Nick Westergaard

By Nick Westergaard on January 20, 2014

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Why People Really Complain on Social Media

social complaints

One the most common concerns of businesses launching their social media efforts is about customers that complain via social networks like Facebook and Twitter. An equally common response is that these individuals are going to complain about your business online or off, regardless of your brand’s social presence. Let’s take a look at the real reason people complain on social media.

As an active participant on social media, you have more tools at your disposal when someone does complain. However, what may surprise you is the reasoning behind why these customers choose to air their dirty laundry on social media in the first place.

Why Customers Complain via Social Media

As the old adage goes, your unhappy customers tell 10 people while your happy customers may not tell anyone at all. Now through social media your angry customers can tell 10 friends and their friends’ friends. But what’s the real motivation behind sharing these grievances?

According to The Social Habit from Edison Research, 79% of those complaining about a brand on Twitter do so in hopes that their “friends would see it.” While 52% hope “the company would see it” only 36% expect that the brand would “see it and address the problem.”

Most upset customers are taking to Twitter and other social networks not to actually solve their problems but rather to make sure that their friends see their gripes. The concept of social proof describes the impact social media referrals and endorsements have on businesses. But just as social media magnifies positive word-of-mouth recommendations, it can also amplify negative experiences.

It’s hard to believe there’s an opportunity at the heart of these complaints.

How You Can Use This to Your Advantage

How can there possibly be good news in troubling stats like these? Upset customers want to complain publicly for their friends to see. And, for the most part, brands aren’t responding much anyway.

Data also shows that an alarming 95% of posts on Facebook pages go un-answered by brands. First, we can embrace this as a reminder to listen and respond more. At the very least, each wall post or retweet that mentions your brand should be acknowledged with a basic like or a favorite of the tweet.

Simply listening more actively works to overcome consumers’ expectations that brands aren’t responsive via social media. When you actually respond to a customer issue in real time or near time with a simple statement, you show customers that your brand is listening, empathetic to their circumstances, and working to address the situation if possible. All of this helps you establish a foundation of trust — a critical building block in creating stronger customer relationships

Furthermore, you may also have an opportunity to turn the situation into a grand slam by jumping in with some old-school customer service to remedy the situation and go the extra mile. A good example of this is when New Pioneer Co-op converted a negative lunch tweet into a raving fan by responding in real time, taking the conversation offline, and sending out a handwritten apology with a gift card.

Does this mean you can only win with free gifts and real-time responses? Not at all. That’s neither realistic nor scalable. However, by finding occasional moments to exceed customer expectations and deliver some lagniappe (“a little something extra”) you can create impact in the hearts and minds of your community.

In short, overcome customers’ negative expectations of brand responsiveness online by looking for ways that you can be unexpected and over-deliver. While complaining customers may not be looking for you to respond when they’re upset, you’ll find yourself with an incredible opportunity — albeit a scary one initially — if you take a deep breath and engage.

Photo via Flickr user FindYourSearch


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Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, where he helps build better brands online. He also teaches at the University of Iowa and is host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.


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