A third of Brits would complain about poor service on social media. As part of The Drum's social media supplement, Ishbel Macleod looks into the importance of responding to customers and how brands handle social.Gone are the days when the only way to complain about a product or service received was to write a letter or make a phone call. Now, it is so much easier to complain, and make your complaint public, on social media. With 31 per cent of Brits saying that they would complain about bad customer service on social media, it is important that brands not only know how to run campaigns, but they know what to do if something goes wrong. Maeve O’Sullivan, content director for social agency Headstream, the company behind the Social Brands 100, says: “Brands that have ignored the potential of social media for customer service may have already been left behind. Customers are no longer willing to navigate endless ‘press one for...’ telephone systems or to wait several days for an email. They often want to tweet questions and post complaints on Facebook and they want to be treated in a respectful, transparent, authentic manner.” She suggests that the good news is that scores were generally higher for customer support metrics in Social Brands 100 2013, suggesting that companies do understand the benefits of using social media for customer service. “Getting this aspect of social media right is important for any business but an overly customer service-oriented approach isn’t necessarily going to build a loyal community. For that, a brand needs content – a word that may now be an essential part of ‘buzzword bingo’, but its importance can’t be underestimated. “If a brand can keep customers happy when they’ve got a problem and overlay that with a compelling content strategy rooted in company values, it’ll win fans in the short term but will ultimately build a loyal and engaged community of advocates,” she adds. Recent research from social media analytics company Socialbakers found that in Q1 of this year, 1.2m questions were asked by the fans of brands on Facebook, an increase of 30 per cent from Q4 of 2012, with 744,000 of these being answered. In terms of Twitter, Socialbakers’ Socially Devoted report found that Tesco UK came out on top, answering 65 per cent of user questions in an average of 81 minutes. This is something that Tesco is clearly looking to build on, with sister brand Tesco Mobile recently unveiling a new Twitter personality, with less of a corporate edge. The aim of the change was to both satisfy existing customers, while reaching a new audience, by encouraging the people behind the social platforms to use words and phrases that normally wouldn’t be used on the phone. Francis Burns, account director at digital agency Jam, was responsible for this change. Burns explains: “We’d had just over a year of supporting customers in social under our belt and now we could have some fun with our customers by tapping into the natural pride that the team has for Tesco Mobile and using it to show that there’s nothing funny about Tesco Mobile. “Our content strategy set out comprehensive guidelines on how to respond to different queries, and really helped the community managers be more creative in their replies. As long as it feels authentic, both to the brand and to the consumer, it’s a story people will want to engage with. That’s true brand advocacy.” This tactic has been used by other brands in the market, with telecoms brand O2 being a key example. As well as getting in a ‘rap battle’ with Tesco Mobile, the O2 Twitter account also hijacked a picture tweeted by Innocent Smoothies to fit its ‘be more dog’ campaign. Innocent is another such brand which uses a less formal tone, but strongly engages with customers. Joe McEwan, communities manager at Innocent, explains this reflects the company’s internal ethos. “The way we talk on Twitter is born of the way we talk to each other around Fruit Towers, which is a pretty relaxed and informal place to work. Ultimately it’s a stunted, 140 character limited extension of the same tone of voice we use to communicate on our packaging, in our meetings and when we meet our consumers. So we talk as we would normally, as ourselves, with a natural, honest and (hopefully) engaging tone that tells it like it is without getting us fired.” Online food ordering brand Eat24 prides itself on a humorous approach. Nadav Sharon, CEO and co-founder of Eat24, says: “Customer service is the heart and soul of Eat24.com. We have 24/7 live chat support to deal with any issue that may come up, but some people feel more comfortable talking to us on Facebook or Twitter, and we’re totally fine with that. It’s our policy to respond to everything – every request, every comment, and every shout out is answered. We encourage people to keep talking to us on social media, whether it’s positive or negative. Each interaction with a customer is a chance for us to learn and get even better.” No matter the tone of voice or approach taken to social media, one thing that is truly important is responding. Social is a two-way channel, and must be taken this way. With NewVoiceMedia figures from May showing that businesses are losing £12bn a year because of poor customer service, this is something companies must address. This article first appeared in The Drum's August social media supplement.