By: Daniel Sweeney On: December 18, 2012 In: Advertising & Marketing Comments: 0

While the world seems to be in agreement that a presence on social media is critical to a business’s success in 2012, the idea of using Facebook, Twitter, et al for customer service is still a hot topic.

Thanks to social media, a customer can lodge a complaint or pose a question directly to the brand in a matter of seconds. The wait time for answer might be longer, but the dissatisfied customer no longer has to put up with dreadful on-hold music and support menu systems, instead they’re free to continue in on with their life and wait for a status update or tweet.

As mentioned above, the idea of using social media for customer support is still heavily debated. Proponents say that brands would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to directly address consumers’ issues and questions, that companies wouldn’t be maximizing the social media’s capabilities.

Quickly and effectively answering an inquiring from a dissatisfied customer in a forum as public as Facebook or Twitter can do wonders for a brand’s image. A prompt, personal response shows the world that a brand cares immensely about its customers’ well being – implying that the brand has a dedicated team of customer care specialists sitting in a social media command center ready to tackle any and all grievances.

That same broad exposure social media presents can backfire on brands, especially when a disgruntled customer appears to have a vendetta, not a complaint or question, against a particular company.

Those against social media customer service argue that it’s essentially inviting a brand’s dirty laundry to be aired in public. Opponents are quick to point to horror stories like the American Airlines snafu with Alec Baldwin in December 2011 or the “United Breaks Guitars”  debacle from 2009.

But it’s important to remember that the aforementioned Baldwin and United cases represent the exception, not the rule. Through careful monitoring of mentions (not just replies) and measuring of sentiment, brands can maximize the communication and customer service capabilities presented by social media.