Why are UK companies a long way behind their US counterparts when it comes to engaging with their customers via social media?

Mind the gap UK is way behind the US in social media use in business

Often I hear complaints from companies in the UK that they are finding it increasingly hard to keep up and to engage with their customers, deal with complaints, questions or communication, particularly those that are initially posted on social media sites or sent directly via social media channels.

At the same time, I hear great success stories or how companies are making great strides in using social media to engage with their customers and grow their businesses.

Then, I saw the following recent tweet by my fellow blogger (@michellecarvill)

Tweet from Michelle Carvill

The link in the tweet pointed to a blog on NetImperative about a piece of research from Auros, the internet consultancy and technology company, which found out that the UK’s top 25 retailers are largely unresponsive when it comes to engaging on social media channels.

In their research, Auros found that only one in four (25%) of retailers with a presence on Twitter replied to a question directed at them, despite retailers having made a clear investment in social media (80% of the retailers surveyed had a Twitter account and 72% of them are active on Facebook).

That’s not to say that everyone is not going well. According to the research, Thomas Cook, easyJet and Debenhams topped the responsiveness table in the UK.

Now, I don’t know about you but I found this pretty shocking.

But, then I wondered how this compared to other regions, like the US.

My research found this recent piece of US research from RightNow: Retail Consumer Report: Study Finds Retailers Can Win Back Unhappy Customers Through Social Media which shows that:

  • 68% of consumers who posted a complaint or negative review on a social networking after a negative holiday shopping experience got a response from a retailer;
  • Of those:
    • 18% turned into loyal customers; and
    • 33% turned around and posted a positive review.

Stark difference. Yes?

Why do think there is such a difference between the US and the UK? Is it that:

  • The US is further along on the social media adoption curve ie. they have been using it for longer so are more familiar with it?
  • Is it that we are still stuck in largely ‘broadcast’ mode here in the UK despite research that shows that:
  • “CEOs in the UK and Ireland are particularly determined to put customers – or citizens, in the case of public sector leaders – front and centre. “Getting connected”, using multiple channels to better understand, predict and give customers what they really want, is the top priority for 89%.”

  • Or, is it that they have been sold on the idea of having a social media presence but not on how to really use it?

What do you think?

Thanks to spin’n’shoot for the image.

15 comments On Why are UK companies a long way behind their US counterparts when it comes to engaging with their customers via social media?

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  • Fascinating Adrian. In South Africa we have a saying that the US is 5 years ahead of South Africa. How true this is today I am not sure but there is definite relevance. Also this is considered an across the board thing.

    Certainly one of the things I did when I set up RaveTopia was to look at the US market to see what trends were there and not here as it is a good indicator of whats to come.

    When i deal with the mobile tech chaps here the case is the opposite. We are one of the leading countries when it comes to mobile technology.

    I think this is such a borad question and I would not even guess. Maybe the US market is just a lot more responsive than other markets.


    • Hi Michael,
      Thank you for your comment.

      This blog was syndicated to Customer Think (http://www.customerthink.com/blog/why_are_uk_companies_a_long_way_behind_their_us_counterparts_when_it_comes_to_engaging_with_the) where it received a robust response from one commentator and rightly so.

      This is what I replied:
      “Thank you for your input, perspective and robust challenge of the content of post. I concede that it can be seen as comparing ‘apples and cucumbers’. What I thought was interesting was the comparison of two different perspectives from two different geographies to see if there were any broad conclusions that could be drawn.”

      I think Vladimir was right that we need to be careful about comparing data from different surveys but your experience tells me that we naturally do compare across geographies based on assumptions that we have about the way things work.

      My central question remains: Is the UK retail sector generally non-responsive when it comes to social media? If so, why is that?


  • I guess, it can probably be a combination of those things. They probably are behind the whole social media connection, but they don’t have anyone to turn to in handling it in an effective way.

    • Hi VA,
      I think you have put your finger on something important here ie the lack of skills for managing these new tools and new ways of communicating.

      Thanks for that,


  • Adrian,
    I wish I was better equipped to respond to this post, however, it did make me think about the overall barriers that seem to be getting in the way of being a customer centric business. I see mostly rhetoric when it comes to how important the customer is. The reality of any process or means of interacting with customers, regardless of the method requires intense focus and considerable effort.

    I don’t think people want to work that hard for others. Why would they? What do they get for that? Not to sound cynical, but business leaders need to recognize that the center is formed within their company first, not in the external customer environment. Perhaps the UK is still reconciling the shift from assets to people?


    • Hi Bill,
      Don’t worry about being better equipped to address the question as I think you have addressed it fine by raising a valid question: Have UK companies reconciled the shift from assets to people?

      Right to the core of the matter. Thank you.


  • Adrian,

    Whatever Vlad the impaler may have hung you out to dry for, I’d support your observation about the gap. I’ve just finished some research for a well known UK insurance brand. The gap between US and UK social activity was striking. It’s an 18 month gap at least. I also think that 4G mobile speeds are an important factor in accelerating use. We are also behind the curve on that as well.


    • Hi Martin,
      Vlad’s comment was indeed bracing 🙂 Your research sounds fascinating and very insightful. I am glad that it supports my observation about comparing apples and cucumbers as Vlad put it 🙂

      We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,


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