A new study proves marketers have a small window in which to respond to customers' posts on social sites and missed opportunities can be costly.

Customer complaints are unfortunately an occasional reality for most brands. In an era when customers have direct, and public, access to brand’s social media pages, it’s a mistake for companies to ignore negative comments in an effort to silence complainers. In fact, a study by Lithium Technologies found B2Cs in particular benefit by responding with social media content in (near) real-time.

Over half (53 percent) of all social users expect companies to respond to their posts within an hour. Failure to do so will only fan the fire of poor brand sentiment, according to the survey of more than 500 socially active respondents. Around 38 percent of customers feel more negative about companies that do not reply to Tweets and other online commentary in an hour or less. Another 60 percent say they will take further action to ensure their voices are heard.

On the other hand, companies stand to gain a lot if they can respond quickly to customers’ complaints, questions or feedback promptly. More than one-third of respondents are more likely to buy from a business that replies within 60 minutes and 42 percent will promote that company to their personal followers on the web.

53 percent of all surveyed social users expect companies to respond to their posts within an hour.

The results from this study further demonstrate that real-time engagement is the new marketing baseline and companies must be prepared to hold live conversations to be effective on social networks. But discussions go both ways, and companies must also provide readers with outlets for continuing the conversation immediately. Brafton previously covered a Livefyre study, which found social-sharing icons and other tech features that prompt immediate reader response improve user engagement and foster connections.

The point is that marketers are more effective when they connect with online audiences in the present moment, whether that means answering complaints or giving website visitors ways to share web content.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.