New research from Auros, which investigated how the top 25 UK online retailers are handling social media, has found that most organisations are using social media, but very few are using it effectively.

Whilst adoption rates for Twitter and Facebook are 80% and 72% respectively, a significantly smaller portion – as low as 25% on Twitter – are actively building customer relationships via these sites. On Twitter, not one of the retailers studied followed the ‘testers’ on Twitter, even after active attempts on the part of the ‘customer’ to develop a relationship and shift the communication to direct messaging!

The research found that companies remained fairly uninterested in engaging with their customers on Twitter. Only 25% responded to a question directed to them; 20% responded to a negative comment and only 10% responded to a positive comment.

This is supported by recent research conducted at the Genesys Social Media and Customer Services Summit which found that 72% of delegates had not yet integrated social media into their business’ customer service operations. With 16% of dissatisfied customers already taking to the Internet to vent about negative customer service interactions, retailers cannot sit back and just let it happen.

Social media is now etched into society. Customers no longer see the mere existence of a brand’s Facebook or Twitter account as compelling. Its true value lies in the ability for companies to engage in meaningful, public interactions with their customers.

Social media provides an unparalleled word-of-mouth opportunity, and companies that want to capitalise on this should be doing everything in their power to mobilise their most loyal customers. Customers should be able to engage with companies, discuss their experiences directly with the brand, see their questions, concerns, complaints and praises get publicly acknowledged and resolved.

So open a Twitter account and a Facebook page by all means. But then:

  • Listen to your customers
  • Prioritise those customers based on their influence in the social space
  • Engage with them effectively and in the correct media channel, so you deal with problems and promote evangelists
  • Integrate social media effectively across the enterprise to resolve issues and learn from them

Those retailers who are not properly responding to customers via social media are effectively saying ‘we don’t care about building a relationship with our customers’. But the customer is in a more and more powerful driving seat, so retailers must use social networks to get closer to them. The benefits will be huge: they will significantly increase brand advocacy and improve the customer experience.