CHICAGO: Consumer engagement with brands on social media is growing at a far faster rate than the social networks themselves, with the entertainment sector leading the way, research has shown.

Sprout Social, a social media specialist, looked at channel growth, brand responsiveness and consumer behaviour across more than 160m inbound messages across 20,000 brand profiles and fan pages. It found that while the user base of Twitter and Facebook had increased 20.5% over the 12 months to Q4 2013, consumer brand engagement had soared 178%, nine times faster.

"The most important trend happening in social media for brands is the rapid growth of inbound consumer engagement," said Justyn Howard, Sprout Social CEO. "Businesses need to regroup and retool to shift from a largely marketing-driven focus in social channels to one that revolves around the customer," he added.

Entertainment was the fastest growing industry in this regard, recording a 350% increase in inbound messages in the year to the end of the third quarter of 2013. Then followed utilities (+201%), travel/hospitality (+118%), non-profit (+118%) and retail (+116%).

Overall the top ten industries had seen inbound message volume more than double over the period.

Breaking down the figures between Twitter and Facebook it became apparent that certain industries favoured one over the other. Thus, people preferred to use Facebook to interact with brands in the automotive and retail categories while Twitter was the platform of choice for entertainment, government and technology brands.

That situation was changing, however, as brands began to utilise Twitter as a customer care channel. This was highlighted in the statistic that showed, each month, brands averaged 60 messages per 1,000 followers on Twitter compared with just 39 messages per 1,000 fans on Facebook.

But response times did not match customer expectation, lengthening from an average 10.9 hours to 11.3 hours in Q3 2013 , although Sprout noted that this also coincided with the greatest increase in inbound messages.

Response rates also dipped below 20% and Howard observed that this "would not be tolerated in traditional channels like phone and email and is not a sustainable practice".

Businesses needed to understand that social media should be a fully integrated communication layer, said Sprout, properly staffed and able to offer customised responses.

Data sourced from Sprout Social; additional content by Warc staff