The Trouble with Social Spam

Filed in Blog, Call Centers, Guest Blog, Hospitality by on May 2, 2013
trouble with social spam

Customer Service operations have evolved this past decade to embrace the discipline of social web listening and engagement. Now customer service agents specializing in social media spend their time reading blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts in search of a way to help clients in need. But social care agents are bedeviled by Social Spam. And slogging through social Spam gets in the way of helping customers in addition to robbing precious time from customer care teams. Here, we discuss Social Spam and ways to deal with it.

What is Social Spam?

Spam is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, but customer care professionals know it when they see it. For the most part, Social Spam is any post that’s not “actionable” from a customer service standpoint. In other words, if there is not a legitimate complaint, cry for help, or question that needs to be answered, it’s Spam.

This presents a special challenge for organizations who mobilize around the social web to offer customer service. In fact, some enterprises report that as much as 85% of their agents’ time is spent slogging through social spam. Now imagine if that were the case with inbound customer service telephone calls. To put this into perspective, consider the idea of 85% of inbound calls being “wrong number” calls or abandoned calls. If that were the case, agent occupancy  would be a nightmare. Such is the case with many social engagement operations.

How Social Spam gets Through?

Social Spam gets past your social engagement platform because it “piggy backs” on top of the key word search criteria used to build social engagement profiles. For example, if you are running a major grocery store chain, you might put a search query together for your produce department so people with customer service concerns can reach out to you on social channels. For example, you could use a simple query like: (“ABC Markets” AND Produce) AND (Help OR Complaint OR Problem OR Spoiled OR Rotten). This would catch tweets like: “Help, I bought bananas at ABC Markets today but they were rotten.”

Unfortunately, the same key word search criteria would also yield: “ABC Markets, Fresh Markets, and FoodGiant battle for produce shoppers with new help apps on web sites.” While the words are all legitimately “caught” in the profile fish net, the content of this post in not relevant from an individual customer service standpoint.

How Social Spam Impacts your Operation

Social Spam has a negative impact on your operation. Let me count the ways…

First, Social Spam ties-up your agents and causes their effective occupancy rates to tumble. When you add breaks, training time, wrap-up duties and sick time to the equation, you will be lucky to have ten percent occupancy if you have Spam problem that runs unabated.

Second, Social Spam blocks the ability to spend time on the issues that really matter and this means many customers go unserved. Clearly, if agents are spending more than 50% of their time reading and dispatching Spam, that’s 50% of the time they are not spending serving customer needs. This can ruin loyalty with customers – especially because it is a common expectation that social networking answers to questions should happen within hours and at the latest within a day.

Third, Social Spam can be demoralizing to your customer service staff. Imagine reading non-related posts all day. Imagine what that does to your enthusiasm and productivity. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to quit. If this is the case in your organization, it’s time to put an action plan in place to retain not only your customers, but your agents, too.

What can you do about Social Spam?

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to purge your operation of Social Spam or at least limit it.

One way to immediately improve the Spam situation is to tighten-up your key word search criteria for each social profile you have in operation. Depending on your platform, you can experiment with Boolean operands you may not be using. For example the operand “NOT” instead of just using “AND” and “OR.” You can also filter out certain sources, such as news blogs. News blogs are great for understanding what influential bloggers are saying about a brand or about the industry in general. But it is not often that an individual blogger says anything that is actionable for a customer care agent. (Maybe a brand manager or a public relations person, but not usually a customer care agent).

If your platform has advanced filtering capabilities, you can also throw out posts with particular attributes. For example, retweets. A retweet is basically someone mimicking or passing on what someone else said. Retweets are not original content, so it is rare that you can actually provide customer service to someone who is retweeting what someone else said.

A more modern approach to eliminating Social Spam is to leverage the capabilities of an NLU Engine (Natural Language Processing). If you have a legacy social listening platform you may be able to cobble-on a third party NLU capability. NLU engines have the ability to automatically analyze the words, phrases, syntax and overall morphology of text. With the correct mathematical algorithms at work, NLY technology can be used to “tag” social posts that are suspected of not being relevant. This takes some work and in fact the NLU engine must be “trained” just like you teach a baby to speak its first words. The training can take anywhere from a few days to a week but it is well worth it.

Ultimately, it may be too expensive to cobble together a Spam solution based on a legacy or first-generation social listening platform. A third approach is to deploy an all-in-one social engagement platform that natively eliminates spam. Some of these systems will also have a rules engine (sometimes called a decisioning engine). These allow you to automatically disposition or close posts with Spam or other attributes you can act on.


Social Spam can play havoc on your customer care operation if you don’t so something about it. You can lose customers, spend too much operationally and even drive your agents to quit their posts. But you can do something about it. You can tune-up your existing engagement platform, bolt on NLU technology or take a look at some of the new, all-in-one options out there that eliminate Spam. By addressing the issue of Social Spam, you can ensure a smoother operation that does a better job keeping your customers happy.
[divider style=”solid”]

This guest post was written by Edwin Marguilies.

Ed MarguiliesEdwin Margulies is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of SoCoCare, a company dedicated to cloud-based Social Engagement for Customer Care. He is a customer service thought leader, author and inventor with 33-years of operations and product strategy experience. Margulies has held executive posts at companies including Oracle, Dialogic and Telephony@Work. He has designed hundreds of customer service systems and contact centers. These experiences lead to the formation of Sterling Audits, a research firm specializing in service automation usability. Margulies is also a pioneer of social engagement for customer care, which led to the formation of SoCoCare. His newest book called “Social Engagement for Customer Care” will be available in May. You can email the author at or tweet @SoCoCareEd

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.