Put down the social pitchforks people…

I get it. You’re mad. REALLY mad.

We’ve all been there – finger hovering over a Facebook or Twitter rant – ready to fire it off at a brand who has ruined our day, wasted our time and frustrated us beyond belief.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of waving a social pitchfork around from time to time. Back in 2012 I was so enraged with Vodafone (again) I published the whole tweet stream in a blog.

I’m also happy to admit that there are things I wish I hadn’t tweeted in the heat of the are-you-kidding-me moment. But overall I’m OK with expressing my unhappiness online, firing off the odd snarky tweet to a politician and I’m more than fine with telling trolls to jam it up their popsicle coloured twarses.

Which is why brands need to work out where their defensible comfort zone is and defend themselves where appropriate. Brands are not a social media doormat and their social media staff deserve to be treated with the same respect as their in-store, in-person counterparts.

So how do you complain to be heard?

Here are my top 5 tips:


1 – Brands are fatigued by complaints that come with a catch. 

The quickest way to get a new phone, gadget or flight upgrade is to either walk into a store or visit their website and buy it. You know, like everyone else.

Think you’re an exception to that rule? I’d love to know why because if your complaint comes with a catch, it isn’t a complaint at all.

No matter how you dress up your issue or spin it sideways on social media, the brand you’re complaining to has heard it before. Being an aggressive idiot to the social media team isn’t enterprising, it’s disingenuous. Get in line, everyone says a free whats-it will make their issue magically disappear. It doesn’t work. Stop it.

2 – Making someone feel like shit only gets you further away from a resolution. 

No one wakes up in the morning and goes to work hoping that some complete stranger will verbally abuse them today (unless you’re a sadist for hire, in which case carry on). Breaking out your inner badass online and directing said attitude toward brand social media operators achieves nothing. How motivated to help you do you really think they are after being on the receiving end of your torrent of abuse?

No matter how genuine your complaint, aggression will get you nowhere. Actually it will get you somewhere: blacklisted and blocked.

Think a brand deserves a trolling?

Like you, brands are well aware that they need not attend every argument they’re invited to – no matter how many friends you invite to the party.

You know who they LOVE chatting with online? Reasonable, respectful and polite people.

3 – The customer is most definitely NOT always right.

The customer – that’s YOU – is not always right and brands are well aware of it. Brands don’t owe you anything more than what you’ve purchased or contracted them for. Nothing. Not. A. Thing.

If you are honest with yourself – you know this is true. You also know there are two sides to every dispute. You may choose to ignore this fact, but it doesn’t make it any less relevant to the situation you find yourself in.

Everything doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes a brand will disappoint you. Mistakes can be made. That’s not malicious, or intended to tick you off – it’s just life. Its up to you to choose how you deal with those feelings.

So before you light that match on an orchestrated social bonfire or break the trolls out of their cave – ask yourself this: are you doing this for attention? Or do you really want to achieve a resolution?

Because resolutions don’t require a cast and audience.


4 – Always give a brand the opportunity to make things right BEFORE you invite them to your social media showdown.

Pick up the phone.

Walk into a store.

Email them.

Direct or Private Message them.

If your issue is time critical to you – you should follow the above list IN ORDER.

Brands WANT to do the right thing by you but you need to give them an opportunity to do so before pulling the ripcord on that parachute. Why? Because for better or worse if you’ve published your mutual dirty laundry online (yes- brands and journalists will stalk your social footprint to see just how prolific a complainer you are or are not) you’re taking that skydive into the social abyss together.

Pick your battles AND your battle-space carefully because Google never forgets and good luck trying your social pitchfork strategy out on them.

5 – Have a reasonable resolution in mind.

Missed a connecting flight? That doesn’t entitle you to a free upgrade.

Your phone bill shows an error charge of $30? That doesn’t entitle you to a brand new free iPhone of your choosing.

Grand gestures of apology are best voluntarily offered, not sought after (refer point 1).

If you have been inconvenienced or suffered some manner of detriment as a result of the brand’s mistake (considering what you may or may not have contributed to the situation) point this out politely to open negotiations towards a reasonable resolution.

And by reasonable I mean be guided by common sense and a sense of fairness in establishing the commensurate value of your inconvenience.

A quick word for Brands:

In the often manufactured power imbalance that is social media – where it is extraordinarily easy for people to say things they’d never have the gumption to say in-store face to face – your ability to turn a complaint into a constructive demonstration of your customer service is an essential differentiator in a crowded marketplace.

What makes your brand of more value is very rarely the products you sell – it’s the service and experience you provide your customers with.

How you leave your customers feeling when they walk away from your store or reflect after a phone call or social media interaction is the measure of your complaint resolution success.