Companies with a Twitter or Facebook presence still need to respond better to customer concerns expressed through social media, or risk alienating customers.
By 2014, customers will expect firms to interact through social media in much the same way that they expect companies to be contactable by phone and email at the moment, analyst Gartner has claimed.
"For organisations that use social media to promote their products, responding to inquiries via social media channels will be the new minimum level of response expected," Gartner said in a statement.
Around 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a social-media presence; however, of these, only around 50 percent engage with customers, Gartner senior research analyst Jenny Sussin told ZDNet.
"Customers are now seeing businesses on Facebook and Twitter... a problem is [firms] not knowing what to do once they are there," she said.
While companies promote their brand through a third-party site such as Facebook, they tend to engage in marketing and customer services activities on a product-by-product basis. And when customers want to make a complaint, they often want to address the corporate entity, rather than the individual product customer service, Sussin said.
Organisations need to set up processes to deal with comments in a logical manner, said Sussin, including tracking complaints.
Weeding through comments
But not all comments made via social media are relevant, according to Gartner analyst Carol Rozwell. Firms need to develop a process to decide whether to respond to comments, and whether any action is needed, she said.
"If a comment is clearly inflammatory and unsolvable, it is usually best not to respond at all," Gartner said in its statement. "However, if a person is an existing customer logging a harsh but legitimate complaint, the issue must be addressed publicly, promptly and within the same media it was made."
Companies should log relevant complaints, and follow them up within the organisation, Rozwell added.
Small businesses in the US are more agile in using social media than larger corporations, as people tend to know each other.
Nevertheless, despite the potential reach of services such as Facebook and Twitter, small businesses in the UK are not satisfied with how they are engaging with customers through social media, according to separate research by marketing company Constant Contact. It found that around one quarter of UK small businesses use Facebook to market their organisations, but more than one-third said it has not helped their business.