Avoid ad-hoc management of social media

According to a recent study from analyst firm Gartner, at least 35 percent of customer service centers will have some form of social media capability by 2013, according to CEPro.

According to a recent study from analyst firm Gartner, at least 35 percent of customer service centers will have some form of social media capability by 2013, according to CEPro.

Social media networks have become an increasingly popular outlet for consumers to share issues, complaints and praise. Utilizing this resource effectively can positively impact overall brand sentiment, gain new clients, retain old ones and increase future sales. However, CMO.com notes that if you're unable to successfully engage fans and followers in a two-way conversation, your brand could suffer.

The damaging effects of negative customer reviews on social media outlets can be far-reaching. The speed and accessibility of today's technology means negative feedback can be spread like a virus across thousands of other newsfeeds or from follow-up comments if not dealt with immediately.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the main issue surrounding many businesses - they aren't quick to respond to user complaints on outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, decreasing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Specifically, a recent Conversocial study found that many major U.S. stores' social media pages are going unmonitored, as 64 percent of issues in the study's sample went unanswered.

Stores like Costco, Kroger and Kmart failed to respond to any user issues on their pages, while Walmart didn't respond to 41 percent of page comments.

Conversely, Sears and Safeway responded with the most speed, answering questions within 30 minutes at 57 percent and 40 percent clips, respectively.

By actively responding, these brands avoid negative PR and publicly show off how caring and effective their customer service actually is. They'll also gain positive publicity from happy consumers expressing their gratitude on Facebook walls for all fans to see.

Certain big-name brands handle social media-based customer service issues better than others.

For instance, CEPro notes that Apple doesn't have an official Twitter account to handle complaints, but has instead created an online community forum (called Support Communities) for all Apple users to voice their gripes. This allows consumers to advise others on Apple-related questions, and offers profile pages, the ability to "like" an answer and earn status credentials for the best responses.

"By incorporating elements that incentivize participation in social care, Apple is allowing consumers to support each other in the social platform of their preference," the news source notes.

Meanwhile, Best Buy's Twelpforce is a team specifically dedicated to answering Twitter inquiries.