The importance of structure in Social Media interactions with customers

Research into customers’ expectations when it comes to interacting with firms on social media reveals a strong preference for formal exchanges. This finding may be puzzling, given the very informal nature of interactions on social media. Though, it mirrors the findings from research looking at offline interactions between customers and firms.

There is also a documented link between the purpose of the interaction and the behavioural expectations of social media users. The dominant drivers for interacting with firms on social media are to solve problems and to obtain relevant information [see slide 30 of this presentation]. Approaching social media presence in a structured way maximises the likelihood that customers’ will, indeed, get the high value content they want.

By ‘structured interactions’ we mean exchanges that follow an organised set of rules regarding who can participate and how. So what aspects did participants in our study mention?

gamingThe 3 elements of a structured approach to social media interactions are:

  1. A clear process for dealing with enquiries
  2. Clear responsibility for monitoring and responding to customers’ comments
  3. Multichannel integration


Let’s look at each element in turn:

    1. There is a process for dealing with users’ comments and requests

Respondents appreciated knowing how their comment would be dealt with, including who would be dealing with it and when.

Time was often mentioned in our interviews. It was not so much about particular lengths of time (though these were mentioned, too), but rather consistency in the response. This consistency was both in relation to past experience (e.g., I usually get an answer back in one hour), and in terms of expectations (e.g., They promised customer service would get back to me within 24 hours, and they did, even though it was an weekend).

    1. Someone has been clearly assigned the role of monitoring social media interactions

Examples mentioned in our study included the existence of a community manager or social media team, and employees identifying themselves by name and/role.

    1. The social media channel is integrated with other communication channels

Even though the initial contact may take place via social media, this may not be the most effective way to continue the conversations. Other means mentioned included links to websites where a form could be filled, e-mail exchanges and telephone (toll free numbers). This link documents a great example of integration across channels and geographic locations.


In summary, while interactions on social media may be generally characterised by informal interactions, when it comes to interactions between firms and customers there is no room for amateurism: firms need to have clear, multichannel strategies in place to respond to customers’ comments.


Do these findings reflect your own expectations and experiences?

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