Social media provides an unprecedented way for large brands to show a human side to their customers by allowing them to publicly engage in real time. But if a brand makes a wrong move, crises can spread faster than ever - with a high risk of brand damage.

Earlier this week, Bank of America got into trouble when it failed to show its human side. When a New Jersey resident wrote an anti-foreclosure message on the sidewalk in front of Manhattan’s Bank of America, he was forced to leave the premises by NYPD and quickly posted the situation to Twitter.

Bank of America’s standard, robot-like response to Hamilton’s tweet (and others) made it seem like the world’s third largest bank was just automating their responses on Twitter instead of having real humans read and react appropriately.

Customers expect social responses to be personal

While automation may have had its place in the age of one-to-one communication (like all-too-familiar series of numbers you might have to dial in order to have your call routed to a designated customer service representative or the long lists of mechanized prompts that on occasion understand what you’re saying), social media is no place for such automation.

The public nature of social means that everyone can see when a company’s replied to someone else with the exact same message. What you end up with looks something like this:

Since social media makes it 4-8x faster to process customer inquiries than through telephone, there’s no excuse for providing anything but excellent, personalized service to the people demanding it. This means responding appropriately given not just the tweet, but the full conversation history with that customer. It also means giving your agents the ability and responsibility to tweak standard responses to the situation (while keeping within your brand tone of voice guidelines).

While use of automated responses is a big temptation for companies reluctant to allocate significant resources to social customer service, incidents like Bank of America’s latest faux pas show that there can be even more downside to copying and pasting a reply than not replying at all.

All departments that communicate with customers need to be connected in order to avoid social media crisis. Bubbling social issues require quick responses and resolutions - and this requires the right tools and enough manpower (with the right training and abilities). To learn more about how to set up the right training and processes for your social customer service team, read our Definitive Guide to Social Customer Service.

Download the Definitive Guide