Younger consumers and men have the highest expectations around response times on social media comments from all types of companies, including healthcare organizations.

A recent study by Clutch.co, a leading research firm, showed that nearly 83% of respondents expect brands to respond to comments on social media within a day or less. Almost half of millennials believe that they should respond in an hour or less. The same study showed that more males (82%) than females (72%) expect brands to respond to comments on social media.

Companies shouldn’t be surprised by this—but many will be.

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for all companies, big or small. It helps them connect with, influence, and engage their customers. In turn, this builds customer loyalty and impacts brand perceptions.

However, the open dialogue facilitated by social media is not without its risks. Allowing consumers to essentially post their opinions for all the world to see means that companies will have to deal with negative feedback, and will have to do so quickly and effectively.

Before social media became quite as prevalent, PR and marketing were the primary tools companies used to influence perceptions of their brand and reinforce these relationships. Much of this communication was one-way. And it was much easier to plan for, and messaging be built over a long period of time based on research, A/B testing, and other mechanism.

Social media being a two-way communication tool should be looked at as you would any two-way relationship. There is give and take, negotiation, positive reinforcement, and above all—making the other person feel heard and validated. These critical communication approaches are the same in a digital arena just as they are in the real world. Think about your interactions with colleagues, your boss and even your friends. If someone is upset or angry with you—would you just walk away? This isn’t an effective strategy in the real world and it isn’t in social media either.

One thing that this study validates is the important of a thoughtful, yet rapid response to negative feedback on social media, especially for younger consumers.

However, the challenge is that many big companies don’t have the right processes in place to respond quickly. Especially the industry that Activate Health specialized in—healthcare. These are large insurance companies, hospitals and health systems. They don’t move quickly. They worry about legal and compliance review—they want management approval over social media responses, etc. In today’s day and age, this type of approach is too cumbersome and will not meet consumer demand. But it’s a careful balancing act. That’s why it’s so important to have someone monitoring and responding to social media you can trust—preferably a firm with extensive knowledge and expertise in this area. And you must also have procedures in place that allow this agency or individual to rapidly respond to negative or positive comments quickly, while maintaining the integrity of the brand. This is key—because the words used, the tone, and the style of these responses says a lot about the organization.

For example, maintaining a social media presence on behalf of a Fortune 500 company means that this one individual or agency is given a huge responsibility—a loud, broad voice that represents perhaps thousands of employers, an entire leadership team, board, shareholders, etc. That’s a hefty responsibility and one that agencies like Activate Health don’t take lightly. Fortunately, we have experience created comprehensive social media strategies that take these factors into account, and that starts with gaining an in-depth understanding of the brands we represent. We act as an extension of these brands in a seamless, and transparent way. It also requires that we maintain close communication with certain team members—like customer service staff and operations—the people who will actually fix any “fixable” problems that are related to negative comments.

Along those lines, certainly the type of negative commentary plays a role in how a company should respond. Certain complaints aren’t something that is immediately “fixable” and may involve someone venting who just wants to be heard. This must be done in a delicate, authentic and positive way. You must avoid being condescending, overly promotional or tone-deaf in these communications. And of course, just like across all PR, you want to avoid stereotyping or painting all consumers with certain types of issues with a broad brush. Above all, placing blame on the consumer should be avoided at all costs.

Others comments represent true operational and service issues that impact this individual and many others—and are important lessons for the company. You won’t be able to fix these issues in an hour—so your response time is certainly more of a “holding statement” to make sure that the person feels heard and validated, and that work is being done to address the issue. And on a personal level, that they have a means for action—that someone will be following up with them offline. Others viewing the post must feel that action is being taken, quickly and effectively.

In summary, the type of feedback companies are gaining today in real-time through social media is incredible—and while negative commentary must be dealt with, the sum of receiving all types of service feedback—both negative and comment, should be looked at as a net gain for all brands. There is still a place for surveys and other tools, but there are always certain biases that come with these feedback mechanisms. While the unregulated, free-for-all that is social media may feel unstructured, setting certain parameters around it can make it more manageable and ensure that companies are benefiting from this feedback in all kinds of ways, not the least of which is an improved consumer perception of their brand, as evidenced by this data.