Fast Company released a list of social media rules back in August and rule #8 says “Always Write Back.”  Seems simple.  Seems obvious.  Yet a new study reveals that so many brands are failing to utilize social channels like Facebook or Twitter to manage customer service.

According to a recent survey from SAP and Social Media Today, a huge share of companies, 41.2 percent, use social media to answer five percent of their customer service issues or less. Not even a fifth of the companies surveyed—17.7 percent—said they use social media to address a quarter or more of their customer service issues.

Social media can no longer exist in a marketing or PR silo.  Social media needs to become an integral part of a larger communications and sales strategy that embraces these channels as an effective means of customer relationship management.  People are on social media, they communicate with brands on social media, and they expect answers to their questions on social media.  So what does this mean for businesses?

It means that companies need to invest the time and resources to create and manage a cohesive social media plan that integrates marketing, sales, communication, PR, and customer service for a holistic customer experience.  American Express surveyed social media users and non-users alike, and found that social media users have markedly higher customer service expectations and are more likely than non-users to change brands after a poor customer service experience. However, they are also willing to pay a premium for higher-quality customer service and are staunch advocates for the businesses that they support.  In other words, take care of your fans because they’ve already shown an interest in you and you want to keep them happy.

The best way to achieve this symbiotic relationship is with an integrated plan.  Any strategy for the implementation and integration of social media customer service must be future-proof, responsive and enhance the business as a whole. The social customer service model needs to be as organic and flexible as the medium that created it, while simultaneously delivering tangible results for the business through a stronger brand identity, better customer service and a long-term strategic plan.

The moral of the story kids?  Don’t forget about rule #8 (and the other 35 aren’t too shabby either).