Social media has given everyone a lot of leverage and a big microphone. With consumers choosing social media as the platform for voicing opinions, logging complaints and demanding responses, businesses have more reason than ever to pay attention to their social media sites.

Sprout Social, a social media marketing company, recently conducted a study about customer service interactions on social platforms. They found that consumers are demanding that brands interact on social media. In fact, they’re asking for it at almost two times the rate the Sprout Social study measured in 2012. (Not surprisingly, cell phone companies saw the biggest increase in consumer activity on social media.)

But many companies (even some of the biggest ones) aren’t coming through for their customers on social sites. For one, consumers using social media want timely replies. Sprout Social’s numbers show that businesses either aren’t paying attention, or they aren’t making social media interaction a priority.

Sprout Social found that the average response time to customer comments and inquiries on social media increased from 10.9 hours in the third quarter of 2012 to 11.3 hours just one year later. Add to that the increasing frequency of demand for attention, and it’s obvious that consumers are getting more and more impatient.

This is a noteworthy shift in consumer interactions. Brands should respond accordingly. Like other marketing and advertising efforts, they need to avoid employing social media as just another sales platform, and instead use those social channels to focus on consumer happiness.

Companies are also struggling to keep up with the incoming workload. Response demands on Facebook and Twitter have increased the most, yet company response rates on those sites are less than 20 percent. That means four out of five requests aren’t answered at all. That wouldn’t be acceptable in traditional customer service channels like call-ins and email, no matter what the circumstances

Finally, Sprout Social’s study showed that the bigger the audience, the lower the response rate. And even though companies with smaller audiences are responding more quickly, they’re still taking too much time.

The solution is obvious. Companies need to go where their audiences hang out, where their products and services are being talked about. That means Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google +, Tumblr and even YouTube. If you’re not sure where your brand is being talked about, tune in, hang out and find out.

Today, responsive, effective and exceptional customer service requires social media interaction. Since it’s still relatively rare to see a company actively involved with their audiences on social media, it’s a perfect time for brands willing to take this bold step to get a lot of attention with an element of surprise.

Is anybody out there listening to what’s being said on social media? Are any of you responding? Are you getting reactions from your customers? What are they telling you? We’d all love to hear what’s happening in your world.