Are You Losing Business on Twitter?

Our friends at Brandwatch recently performed an experiment to find out how well brands were doing on Twitter. Were they meeting their customers’ expectations? Or were they doing more harm than good?

The results were pretty staggering.

Here’s Iris from Brandwatch with insights into typical missed opportunities and advice on how we can all get better at winning over customers on Twitter.  

“Brands ignore 95% of all non-tagged complaints.”

With more than 284 million monthly active users, and more than 500 million tweets sent every day, it’s no surprise that brands are increasingly adopting Twitter into their social customer care.

Unfortunately, achieving customer success on Twitter requires more than claiming an account and chiming in the new web traffic. Even the world’s biggest brands have found themselves less successful than expected. 

For our study, our community management team sent more than 300 test tweets to around 100 of the world’s leading retail brands from the US and UK, then analyzed the results. We also gathered data using Brandwatch Analytics.

Test tweets from the Community Management team @Brandwatch

While some brands are quick to respond, there are still too many who remain silent!

Shockingly, only 47% of the major retail brands we analyzed respond to customers when @mentioned in a tweet, leaving more than half of all direct mentions ignored.

When targeted with a direct @question, two thirds of the brands replied, adequately meeting the demands of more than half of their customers. However, when those tweets @mentioning them came without posing a question, brands only responded 29% of the time. 

Complaints that mentioned a brand without tagging the brand’s Twitter handle received a response less than 5% of the time, ignoring 95% of all non-tagged complaints.

This to me is a clear sign that many of these leading retail brands are not adequately equipped to handle the incoming chatter.

“Brands fail to understand the ‘social’ part in ‘social media marketing’ and are missing out on opportunities to engage and build support amongst their online communities.”

This is crucial in a competitive retail environment where mainstream advertising practices are far less effective than social media marketing.


“1 out of 5 brands take between 4 - 24 hours to respond.”

Even though direct questions on Twitter were more likely to generate a response than general comments, the response time was much slower.

Our research found that companies in the UK tend to reply quicker than in the US. On average, US brands took over two and a half hours (157 minutes) to resolve direct questions, compared with a little under an hour to those that didn’t involve a question.

More than 20% of brands took between 4 hours and 24 hours to get back to a tweeter, with only 5% of the brands replying within 15 minutes.

Props to brands such as Best Buy, Nordstrom, Ocado, Macy’s, Sears and Schuh who all replied in no more than three minutes. These brands deal with hundreds of thousands of tweets per day.

Of all brands who responded to tweets, about half of them wrote an answer or requested more information, with about one third favoriting general tweets rather than replying.

A little over 30% of responses included a helpful web link, and under 15% used direct messages or gave out a customer service telephone number. In other words, very few brands attempted to move the conversation away from Twitter.


“72% of the consumers on Twitter expect a reply within an hour, regardless of when they tweeted.”

When looking back at response times, just 11.2% of the retail brands responded to questions within an hour. Lithium research shows that nearly three quarters of customers expect a tweet within that time frame.

If companies don’t meet these response expectations, 2 out of 5 tweeters feel more negative about the brand and 3 out of 5 will take unpleasant actions to express their dissatisfaction. When customer service goes bad, companies face horrible consequences.

Responses to Lithium study

Nearly a third of American internet users who have ever attempted to contact a brand's customer support on social media expect a response within 30 minutes, according to the Social Habit’s research.

However, our low figures show many retail brands are not living up to the standards that consumers expect.

Certainly, consumers understand that social media staffing patterns change throughout the day and in the weekends right? They don’t expect 24-hour support on Twitter from brands, do they?

Actually, they do.

Research shows that more than half expect the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours. Is your company prepared to handle social media inquiries within half an hour? Are you, really?

What brands can do to respond faster

For a social platform that demands immediacy, it’s clear that brands still have room to improve both the speed and quality of their responses to direct questions on Twitter.

Keeping a real-time search for your brand name open in Twitter or in your social listening tool is key to being a rapid responder. Don’t wait for customers to come to you. Set up saved searches for topics not just related to your brand, but also for tracking your campaigns, hashtags, products or anything else that’s related to you.


“Grasp the opportunity to turn a potential disgruntled customer into a loyal brand advocate.”

Show that you care. Find people talking about the topics that matter to you, regardless if they’re @-mentioning you or not.

Most social listening tools will have at the very least an alerts feature. Use it. It will notify you via email or product popups each time a mention is posted online that matches your keyword searches.

More sophisticated software will also allow you to create custom alerts that you can filter by influence or sentiment and send to multiple team members.

But there’s more you can do. Our team at social media analytics platform Brandwatch just launched a new product feature, Signals. It analyzes your data in real-time to automatically alert you via email when there have been significant changes, such as an increase in volume, a trending story or an influencer getting involved in the conversation.

The beauty of Signals is that you don't need to know what you're looking for. It unearths breaking stories you can't predict, based on a sophisticated automated intelligence system.


“Many times people are looking for an immediate solution to their problem on Twitter.”

The downfall of many businesses on social is that there’s no clarity on who’s in charge of answering customer requests. Should the support team be in charge, or the marketing team, or both?

If your customers contact you with lots of technical issues, it might make more sense to staff your social team with knowledgeable IT personnel. Speed is important, but quality assistance is too. A quick response that isn’t helpful can be as good as no response at all, so make sure you select the appropriate personnel.

If you can’t keep up with all customer requests on Twitter, perhaps you should hire a larger social care team. You’ll be able to get to your followers faster and you can increase international coverage to make sure you are available 24/7 in different languages.

"Provide your social care team with access to all the advanced tools and training your support team members have"

...meaning they can quickly jump in to solve problems directly on Twitter without having to redirect customers.

All the above data shows us that brands, particularly retail brands, still fail to engage and listen on Twitter. If they do decide to respond, they rarely do so in a timely manner.

As for untagged brand mentions, brands aren’t doing anything to actively seek out the people talking about them. It’s not enough to simply keep an eye on your notifications feed and respond whenever you get the time.

Make an effort to find all mentions of your brand on social media, and respond in a timely, human and individual way. With many people on Twitter looking for meaningful interactions, it seems that the retail sector has a long way to go to live up to customer expectations online.

Thanks to Iris for this blog post. It forms part of our content month on the Distilled blog. Catch last week’s? Our Outreach specialist Beverley told us why B2B brands need to be on Instagram.

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