The core ethos of social media is that of creativity and originality. Communicate using your own dialogue, images, video and symbols. As a customer, if you’re unhappy about a company’s service, then make a song or even post a cartoon, but don’t be formulaic.

The main aim of the new world of online and e-service is to let the customer do the work – but in a structured format that automated systems can handle. Consequently, customers are given forms to complete, FAQs to search or questions from IVR/voice self-service interactions. Videos or instructions might be posted by more advanced organisations to ‘make it easy’ for consumers to solve problems.

But what is easy for consumers? Convenience may dictate that unstructured information, views and emotions can easily be provided through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or any of the other multitude of social media.

For some organisations with strong value positions, or monopolies like public services, it may be possible to ignore this emerging unstructured feedback – or just track it as a brand indicator. Other organisations may feel a new breed (and scale) of contact centre is required.

To take advantage of this new method of feedback, organisations have several choices. Firstly, do they use effective software to track social media, ensuring any comments relevant to its brand are captured? This may encompass public opinion on their competitors and their products. (Brands such as BT, Orange and Apple may even see some duplication.) Whilst this process is advanced in many organisations, it is usually the responsibility of the PR or reputation departments.

Secondly, it is essential that organisations understand the comment context and meaning. For example, does the use of an expletive equate to a derogatory meaning or is this just the way the consumer communicates?

Thirdly, organisations must decide whether intervention is required. “You would have thought someone would have noticed by now…” might be the sentiment of some online users, but for others any suggestion of a ‘Big Brother is watching you’ will be unwelcome.

It is also worth asking whether the brand, product or service is worthy of general conversation. One journalist famously commented ‘Thanks. Washing Powder really is Washing Powder and no one is interested’.

The new world of unstructured feedback through social media will pose a real need or opportunity for some industries such as telecoms, airlines, technology, travel companies. Will it mean the employment of hundreds of new contact centre agents to handle these comments, just when internet self-service is supposed to be driving costs down? What will the average handling time be for a customer complaint on Facebook or a Twitter feed? Organisations like Comcast already have a hundred agents dedicated to handling social media customer relations. Where will it end and how can we effectively persuade customers to use structured channels which can be automated?