Let me paint a couple pictures. The first is of a customer who comes into your store. She browses, finds a product and goes to ask an associate a question. Upon being asked, the associate turns around and walks away. The second scenario is of a customer who goes into a store that claims it's yours and looks like it's yours, but it's not yours. You don't even know it exists. The customer asks a question and receives information, which, as it turns out is inaccurate, leading him to despise your brand forever.
The scenarios above have nothing to do with retail. Whether you're in retail or not, this could be your business because so many brands have set up across social media platforms. They use the platforms to promote themselves and spew messages, but when consumers come with questions and comments, the brands suddenly go silent and ignore them just like the first store.
The other end of the spectrum (the store that claims it’s yours) includes brands who haven't taken a look at where their customers are talking and haven’t set themselves up to be a part of the conversation by having a social media presence. In that case, brands have no control. Consumers get information, and brands are lucky if that information is positive and accurate. Sometimes this information comes from peers, but sometimes it comes from a consumer-created brand presence (e.g., a Facebook Page created by an intern that no one else knew about). This means the brand has no opportunity to be part of any piece of that information exchange.
The Risk of Silence
The statement "No Comment" says 1,000 words, and this is because we can draw our own conclusions when it's used. This is the same case when consumers only receive silence when reaching out to brands online or seeking to find a brand online but finding the brand isn’t there. They can take away a wide range of feelings: the brand doesn't care, they have something to hide, am I at all important to them, etc.
Responding Doesn't Have to Be Complicated
Brands need to be responsive online. Consumers expect it, especially if brands have an active presence but, still, even if they don’t. The good news is this doesn't have to be hard. Help when you can and explain why you can't when you can't. If situations can't be diffused online, take them offline. Connect them with socially trained customer service representatives via a phone call or e-mail.
Being silent is easy in the short-term, but it can be a killer in the long-term. Responsiveness is part of the "social contract" when having a brand presence through social media. That social contract is becoming less and less optional. At this time, most brands need a social media presence of some sort. Otherwise, they're missing major opportunities.
The bottom line is don't be silent, especially in uncomfortable situations. "No comment" says a lot.