Businesses' poor service levels are being laid bare for all to see by firms who 'switch off' social media. These companies are risking their reputation by not joining conversations about their brands and using social networks to their full potential, according to a recent panel of social media experts convened by web hosting firm UKFast. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

Ignoring or switch off a company's social media is a serious mistake being made by many businesses around the world as they find it difficult to prove its specific return on investment (ROI), or to quantify its direct contribution to the bottom line.

But Lawrence Jones, CEO for UKFast, suggests that social media engagement is a huge opportunity for businesses to grab with both hands: "UKFast set up a 24/7 social media presence, be it through blogging, Facebook or Twitter, and that has opened a two-way channel between us and our customers that we could never have had before. Being readily available means we can provide instant support."

And Heather Baker, managing director for digital consultancy TopLine Communications, agreed: "Social media is exposing gaps in customer service - legacy brands that have always got away with poor customer service are still trying to do that, but the way that social media is going it is going to cause them to struggle to keep it up."

Because social media is so transparent, brands have to be proactive and be seen to get involved, according to Kate Cargill, sales and marketing manager for Hard Rock Cafe. "Social feedback is so instant that people can be sitting in your venue and you can know their opinion straight away - and if you don't respond to criticisms and suggestions immediately, you risk losing them."

Kate Joynes-Burgess, head of digital for public relations firm Weber Shandwick, highlighted the difficulties of finding the right balance in social media: "These days a brand is conspicuous by its absence on social media. Even if you're managing customer service though different channels you have to report back to the community that you are sorting problems out. Social media gives customers the opportunity to define how businesses deliver their customer services in a very public way."

As a result, Leanne Forshaw-Jones, managing director for PR consultancy LFJPR, believes the basic principles of customer service should be help at the forefront of businesses that opt to move to social media: "There is a fear within brands, that have had their own model of customer service for so long, about moving it online. But if you simplify it and say the formula is still the same, the relationship and outcome is the same but you're dealing with it in a different way, they'll soon realise they need to invest in a customer service team that works purely on social media."