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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

What’s an Appropriate Response Time to Inquirers?

19 Jan 2009

written by Rachel Reuben

What’s an Appropriate Response Time to Inquirers?

About ten years ago when e-mail became mainstream at colleges/universities, departments were skittish about having a separate dedicated e-mail account as a way for their customers to contact them. They worried about work load creep, and customers expecting a quick turn around time for responses. Most of these folks still preferred to be tied up on the phone with their customers at that point.

Now, most departments are long on board with the dedicated e-mail account. And it’s mutually understood that customers will receive a response within one to two business days at most.

Enter… Facebook.

Your college/university has a Facebook Fan page. It’s getting littered with wall posts from prospective students eager for information about your institution. They’re posting at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night and re-posting “helllooooo??” by 11 a.m. Sunday morning if they haven’t received a response yet. Holidays? Doesn’t matter. Receiving posts on Christmas Day and New Years Eve get the same reactions.

How do you handle this if you’re not looking until you get back to work again Monday morning?

Do you know how many lost opportunities take place if you only monitor your social media efforts during the traditional work week? Other fans of your page may jump in and try to be helpful. If they’re right, fantastic. It’s the ones who spread misinformation you have to worry about and is why it is critical for you to keep listening periodically throughout the weekend and evenings during the week.

If you’re going to jump into social media – you need to be able to realistically support it. Expect to check your Facebook Fan Page at all weird hours of the weekend and evening. If you can’t, find someone on your team that will. Students are a great resource for this — but of course you need to find someone you can trust who will not only be genuine, but maintain a level of professionalism and accuracy while speaking in “their language.”

Social media has blown the traditional work week out the door. It’s made it harder and harder for professionals to disconnect. The new culture is all about “the now.” Text message me now. Instant message me now. They don’t want to wait until tomorrow. Should we train them to slow down, or just ride this wave with them?

Photo credit shindohd

The content of this post is licensed: ©2009 All Rights Reserved


About the author

Rachel Reuben

Rachel Reuben is the Associate Vice President for Marketing Communications at Ithaca College. She was a blogger on .eduGuru from November 2008 - January 2010. Read her complete bio.

RachelReuben.comRachel on Twitter Rachel on LinkedIn  Rachel on Delicious Rachel's SlideShare Presentations Rachel on UWebD

This post was written by - who has written 33 posts on .eduGuru


  • http://highered.prblogs.org/ Andrew Careaga

    It’s essential that someone (or a couple of someones) monitor a campus’s social media presence on weekends and holidays. This includes monitoring campus blogs for comments that are being held for moderator approval.

    You specifically mention Facebook, but the same issue applies to a campus Twitter presence, and monitoring Twitter search, etc., to see what’s being said about your campus across social media platforms. It’s not that difficult to spend 15 minutes, twice a day, to monitor, and it usually doesn’t take that much time, unless you get embroiled in an online discussion that will require some clearance from higher-ups. So, whoever is charged with monitoring those sites during off hours also ought to be empowered to respond to and handle situations that arise, even if the response is “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you early next week” or “let me get back to you on Monday.”

    Still, your post raises the question about what is an “acceptable” response time for social media? It probably depends on who’s making the inquiry as well as the medium. For many admissions offices, a 24-hour or 48-hour turnaround to traditional (i.e., snail-mail or email) inquiries seems to be the rule of thumb. What about inquiries via social media?

  • Robin2go

    Rachel, I couldn’t agree more; expectations have become instantaneous within social media. I’ve even caught myself refreshing my twitterstream two minutes after a question I’ve posted, simply because I don’t want to stop what I’m doing or go do something else until an answer surfaces. It’s a symptom of the larger business culture we’ve created, and I’m not sure training is the sole answer. Social media is an “always on” culture and as such, if you open that particular can of worms, you need to be well aware of the ramifications it entails–monitoring your feeds, and responding to your participants. It’s not email, it’s not voice mail; if anything, I think social media can be best likened to customer service where you are expected to respond promptly to customer contact.

    I think the answer to your response time question is that there has to be a happy medium, depending on the… um, medium. On organizational social networking sites (facebook, Ning), you can post a disclaimer in your welcome info that tells your visitors you welcome their input and you strive to respond within 12 hours during non-traditional hours. On twitter, 12 hours is an eon, and not an acceptable response time. If you are going to do social media, then do it right. During traditional work hours, monitor your feeds. During non-traditional hours (and for those of us in the educational world, you know as well as I do that’s prime student time), make sure you have your feed notifications set to forward to an email that someone will be monitoring. Have another student or grad assist? Great find, as long as s/he can speak the language using your professional parameters. Not so fortunate to have a grad student to handle the load? At the very least, give a relatively quick response, followed up with promise of a more indepth response during more reasonable work hours. Students can recognize when they are being ignored, and will go somewhere else to get their questions answered–that includes going to your competition–or, perhaps worse, bad-mouth your silence to other potential students.

    Your points are really dead on. Social media offers great rewards to those who are prepared to use it. However, it is a medium you *must* maintain, and if you aren’t prepared to manage a more or less 24 hour feed, then I’d strongly caution you against even starting. Social media done badly can have severe repercussions in today’s business world.

  • Rachel Reuben

    @Andrew I totally agree. The only reason I didn’t specifically mention Twitter is because most universities I know aren’t using it to communicate with inquirers. However, I did promote this post to my twitterfriends, so I should’ve known better. :) But, you’re absolutely right, and I couldn’t agree more. The challenge is the push back you sometimes get from staff members who completely want to disconnect, often due to familial obligations, and not even take the 15 minutes. I’m fortunate to work with someone in admissions who has every excuse in the world to not check-in on evenings and weekends, yet she’s replying to wall posts at 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.

    I think the acceptable response time for most forms of social media is under 12 hours. Twitter — 2 hours max.

    @Robin2go You hit the nail on the head — Non-traditional work hours are when our inquirers are most active. Maybe it’s time to look at our traditional work day and adjust accordingly? Oh yes, that’ll fly in higher education. ;) Your last paragraph is something I’m actively saying in all of my upcoming presentations. You have to commit. Use it or don’t. Not so much a happy medium.

  • http://www.denisbhancock.com Denis Hancock

    I go back and forth on this a bit, but I believe there is some merit to the idea of teaching people to slow down. While there are enormous benefits that flow from the ease of communication that is now available, a world where everything a few hours old vanishes into thin air is a problem.

    Each of us only have so many REALLY good ideas / thoughts… and many are often tied to developments that will take years to unfold. I think we collectively lose a lot of value when a thought provoking, insightful piece relevant to one’s work vanishes from the frame of reference merely because it’s a few hours, days, weeks, or even months old.

    On a similar note, I think we also lose a lot when we expect immediate responses to everything – when people engage in social media, it seems they often (knowingly or not) default into a mindset where everyone has the answers waiting on the tip of their tongue (or fingertips). While sometimes this may be the case, I wonder how much insight we lose by not giving people enough time to really think about things…

  • http://highered.prblogs.org/ Andrew Careaga

    Rachel and Denis, you’re both spot on about the need to slow down and sometimes disengage from social media. And Robyn2Go’s suggestion about adding a disclaimer to the Facebook page is terrific. I don’t work directly with prospective students — the customers that expect my most immediate response are usually reporters or administrators, and they all have my cell number, so there’s no issue there.

    Rachel, your post (and follow-up tweet to me) have me wondering about any acceptable practices regarding response rates for social networks. Maybe someone ought to conduct a survey? NOT IT!

  • Robin2go

    @Rachel I would agree that a 2 hour window is really a maximum threshold for Twitter. I think an hour would be better, but perhaps not realistic. At Penn State, we are seeing a strong interest in Twitter as a method of information dissemination (@PennStateLive, @PSUNittanyLions). Even better are @PalmerMuseum, @PSUWorldCampus, because they are actively interacting with their Twitter community in a *very* timely manner, and doing an excellent job of promoting different facets of our university. Alone, these organizational Twitter accounts might not be easy to find, but most are used in conjunction with established web sites, facebook pages, or group blogs. It’s an exciting thing to see an educational organization of our size using social media, but for it to work, you must be committed to making it work. World Campus actually has a Social Networks Advisor whose sole job is to create and maintain student connections via social media–Twitter, Facebook, Second Life, blogging, etc. She is the perfect persona for the job, but she is also “working” all the time. It’s a good thing they found someone who loves what they do; that kind of attention to social connections not for everyone. While I agree that higher ed is still largely in the 8-5 mindset, I think there are some pockets that are starting to use more of “flexible environment” thinking–at least those who are serious about their social media engagement.

  • Kyle Johnson

    Is this the Big Hidden Cost(TM) of social media. If you have to be staffed to respond to comments on social media sites 7x24x365 then you have to plan on quadrupling the size of your staff. Is that really feasible in the current market? If you can’t staff it properly should you back off, or just find and abuse dedicated younger staff who don’t have much sense of work/life balance?

  • Robin2go

    @Kyle Don’t create a social media effort unless you can support it. Some people are naturally inclined to be connected 24/7. In that sense, finding someone who is comfortable in that work style is a definite asset. I don’t believe quadrupling staff size is necessary to make social media work; it is more about committing to maintaining a consistent standard of engagement. You don’t have to bend over backwards to deliver the world at 10:00pm; however, you DO need to give a quick response to let someone know they’ve been heard and will be more fully answered (and making sure they ARE addressed at that later promised time). Think about it this way: in the more traditional business sense, it’s like having someone forward the phones at night so there’s someone on hand in case the London office needs something during THEIR traditional work hours, even though it’s outside YOUR traditional work hours.

  • http://www.inigral.com Michael Staton

    As with normal marketing, the best response time to an inquiry is immediately because the prospect is still paying attention.

    I recommend a chore wheel approach. Get your team together and schedule daily management from someone, every day. The best time will be at night because, frankly, that’s when high schoolers are on it.

    If you can’t respond immediately, message the inquirer directly to let them know there’s been a response. Share the link to the response using the Facebook share feature.

    Social Networks, especially Facebook, come with an expectation that you live on them. More than half of Facebook’s 150 million users login every day.

    Pages, as a product, has limitations as a marketing tool because it doesn’t make it’s own management easy. For instance, Pages doesn’t send you email or text updates. To boot, there’s really nothing you can do to influence Facebook’s product decisions, so don’t hold your breath for them to respond to your needs.

    This is why I recommend building or procuring a Facebook App. Obviously, I’m biased towards ours, Schools on Facebook. http://www.inigral.com

  • http://doteduguru.com Kyle James

    Hey guys, Great discussion going on in the comments here. Social media is tricky because people expect immidiate feedback at all times. I think 24hrs is probably more of a realistic window to this instead of 48hrs simply because of the nature of the medium. Of course I’m also more of an advocate of using these social media platforms, specifically facebook, as a landing page with an intro to your instutiton but then driving them back to your site where you engage them in the additional conversation. It’s easier to track and you do hold more control over things should they get out of control. No I never want to limit people, but it’s good to have it should it come up.

    Also just wanted to make sure that it’s stated that Social Media Comes Last. I wrote this post right before Christmas and it kind of got buried during the holiday’s but I think it’s relevant here. If you don’t have the rest of your stuff in order then trying to commit the time or resources to Social Media isn’t the best use of your time.

  • http://www.squaredpeg.com Bradjward

    Some usability testing I did over a year ago solidified a lot of questions you are having for me.

    In several usability tests on the BUForums (http://go.butler.edu/cs), I asked high school students how long they expected to wait for an answer on the forums.

    The longest response….. 2 hours.

    After 1 year of trying to be that person that was there for every single question, I changed my strategy for 2008-2009 and delegated most of the after-hours responsibility to my student bloggers and it’s been fantastic.

    And when you walk into your office the next morning to see an inbox like this and see all the questions answered, I gotta smile. :)

    I love Kyle Johnson’s comment about the ‘hidden cost’. SO true. Our office ours are 5:30a-2:30p for a student on the east coast. How often are kids looking for a college during that time?

  • http://www.squaredpeg.com Bradjward

    Whoops. Forgot link:

    “And when you walk into your office the next morning to see an inbox like this and see all the questions answered, I gotta smile. :)”

    http://flickr.com/photos/bradjward/3210656148/sizes/o/

  • http://www.turispain.com/casas-rurales-cantabria.html casas rurales en cantabria

    We need to ride the wave with them or someone else will.

  • http://afterschoolhelp.net daidamia

    Over time you will be able to build a steady following on FaceBook as long as you take the time to leave messages on other users’ pages.

  • http://vsocorp.com/ Logica Uspeha

    Rachel, everything depends on ours characters and habits. If I like to be inaccessible I will communicate only one time a week!
    But if I can’t live without communication I will communicate 18 hours a day. Notebook, laptop, smart phone, i-Phone will help me!

  • Pingback: Acceptable Customer Service Response Time in Social Media | Deskero Blog

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