How to Create a Social Media Response Matrix

Sarah Steimer
Key Takeaways

What? Brands should be prepared to respond to any customer on social media, good or bad.
So what? Customers follow brands on social platforms and expect them to be nimble when they have questions or comments.
Now what? Brands should design a roadmap that prepares them for nearly any customer comment online, and do so in a way that is true to brand voice and empathetic.

​Customers expect instant gratification on social media. Design a response plan to communicate with them quickly and authentically.

Brands have become known for their social media personas. Denny’s and KFC are famous for their Twitter hijinks, and some consumers find it easier to engage with customer service on social platforms than over the phone or in person. How a brand communicates with its audience on social media is increasingly crucial, and many companies are proactively designing social media response plans, also known as social media response matrices.

A social media response matrix is a flow chart that directs an employee, such as a social media manager, on how to respond to comments on social media based on the nature of their content, according to Adam Kleinberg, CEO of interactive advertising agency Traction. “[A response matrix] is important for companies to have because it keeps you consistent, organized and accountable about how to act in various situations that are bound to take place online,” he says.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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Interactions between brands and the audience happen too frequently for companies to engage socially without a plan. According to MarketingSherpa, 85% of U.S. consumers say they use social media, and 58% of consumers surveyed say they follow brands on social media. How a brand responds to consumers online makes a big difference: 71% of consumers who have had a good social media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others, according to referral marketing company Ambassador. In addition, companies that engage and respond to customer service requests via social media see those customers spending an average of 20% to 40% more with the company, according to Bain & Company.

Brands need to be prepared for the good and the bad to avoid an ugly customer experience. Social media interactions are in the public record and can go viral in a heartbeat. Here are some tips for designing a social media response matrix.

Start With Social Listening

Before brands can know how to respond, they should familiarize themselves with the topics they will likely see on social. Brands should listen to their audience and take inventory of what customers typically discuss and how they engage with the brand and its competitors.

“Start by auditing and categorizing the comments you’ve had to date,” says David Greenbaum, head of digital integration and operations at Edelman Digital Chicago. “Then brainstorm contingencies. What might happen during a crisis? What might we be able to do over the holiday shopping season?”

From a reputation standpoint, a brand can gauge how the audience has responded to its previous social interactions by considering if consumers are responding defensively, happily or with amusement. Social listening can help a brand determine if it should respond using a different attitude in the future, or if its online persona is striking all the right chords as is.

Once a brand has a list of common topics and an impression of how it has been perceived in the past, it can begin to map specific responses.

Respond to Positive and Negative Comments

A social media response matrix doesn’t just map out ways to answer angry consumers or negative situations, it also provides ways to interact with happy customers or positive events.

“It’s easy to look at it as a response mechanism to people complaining about you on Twitter or Facebook, but there is also a powerful opportunity to engage with people on social media who love your brand and to deepen and amplify that love,” Kleinberg says. “A thoughtfully designed matrix can help people on your team [decide] which tweets to like, which to retweet and when to engage with someone directly with a fun, clever or valuable response. When addressed in a prompt and meaningful way, you can often convert someone who is complaining about you on social media into a passionate advocate for your brand.”

A good example is JetBlue Airways. The company responds to negative issues—of which there are plenty in the airline industry—but also engages playfully with customers who’ve posted about a positive experience. When two Twitter users recently tweeted about using in-flight Wi-Fi, JetBlue joined the conversation with a simple GIF of comedienne Amy Poehler winking and a “you’re welcome” message.

“Engaging with those that are complimenting your brand is just as important as responding to those that are complaining,” Greenbaum says. “Studies show that those that engage with a brand on social have a deeper brand-to-consumer relationship, care more, are more brand-loyal and have a higher intent to purchase.”

The Tone of Your Response Should Match the Tone of the Comment

Brand voice must be consistent throughout the social media response matrix to avoid confusing customers. It may seem difficult to sound natural while manufacturing a response matrix, but the human touch is key, according to Greenbaum.

Bank of America ran into this snafu when a user tweeted about being chased away by police for drawing with chalk on a sidewalk outside of a Bank of America branch. The company’s customer service Twitter team @BofA_help responded with a generic statement: “We’d be happy to review your account with you to discuss any concerns.” This same non sequitur was sent to anyone who commented on the original tweet as well.

“Don’t think that just because you have rules, you can hire a cheap, inexperienced person to handle your community management—or even worse, outsource it to India or someplace,” Kleinberg warns. “Like any creative, quality matters. You need to hire people who write well, or else their responses won’t be well-written.”

Using the right tone also means taking a cue from the customer. Your brand may take a tongue-in-cheek approach to most interactions, but that may not work for everything. The customer’s voice or problem should guide the brand’s tone in its response. Your brand voice may be known for silly comments, but that style won’t go over well when a customer has a serious problem.

Get the Whole Team Involved

Some of the best social media responses come from brands that use multiple team members to respond to consumers. This ensures questions or comments are answered by the appropriate party. Someone on the technical team can likely answer questions about a broken product better than someone on the marketing team. JetBlue, for example, has three different teams running its Twitter account: the marketing team, the communications team and the customer commitment team.

“The most critical steps in developing a social media response matrix are working with the appropriate parties to ensure you have comprehensive, relevant and consistent responses,” Greenbaum says. “First, work with analytics and insight teams to understand the types of questions or comments that are repeatedly arising on social channels. Then, work with your customer service, issues management, marketing and operations teams to ideate different scenarios and responses.”

Engaging more than one team member can also speed response time. Consumers expect immediate responses, and taking too long to respond to a negative comment opens the door to the issue going viral. A brand that has a social media response matrix in place is a nimble team that can answer quickly and authentically.

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Sarah Steimer
Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.


Displaying 1 Comments
Mark Burgess
December 26, 2017

Sarah, Great article! Like your key points about being prepared for all possible outcomes in social media. Brands need to show empathy for their customers every step along the customer decision journey. Mark