Earlier this month Sprout Social unveiled #BePresent — a free social media engagement report for brands using Twitter. Regardless of industry, your customers are already utilizing social channels like Twitter to talk about you, and being present to take part in the conversation is necessary.

To help brands and social media or community managers accomplish that, our free report tracks four important metrics: response rate, average response time, percentile ranking, and industry rates and times. This not only gives you a realistic portrait of how you’re performing, but it also provides you with actionable data in each of these metrics.

Last week, we broke down what each of these metrics mean, and today we’re taking a deeper look at response rate.

Response Is Critical

Social media adoption among consumers has skyrocketed over the past few years — in fact, 67 percent of Internet users are now on social networks. The advancement of technology has forced brands to get more personal and develope stronger relationships with customers online. Consumers are turning to social media to interact with the people behind the brands and products they love. Just as with any relationship, a failure to communicate can make it feel pretty one-sided, ultimately leading to a break-up.

People often talk about the power of listening and how social media enables you to be a part of the conversation happening around your brand. But listening is only one half of the equation; the other is engaging. Responding quickly and specifically to your audience is just as important as listening. Platforms like Twitter have given you the opportunity to lead that conversation and take control of your brand’s image. Not participating allows customers to control your image in a way that could be negative.

“The companies that engage customers on Twitter and Facebook within minutes are making a none-too-subtle statement about their embrace of the social telephone and the primacy of the customer,” stated Jay Baer, a social media and content strategist. “In comparison, slow responses or no response produces a decided ‘meh’ vibe.”

Silence Leads to Losing Customers

In reality, it’s nearly impossible to keep everyone happy, and platforms like Twitter are a first point of complaint for many disgruntled customers. Thanks to social media’s real-time attributes, response time expectations have become even more demanding, as is evident from the data in 2012’s 4th-quarter The Social Habit research report.

Among the respondents who have ever attempted to contact a brand, product, or company through social media for customer support, 32 percent expect a response within 30 minutes. To add to the pressure, 24 percent expect a reply within 30 minutes regardless of when the contact was made — meaning the same response time is expected at night and on the weekends as during normal business hours.

While some of these expectations might seem a little unrealistic, the fact of the matter is that this is what your customers are looking for. If ignored, some might turn elsewhere for support and get incorrect information. Others might turn to competitors, resulting in the loss of customers. And if disgruntled customers turn to Twitter to air grievances with your brand, it could lead to the loss of many customers.

We’re not saying that if you don’t reply to your customer within 30 minutes that all hope is lost — it’s not. According to a Harris survey, 18 percent of people who posted negative reviews and received a reply went on to become loyal customers. In fact, 70 percent went on to reverse the negative content either by deleting it or posting a second positive one. This data reflects the importance of acting, not just listening.

Be Present, Be Active

Although your current team might not be prepared for around-the-clock monitoring, there are tools that can help make the process more manageable. First, it’s important to know where your performance stands currently. This includes your response rate and average response time, both of which are included in our #BePresent reports.

In the report, we will list the number of important messages that came in, and the number of those you responded to within an appropriate time. Ideally, this number should be 100% of the time for just about any business. Your report will also display average response time as well as percentile ranking so you can see how you’re performing compared to your competitors.

You can generate and download your free #BePresent report by heading to mustbepresent.com. And if you find our report to be useful, give Sprout Social a try to manage your social media. It offers many more features to help you measure your success and manage your team’s social media conversations with customers.

[Image credit: Garry KnightHoward LakeAlexandre Normand]