Shouting from your social media rooftop

The beauty of social media is sharing our experiences with others. Each day I learn new things about you and the things you care about. Inevitably I end up more educated on a wide range of topics and find new things I care about, too. I love learning from you!

When interacting with others and sharing our thoughts online, we all have a voice. It doesn’t matter if you have 5 followers or 5,000, people are listening.

Technology is a game-changer.

Back in the day (you know, like three years ago) customer service trainings would warn companies that customers will share positive experiences with 2-3 people, but an “upset  customer” will share with 9-15 people.

I’m sure anyone who spends time in social media will agree there’s been a significant change in the last few years in terms of the customer experience. This stems from advances in technology giving us both immediacy and amplification.

Immediacy: Our friends are only a hyper-moment away. Smart phones have brought real-time sharing of customer experiences. We commonly share where we are, what we are doing and how it’s going. Foursquare and Twitter encourage this moment-by-moment publishing of our lives.

When we are angry and feel like we are being treated poorly, we may choose to immediately vent our frustration and anger with friends… in the heat of the moment.

Amplification: I’d argue the ratio of people complaining five times as often as they give compliments is still valid. The difference now is our networks are dramatically bigger.

The average Facebook user has 130 friends. Twitter numbers are harder to nail down because the majority of users abandon their account within a month or so. The average users, at my best estimate, have between 200 to 2,000 followers.

When you complain, people listen.

There was a lot of chatter a few weeks ago when Bob Harper (pseudo-celeb from The Biggest Loser) tweeted out a complaint when he couldn’t get a table at a hot restaurant:

“OMG!! The manager at Bar Lagrasa in Minneapolis was SO RUDE to me. I wanted to have dinner there. Why are people so mean sometimes?”

Dramatic, right? I watched it unfold. Of his 130k Twitter followers, many retweeted it (shared it with their followers). A lot of people publicly supported him and vowed never to eat at Bar La Grassa. According to the manager, 15 people called in Bob’s defense. A week or so later, a behind-the-scenes account of the story was printed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that told the real story – exposing Bob the trainer as nothing short of a whining egomaniac.

I see people in my network acting like Bob – every day. Some are general comments about companies. Some are more specific and call out employee names in specific departments of a store. In fact, I’ve even seen people call out their ex-lovers on Twitter and Facebook – with the goal of publicly humiliating them.

There are two sides to every story. In Bob’s case, the restaurant admitted they wouldn’t give Bob a table – because they were packed. However, they also offered his American Express concierge (the person actually making the call) other options. But he didn’t give the full story in his tweets.

Shouting from your social media rooftop.

That brings me to the question… do we have a responsibility to use our voices carefully online? If you complain online frequently, especially in the heat of the moment, I challenge you to take a step back and think about the impression it gives to everyone around you.

Not because I’m out to protect the brand of every company that provides bad service. Of course there are positive things that can happen from complaining online. Many would argue it gives companies an opportunity to repair a relationship. That said, I believe there are often more constructive ways to be heard than shouting loudly from your social media rooftop.

Bottom line: There comes a point when your complaints reflect more poorly on you than the company you are complaining about.

As you can tell, I’ve been chewing on this topic for awhile now and discussing it with others as I’ve been grappling with the tension of how much complaining online is healthy for our commerce v. how much is simply whining.

I’m careful with my words online, but that doesn’t mean that all complaints are off-limits either. In my next post, I’ll cover my personal policy on complaining in social media. Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

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  1. Thanks, Missy. I don’t think do a lot of customer service bashing, I hope.

    I think that I need to remember to share good customer service more often.

    • Hi Sara! I love it when people I talk with online share their positive experiences! And when they do it often, I’m much more likely to take the occasional complaint seriously (rather than thinking people are just sounding off).

  2. It’s frustrating to see people rant on twitter/facebook when its clear it’s a personal vendetta. On twitter, I recently unfollowed a person that was constantly picking on a company. The twitterer (that’s a word now right?) tried making their case a David vs Goliath, but it was clear the person was trying to get something for free. I was/am cheering for this company now, hoping they don’t give in to this new-age terroristic tactics.

    • Bud, I’ve had the same experience. There are handful of people I’ve either hid (on facebook) or stopped following (twitter) because of this behavior. Interesting to hear you call it new-age terroristic tactics. I can see why when certain people launch social media bashing campaigns to get their way. Chronic complainers don’t get my attention (or sympathy) either.

  3. Great points, Missy. I whole heartedly agree.

  4. There are times when I’m talking about social media in a presentation and individuals want to talk about social media as if it were the dark side of The Force. And it is usually the people who don’t use social media.
    I remind people that social media are tools and the negative that happens using those tools is because of behaviors that existed long before social media. Facebook didn’t make people nastier than they were before, it just provided them with a quicker method of communicating.
    I agree that people have a responsibility for what they say using social media. Just like they have responsibility for what they write in a letter or an email or in a newspaper, etc.

  5. As I read this I’m reminded of many instances where the mention of an issue on Twitter has lead to positive changes, an experience that you’ve encountered as well. I’ll be interested in hearing your perspective on that.

    And I’m with you on the chronic complainers; they don’t warrant a moment of my time and I need more than two hands to count the number of them that I’ve ditched due to their negative behavior. We’re all adults, and more often than not our behaviors can merit that which comes back to us. Having worked so long in customer service gives me ample insight to how people bring often upon themselves such poor experiences.

    • Hi Kate, I’m curious which instance you are referring to? A few months ago I dove into the Amazon pedophile e-book tweet-storm… is that it? I’ll share more about my participation in that one, and at least one other example, in my next post. I wanted to include it in this one… but frankly it was getting too long and I thought it was best to break it off into a second.

      An interesting note about the complainers: I’ve talked with quite a few of them to get their views on the matter. There is definitely a pay-off — not only do they get the gratification of venting, but there are often those who jump in and sympathize with them… and then occasionally (but not always) companies may reach out and try to solve the problem or make amends in some way. With payoffs like that, there’s motivation to keep it up.

      That’s why I thought it was worth talking about… and encourage people to think about it from another angle. Thanks!

  6. I agree with you in that I think when you complain, people listen. Companies are monitoring social media to see what is being said about them – as they should be. Regardless, not every single person will have a positive experience and I feel as though people are more likely to share negative experiences versus good experiences. I try to share both. Coming from a customer service professional background, I believe that sharing both positive and negative experiences is the most beneficial.

    Being interested in marketing and advertising, I pay extra attention to how a company or a business brands themselves, and this includes online and in social media.

    To answer your question: yes, we have a responsibility to use our voices online. Use it for whatever you choose but remember, at the end of the day, YOU are your brand. I can see how this really does reflect bad on YOU as an individual. If I spend my time complaining about every tiny detail of a bad look someone gave me or the wrong change received, I will most definitely appear like a negative person.
    Great post :)

    • Thanks Leah. We all have bad days and we all have the right to complain… in the spirit of authenticity, we sometimes share if our lives aren’t all roses all the time. That said, my experience aligns with your assertion: those who complain a lot online appear to be negative people.

  7. Guilty of using social media to complain about a company! This, however, was not a knee-jerk response and I thought long and hard before I did it. I “set the social media dogs out” on a certain company after MONTHS of trying to deal with their poor customer service and finally no responses from them. I was surprised how quickly people spoke up about the same company!

    If I need to do a knee-jerk complaint about a company I usually don’t use their name. I simply tweet or facebook something like “Ugh, at a restaurant and their food sucks!” I figure that I may have been at that restaurant on a bad night and they are not always like that.

    • Jamie, sounds like you are already thoughtful about how you talk about companies or others online. I agree about the restaurants, etc. Even though companies are companies and not people, they still have reputations and I don’t always feel it’s warranted to slam them publicly based on one experience. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  8. I had a huge incident, (which most everyone knows about,) where my phone was inaccessible for over a month with Tmobile. After being told I was, “scamming” the company and having my phone throttled, I took to my twitter to complain. Their fiasco, almost cost me a prestigious writing position at this year’s CES. I think with the amount of people that complain about their cable, or telephone, it’s hard for companies to take all the complaints seriously. After not giving up, I was issued an apology and credit on my bill, (meaning I wouldn’t have to pay for the month my phone wasn’t usable.) The apology meant way more. As a single mom on a tight budget, this was great, as an online persona, some people were annoyed. It’s sad it had to come to those terms.

    Why did I do it? I utilized Social Media because in one week, I called 12 times to try and get help on my account. Over the course of December 23rd to January 12th, I called 30 times. (I had to keep track, as I was asked.) No one was willing to look into the problem of me being, “throttled.” It turned out, In mid-January, Microsoft and T-mobile issues PR that they were experiencing a high number of issues with data throttling and would be replacing units. The only person who helped me? Was someone higher-up who had happened to be scanning “Tmobile” on Twitter. He said, he couldn’t believe no one brought it to his attention. Because of the error, I was almost out $850 in travel expenses, PLUS a gig at CES.

    Someone mentioned very publicaly about a month ago, that my ‘complaining’ was hurting my brand. Ironically, since the entire Tmobile incident, I have had more press, website hits and non-bot followers than ever. And, I’ve earned a few other gigs in speaking out for consumers. If used correctly, voicing your opinion can be a great tool with social media, but as I’ve learned the hard way- it can also alienate you from people that you care about in the Social Media realm.

    The bottom line? When a company’s decision almost affected my livelihood, I decided it was time to act. I did the ‘nice email’ route, then the, ‘stern email’ route. Then I called. 30 darn times. A low point happened when the customer service agent informed me, “you must be scamming us by watching videos on your phone all day!” I realized then, the entire debacle could have been prevented if we gave Customer Service Reps enough empowerment to look into and fix problems on their own, and if companies didn’t assume we all wanted something for free.

    Great, Great, Post. Just my lengthy 2 cents. :)

    • Kate, Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective. It sounds like you had a pretty dramatic (and even traumatic) experience with T-mobile. Interestingly, as you shared, your public outcry ultimately gave you both wins and losses. It’s too bad T-mobile doesn’t better monitor (or respond to) their mentions on Twitter – the fact that a “higher up” just happened to come across your complaints means it could have gone much longer without being resolved. (By the way, I totally get why the apology meant more to you than the $$$).

      Certainly, the answer to the question of when to bite our tongues v. when to speak up publicly has no easy answer. But the potential of damaging our own reputations when going after a company is something signifcant to consider in the process, hence the impetus for this post. Thanks for engaging the conversation!

  9. Also guilty of complaining via social media. I once really went off on an airline after a huge delay and poor customer service. I deleted the post later that day after I had a clearer head. Since then, I aim to not post in the heat of the moment. And I’ve witnessed firsthand at work when someone tweets dissatisfaction only to call and apologize later.

    I actively try to post more positives when companies do well since that is frequently overlooked. So , great job, Melissa!

  10. Great post, Melissa. I think we have a responsibility to use our voices carefully–both online and offline.

    I’ve often wrestled with where the line between complaining and whining is. I think people’s expectations of what things *should* be like or what *should* happen play into this. I’ve found that people with unrealistic expectations are some of the biggest whiners.

    I also firmly believe it’s important for people to share positive feedback about their experiences too. It can be just as instructive as negative feedback and let’s face it, sometimes it’s just nice to hear that you’re doing something well.

  11. I have complained once or twice about a specific business by name online. I try not to do it lightly, and if I do complain, it’s typically after I’ve tried multiple avenues to resolve an issue, with little success. Then social media becomes another possible way for me to resolve things. So I’m trying to be responsible, give people a chance, and then avail myself of the various avenues open to me to resolve an issue.

    But for me, honestly, the real story is how often I am delighted by social media. I’ve mentioned businesses in passing, not to complain, but because I’ve had a question or I happened to be patronizing one of them at the time. Occasionally, a business I mention has replied to me on Twitter and offered me help or said they hoped I had a great meal, that kind of thing. When that has happened, I have been totally delighted. And I’ve spent more time talking about THOSE businesses than I did about the businesses I was unhappy with, just because I was so blown away by their awesomeness.

    Social media can cut both ways, it’s true. But the reality is that people aren’t saying anything on Twitter or Facebook that they’re not already saying in real life. And in the end, I think that the upside of engaging and connecting is far greater than the potential downside. You can win fans for life, if you do it well.

  12. And isn’t great when social media is used to CHAMPION someone! Maybe as a teacher (St. Kate’s) I’m used to looking out for the good, but I find I like to do it all the time. Maybe that’s why I only use to share positive experiences.

    Great analysis, either way! Thanks!

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