Want a Reaction? Complain on Twitter


A few years ago I tweeted about walking out of a shop disgust after watching two of the world’s worst sales assistants laughing at a customer from afar (You can read the original blog post here). Very quickly I received reply from the shop’s Twitter account, which resulted in them sending me an email apologising and saying what they would be doing to put it right.

Which leads me to question, are big companies really paying attention to their social media? Do they have staff scouring Twitter for complaints or anything that could defame their brand? Or do they just leave automated robots to send out generic tweets?

Stefan Stieglitz and Nina Krüger, professors in social media and psychology, believe that companies are paying attention to their social media. They note that enterprises have noticed that just having a standalone website is not enough. Companies need to interact with their customers more directly to successfully follow trends and identify new markets.

Stieglitz and Krüger discuss this in their chapter in Twitter and Society: an introduction, stating, “Communication data in public social media can be understood as a rich source of information that can be utilised by enterprises. Additionally, enterprises are also able to interact directly and publicly with their target groups.” (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014, p.281)

But social media can be tricky to navigate. As social media platforms expand, and new ones are created, it becomes increasingly difficult for companies to protect their reputation online. “Enterprises face the challenge, for example, of having to identify relevant pieces of communication, of having to react appropriately to messages from customers, or of being suddenly affected by negative feedback, or even by social media “shitstorms” (social crises).” (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014, p.281)

Even in 2013, the company I tweeted reacted to my complaint almost immediately. It was obvious that they had some sort of complaints procedure put in place. According to Stieglitz and Krüger, “larger enterprises have established well-directed issue management processes in order to monitor or even influence public opinion about their products, services, and reputation.” (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014, p.284)

If I had emailed the company instead of tweeting about them, would they have reacted so quickly? A carefully written tweet sent out to the whole world is much more dangerous than a direct email. This is likely why unhappy customers are taking to social media to complain.

“Determining the appropriate reaction to issues in social media is difficult, since, for the most part, best practices have not yet been established. Additionally, it has to be considered that crisis situations usually have a unique character which makes it difficult to elaborate a structured management process.” (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014, p.286)

This is very important for me to consider as I’m in the process of setting myself up as a social media consultant. It’s hard to know what advice to give to smaller companies and freelancers who could easier be ruined by just one bad comment.

A quick reaction seems to the best option, but there needs to be a balance between apologising to customers and accepting fault when there was none. I know of many sole traders in the ‘handmade’ market who have given refunds to avoid bad press they just can’t afford. These are the people who need help, and who should be look at larger companies who are taking the lead on social media.

Stieglitz, S & Krüger, N. 2014. Public Enterprise-Related Communication and Its Impact on Social Media Issue Management. In: Bruns, A. et al. eds. Twitter and Society. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.