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We’ve already examined how to offer social support through online discussion communities, but now it’s time to explore the second part of this customer satisfaction puzzle: social media support. Support interactions through social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, etc., can play an important role in providing the level of support your customers have come to expect from you and your business. 

Do We Really Need Social Media Support?

In our recently conducted Social Support Survey, 40% of companies who responded are currently offering some method of social media support, and that number has gone down since last year’s survey, in which 46% of companies were offing social media support. When I looked into why this might be the case, the companies I spoke with felt that the volume of customer inquiries they received through social media channels was so low that it was no longer worth continuing the effort.

While I understand the need to consolidate resources, I suggest that you continue to provide at least some level of social media support or listening in order to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction across the board. If customer inquiries made through social media go left unanswered, this can cause a bigger problem for your organization in the long run. At the very least, continue to survey customers about their expectations for social media support, and if demand begins to rise, you will need to take action.

Building A Case: Social Media Monitoring

In order to build a case for continuing to provide social media support, here’s an example scenario common in the consumer world to consider:

A customer calls and is told the wait time for speaking with a representative will be over an hour. From here, the customer might attempt to contact your company directly, and publicly, via Twitter with their question. This public outreach has the potential to be used to express their dissatisfaction and exasperation with your service. If no one is able to diffuse the situation by providing them with a direct line of contact, it could be seen as your company ignoring its customers, and damage the public perception of your organization.

What reputation does your company currently project through social media? The answer to this can be found through what’s referred to as social media listening, or social media monitoring, where you keep tabs on what is being said about your company and products in these public channels. Someone from your organization needs to not only listen to the public perception of your company, but also be on the receiving end of these inquiries in order to provide a solution. How your company responds, and the time it takes, can make or break your reputation.

Social Media Platforms

Twitter is definitely the most popular social media channel, with YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ following close behind. Many organizations are investing the majority of their time in LinkedIn because it has an older and more professional audience, and that is where their primary audience is. For companies currently offering some sort of support via social media channels, here is a chart showing which channels they are using, as well as channels they plan to invest in later this year.

social media use  

(Click image to enlarge.)
This chart shows the most commonly used social media platforms.

However, if your support team were to ask your marketing department where their company has the biggest presence, the answer would most likely be Twitter. Almost all companies, large or small, will typically have someone within their PR department who is responsible for managing their Twitter account and sending out periodic tweets. There’s probably some buzz going around your products online, so it's up to you to listen, which goes back to my previous point of social media monitoring. Even if you’re not supporting customers on social media and are not willing to take the chance, you at least owe it to yourself to listen in through these channels to see what people are saying about your company and adjust as needed.

Ownership of Social Media Management

In our survey, I asked companies how their social media support program began. These were the most common responses:

  • Social savvy employees initiated conversations with customers talking about support issues via social media channels.
  • Our executives asked us to implement a social media support program.
  • Marketing started using social media, and they route us support-related issues.

Regarding the first answer, trends have shown that younger ages groups within an organization are more likely to be very active on social media and familiar with not only operation, but also proper etiquette. This is a good point to keep in mind when it comes to developing your social media strategy and choosing who manages your social media support channels. If you have someone within your company who is already familiar and comfortable with social media, they could be appointed with the duty of monitoring incoming customer inquiries and responding accordingly.

social media use by age group  

(Click image to enlarge.)
Social media use by age group based on responses from our 2014 Social Support Survey.

However, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: your organization should use caution and include your marketing and public relations department in crafting any customer-facing messages, especially on social media and online discussion communities. Negative publicity can spread like wildfire, and an errant tweet from a support tech that lacks the crafted finesse your PR team strives to maintain can go viral in a matter of minutes.  

More on the Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media

To learn more about the above concepts as well as other strategies for providing social support, be sure to listen to my on-demand webinar “The State of Social Support: 2015”.

I also encourage you to check out the book “How Companies Succeed in Social Business” by Shawn Santos, who originally initiated social support here at TSIA. It covers real-world success and horror stories about social support and includes examples provided by TSIA member companies, including Adobe, Cisco Systems, and Oracle, just to name a few. I’ve also contributed a chapter on the state of enterprise social technical support. It’s a great way to learn how to take an OK social support program and make it fantastic.

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John Ragsdale

About Author John Ragsdale

John Ragsdale is a distinguished researcher and the vice president of technology ecosystems for TSIA. His area of expertise is in creating strategies for improving the service operations and overall customer experience by leveraging innovative technology. John works closely with TSIA’s partner ecosystem, identifying leading and emerging technology vendors whose products help solve the key business challenges faced by TSIA members. He is also author of the book, Lessons Unlearned, which chronicles his 25-year career inside the customer service industry.

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