British businesses getting to grips with social media are only dealing with the “tip of the iceberg,” according to a study comparing brands and consumers’ digital interaction conducted by Fishburn Hedges and Echo Research, which found that more than a third of people have already interacted with companies through social media—almost double the proportion that it was just eight months ago (19 percent to 36 percent).

Two thirds of people that have engaged with brands on social media (68 percent) believe that it has allowed them to find their voice. Most of them (65 percent) believe social media is a better way to communicate with companies than through call centers, some nine times more than those who felt worse off using social media (7 percent).

Two fifths of respondents (40 percent), even those who haven’t used social media, believe it improves customer service: six times more than the 7 percent of naysayers who fear social media will harm service.

Eva Keogan, head of innovation at Fishburn Hedges, says: “Many people are currently enjoying the VIP treatment from brands on social media. As millions more catch on to this great route into traditional customer service channels, the challenge for brands will be maintaining the same level of service. Over the coming years, will Twitter become the next call center? We are urging brands to think about this now, as there are some clear and simple ways to use these new customer service channels to great effect.”

Fishburn Hedges and Echo say the responses suggest several strategies for companies:
• Don’t be paralysed by uncertainty: where call centers arguably erect barriers between brands and customers, social media can remove them and bring proximity. “It shouldn’t be a psychological straitjacket, so dive in – but clearly define your strategy first.”
• Don’t let social media define you: your brand must define it. It must be a continuation of a brand using the appropriate channels and not a knee-jerk reaction to following how others are using it
• Make more of the emotional insight you have: customer data offers insight into behaviour, but social media takes that to a different level, enabling brands to tap into emotions
• Pick your battles – but enter them fast: speed is critical in the real-time world of social media, but brands should not feel the pressure to answer every query put to them
• Address structural barriers in the business, not headcount: there are many ways to resource social, and new hires are not always necessary. Try sharing expertise and removing structural barriers first
• Fear not the #fail: No one is perfect and sometimes, just sometimes, it is simply a flash in the pan

According to Sandra Macleod, group CEO of Echo Research: "Our stakeholder studies show that customer service is a strategic differentiator in the market place. Social media is taking off as real people are responding, rather than callers being stuck behind automated call routing and messaging. The best companies are training and releasing their staff to manage this in a professional and responsible manner, to often great results. Welcome to a new and exciting world we call 'social business.'"