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October 6th, 2011

Social Media and Response Times; Planning and Expectations

One of the major portions of all of our social media programs is monitoring and response. A significant question we always face is: how soon does the company respond via social media channels? What window do we have?

This question came up in this past week’s mini-flap over Ragu spaghetti sauce and one blogger’s calling them out on stereotyping dads in a campaign promoted on social media channels. Stepping away from the issues of the campaign itself, the reaction to it, and who was right/wrong/indifferent, reaction time was definitely a factor, and a perceived slow response fanned the critical flames.

What do we consider with clients regarding response time? Here are several of the factors:

Platform: Platforms like Twitter are momentary, creating expectations of immediate response. A blog? Less so, perhaps. Facebook might be somewhere in the middle, but truly it depends on the use and types of content used. Which leads us to:

Types of content: Planned content has its own shelf life, though much of it has an “evergreen” nature that might (everything is dependent on circumstances) label it as “less urgent” for response. However, are you talking mostly about today’s news or events? Are you concentrating n the moment or the larger trends? How you approach the content dictates your own urgency, and signals the same to the audience.

Also to consider: context. Context is difficult to express in shorter-form platforms, like Twitter. Think hard about wording and how it may be construed; be prepared to provide context in the form of links and follow-on postings.

Crisis response: We come full circle here, as much of crisis response is determining where- what platforms- people will turn to discuss- or create- a crisis for the company. Twitter seems obvious, again because of its fleeting nature, but the origin could be anywhere. Crises are independent of planned content (or any plans), so being able to control when you respond is much harder to do.

The staffing question: The reality is that it is possible to create so many outposts that a company may need an army to monitor and respond, between internal staff and consultants/agencies. Outside of that, the 24/7 reality of the web raises the specter of “always on” monitoring. For customer service, that may already be built in. For public relations? Likely not. So what to do?

Getting ahead of expectations: Setting response expectations is key (though not foolproof, as in the case of a crisis). The platforms you choose and the type of content you design are passive keys, but the audience will often devise their own means of expression where you do not provide them. The more proactive you can be, however, the more you can head off grumpy online confrontations. My favorite example, is that of Vistaprint. When we interviewed Jeff Esposito, Vistaprint’s PR Manager, for our Conversations with Community Managers podcast, he told us of one interesting thing they do; they post “office hours” on their Twitter page, letting people know it is manned at certain hours. Planning and taking the lead gives one more control over expectations.

Perhaps some people look for a simple answer to these questions, but there are too many factors, and every company- and every company’s communications plan- is different. How do you view response times in social media?

About the Author
Doug Haslam is a Supervisor on the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing client programs and developing strategy. In addition to Voce Nation, Doug writes his own personal blog and you can find him on Twitter as @dough.

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Add Your Comment1 Response to “Social Media and Response Times; Planning and Expectations”

Danny Brown on October 6th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Great points, Doug, and ones that everyone needs to take into consideration.

There are way too many reasons for time and response to make a “Well, if Brand X doesn’t reply in this amount of time, they’re useless and don’t understand” statement.

Locale; legal issues based on where the crisis is; approval from various departments that will have to deal with the response and what might come back; importance and reach of complaint and is it a valid one, etc.

Thanks for adding a sensible addition to the debate.