Social media has undeniably changed the way brands and customers communicate. Over the past few years, we’ve seen how consumers changed to use Facebook and Twitter as their primary means of communicating with businesses.

As the number of consumer-brand interactions grows and moves past traditional phone and email into social media and mobile, businesses must adjust their strategies to accommodate that shift. Unfortunately, that’s not happening fast enough.

Looking at newly-released data from The Sprout Social Index, it’s clear that the current status quo of silence and slow response from brands won’t be tolerated much longer. Here are some of the challenges businesses are currently facing and tips on how to overcome them.

Changing Scope of Social Customer Service

Whether a customer wants to resolve an issue, lodge a complaint, or learn hours of operation, social networks are the new first point of contact. People want real engagement and answers from the companies they follow on social media. As such, the number of messages to brands that require a response have increased a full 100 percent in the last year.

And while it’s clear that businesses are replying quicker — response time has increased five percent in the past 12 months — not every customer is receiving a response. In Q2 2013, response rate was at 21.9 percent; however, that figure has dropped to 17.3 percent in Q2 2014. That means that five out of six messages that require a response aren’t being answered by brands.

Instead, customers are being ignored because social teams are not equipped to handle the increased demand. In turn, some customers might look elsewhere for support and receive incorrect information. Others might view your silence as an opportunity to test out a competitor. In either case, by having a poor response rate, you’re taking a huge risk that could potentially result in the loss of customers.

Participate Across Your Organization

In order to be successful you must employ good social listening and engagement practices that go beyond just watching your mentions and comments. You can’t assume that everyone who has a question will tag you in their posts — because they won’t. You have to be proactive and look for mentions of your brand or products that aren’t directly addressing you and interject in conversations when it’s appropriate.

Never Miss an Opportunity

It doesn’t get easier than this. In the example above, the person trying to make a purchase decision tweeted both brand’s handles in hopes of getting feedback. He’s obviously looking for input and made it incredibly easy for both brands to get involved. Either company could have provided more information about their respective products. However, by not doing so, it’s possible that they both lost a sale.

Here’s a good example of why social listening must go beyond brand mentions. The consumer tweeting here didn’t use Twitter handles like our friend above, but instead used product names. By employing good social listening techniques, the companies behind the products could have seen the tweet and jumped at the opportunity to get involved in the purchase decision.

Additionally, you must be prepared and willing to respond quickly and specifically to each individual message. While inbound messages are on the rise and can be increasingly difficult to manage, it is an extremely important aspect of social customer care — and one that involves more than just your marketing team. For example, customer service can resolve issues while preventing customers from venting their frustration with the brand online, while HR and talent teams can respond to career inquiries and showcase team culture.

JetBlue undoubtedly receives tons of requests for supported locations, but that doesn’t stop the brand from welcoming the feedback. In this example, JetBlue wastes no time replying to Laura (the company replied a minute after the original tweet was sent) and even acknowledged her by name. It’s a nice personal touch that goes a long way on social media.

Social listening and responding can also help your product development teams learn what people like or dislike about your product. This is an opportunity to hear unbaised, unfiltered opinions and to publicly — or individually through DMs and private messages — address pain points, collect more specific feedback, and demonstrate to customers that your company is committed to them.

Before launching an expanded social listening strategy, make sure that you have sufficient staff to meet your goals. Although you can make significant headway with even the smallest of teams, collecting social insights can return a lot of actionable data. Acting on that data requires time, energy and team bandwidth. Whether you have a team of two or twenty, set clear goals on what you hope to achieve, set roles and responsibilities and create a plan of action plan.

For more insight into which industries are receiving the most inbound messages requiring attention, and to learn how responsive and timely each industry is, download The Sprout Social Index. Knowing where you and your competitors stand can help shift your social media efforts so you’re better prepared to tackle the increased pace and volume of social messaging.