At a time when 71 percent of consumers across generations say they’re spending more time on social media, brands are increasingly finding it harder to cut through the noise. According to Sprout Social’s 2021 Index, the key to doing so is delivering seamless customer service on social media.

The index—based on a survey among more than 1,000 US consumers and more than 1,000 marketers conducted online between March and April 2020—explores social media’s impact on bottom-line growth, how and why consumers are using social media to connect with brands and what makes a brand best-in-class on social media.

Sprout Social’s data show that consumers follow brands mostly on Facebook (78 percent), Instagram (57 percent) and YouTube (47 percent). Twitter came in fourth and TikTok in fifth.

Brands have an opportunity to reach and engage with more consumers on social media but that also means more competition, as 93 percent of marketers surveyed noted. Consumers, on the other hand, expect great customer service from brands on social media, but marketers fail to prioritize it.

When asked what makes a brand best-in-class on social, the top response from consumers was strong customer service, as noted by 47 percent of respondents. However, that factor was missing from marketers’ responses — instead, 48 percent cited audience engagement as the distinguishing factor. Forty-six percent of consumers listed audience engagement as the second most important factor.

There are grave ramifications for brands that don’t deliver in the customer service department, with 45 percent of consumers saying they’ll unfollow a brand on social because of poor service. What’s more, 90 percent of consumers buy from brands on social while 86 percent said they’ll choose that brand over a competitor.

While recent research shows people prefer to communicate with businesses over the phone, Sprout Social found that 78 percent of consumers believe social media is the fastest and most direct way to connect with a brand. Social media is also consumers’ preferred means of sharing feedback about a product or service (31 percent) as well as raising customer service issues or questions (33 percent).

As Sprout Social notes, the top three actions brands can take to encourage consumers to buy from them over a competitor include responding to customer service questions in a timely manner, demonstrating an understanding of what the consumer needs and creating more culturally relevant content.

While 88 percent of marketers agree that their social strategy positively influences their bottom line and 90 percent agree that data from social enables them to stay ahead of their competitors, organizations still undervalue its business impact.

When asked to describe their cross-team efforts regarding social media, half of marketers said they maintain occasional contact and collaboration with other teams while 17 percent operate in complete silos. To stand out from other brands on social, marketers need to prove to every department, not just marketing, that social impacts their bottom line growth.