. Preferably, somebody who wants to do it and remember that this is not an unpaid summer intern position – though interns certainly can help. This needs to be led by somebody who can make decisions.

Scenario 2

The barrier: Endless approval processes. Some organizations are so used to traditional marketing brochures that are passed around for editing, feedback, etc., and that don’t get send to the printer until everyone has initialed a list. If we do this same process with social media, things take forever to get published – if ever.

The solution: Cut down who needs to see social updates or responses before they get published. Some simple responses to users shouldn’t need to be send through a lengthy approval process.


Scenario 3

The barrier: Rewrites make the update too long. Your social media guy or gal wrote an awesome Tweet. They even left some room to allow others to easily retweet it. But when it was sent to higher ups for approval, they rewrote it and made it longer – too long.

The solution: Remind people who demand being involved in the editing process about the character limit. Another option could be to show it to them in person. That would allow the social media person to talk about any possible changes.

Scenario 4

The barrier: Over-thinking it. Depending on your industry there might be legal reasons to use one word over another or to not say one thing or another. But that shouldn’t be an excuse to over-think it to the point of not participating.

The solution: Limit the number of people who have to approve responses that need approval. Empower front front-line employees to respond right now.


Responding on social media can help us build a following of customers who are also our advocates and fans. They feel connected to us because we respond to them in a timely fashion and at least try to solve their problems.

Let me give you the example of airlines. American Airlines, United and Delta all do a decent job of responding on social media. When I have to communicate with either of them, I usually just Tweet at them. They even follow me – and I follow them – so we can send each other direct messages. When I Tweet at them, they typically respond quickly, within minutes – sometimes seconds.

It’s doable, so what are some of us waiting for?


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