During a recent talk on social media engagement I was asked, “How soon should you respond to an issue on social media?” I replied, as everyone knows, that the optimal social media response time is 11 minutes, 3 seconds. Duh. Next question … Kidding aside, this not only highlights a frequently asked question but also an important overall framework for better understanding social media marketing. 

While it’s easy for your inner social media purist to pipe-up and say you should always respond “immediately or it doesn’t count and you’re doing it wrong” — the real answer on how soon you should engage is much more complicated and dependent on many internal and external factors.

As Oscar Wilde said, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

What Are You Doing Here?

First of all, to sound like a broken record (album title: The Social Media Strategists’ Greatest Hits) your optimal response time is largely dictated by what your brand is doing on social media in the first place. If you can’t answer in a few words what that is, this might be symptomatic of a larger issue. For example, if your strategy is built around using Twitter for customer service this might merit a more immediate response than managing a brand-driven community on Facebook or Pinterest.

The Expectations Game: Play at Your Own Level

Part of the reason no quick answer will solve this seemingly simple question is the fact that you run a real business in the real world that has real limitations. That’s not meant to be insulting or negative but social media staffing is very different for a solo entrepreneur vs. a corporation of thousands. Both come with challenges that impact response time.

Regardless of your size or other limitations, you need to find a social media monitoring and engagement plan that works for you. Once you’ve done this, a helpful but oft-missed step is communicating your engagement plan to your community. Some brands even go so far as noting the hours a Facebook page or Twitter account is staffed front and center on the page or account descriptions.

Community Knows Best

I’ve long drawn parallels between social media marketing and it’s slightly less sexy older sibling email marketing. In the book The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing (review coming soon), authors DJ Waldow and Jason Falls state, “Best practices are practices that are best for your subscribers.” This mantra applies to social media management as well — just swap the word ‘community’ for ‘subscribers.’

As noted earlier, your own social business goals and internal resources dictate how soon you can and should respond. However, if you’re actively listening to your community you may start to observe that your fans and followers are more or less hungry for responses than you initially thought. If they’re requiring more care and feeding than your current internal resources allow, you may need to invest in more people, better tools, or agency assistance.

The Dividends of Unexpected Speed

While running your brand through the frameworks above will help you find an optimal response time, speed can pay powerful dividends as well. While most consumers desire an immediate response, many understand that it’s not always realistic. That’s why when you can deliver unexpected speed you should.

Remember that potential customer service fail my wife and I had with our local food co-op? I tweeted angrily at the business as I left the store. Minutes later at our home I had a response from their community manager and we were on the path to resolution. Would this have meant less a day later? Maybe a little, but at no adverse impact to the business (meaning we’d still shop there if they made it right eventually). However, the immediate resolution they quickly delivered made this win a slam dunk. While there’s no hard data on the impact unexpected speed can deliver, it can leave a lasting brand impression.


The question “How soon should we respond?” is one of the who, what, when, where, why, and how issues — also known as Rudyard Kipling’s 6 Serving Men — marketers need to address to ensure both effective community engagement as well as internal adoption. Both parties want to know clearly how and when you will take care of them.

How does your brand address the challenges that come with social media’s 24/7/365 business cycle?

Photo via Flickr user numb3r