Companies of all sizes have begun to engage customers and prospects on social networking services, according to a report released by market analysis firm Datamonitor.

The report, ‘The Rise of Social Networking and Emerging Channels in Customer Service’, indicated that much of that activity has been pure marketing, but some leading companies have begun to offer customer service and support through social networking.

“Given the boom in popularity of social networks, enterprises of all stripes have started to look for ways to market their brands to potential customers through these services,” said the report’s author Ian Jacobs, senior analyst for customer interaction technologies at Datamonitor.

“Whether it is through online contests, coupon and discount offers or just an extended presence to shine positive light on brands, social networking has become a darling of the marketing world.”

The increased corporate presence on these networks has also led to service interactions between company and customer. The report revealed that some of these interactions result from a direct contact from a customer to a company (akin to a phone call into a contact centre).

But with new social media monitoring tools, companies have also begun to inject themselves into customer conversations – if a user complains online about poor service, the company being complained about is becoming more proactive on solving the issue directly with the user.

Jacobs pointed out that, when done properly, social network-based customer service interactions drive increased intimacy between company and customer.

“Social networks will not be a flash-in-the-pan craze and will not simply disappear or burn themselves out. Companies that choose to simply ignore this trend will relegate themselves to the outdated, fuddy-duddy camp – an important distinction depending on a company’s desired demographic – and more worryingly, maybe even to obsolescence,” explains Jacobs.