The Rise of the Complainers

“While still primarily a way to connect socially, brands/companies are starting to get some traction. While good news for marketers, that interaction comes at a price as so many will use social media to complain and spread the bad word. Brands/companies will need to be diligent in addressing issues and complaints as they arise.”

Dawson, 2019

I recently had an experience where I tried to use social media in an attempt to escalate concerns I had expressed to my representative. My concerns were long term, and despite the fact that I had shared them with the senior manager, and also the business owner, I never received any responses from anyone at the company. In frustration I wrote a one line review on Google:

Slick show to get you to sign on. Then nothing but disappointment and despair.

The response on Google was so fast it is clear that it is generated by some sort of AI. This is what they said:

Hi Kirsten, we are sorry to hear you had a disappointing experience with our company. Our passion, our “why” is building life-long relationships with our clients and tenants, so we would encourage you to reach out to your Property Manager or their assistant, we’d love to see what we can do to improve your experience.

Seems good. However, what they did in the background left me flabbergasted. Within 24 hours I had received an email terminating our contract and giving us one month to find a replacement. I tried speaking with my representative, with the manager, and the owner (I reached out to them) to see if we couldn’t resolve our problems, and their only response was

I am not prepared to go into this with you.

And that was it. Obviously the experience left me with a terrible feeling about this business. But it also started me thinking about how businesses do and should respond to customer complaints on social media.

The section in the Research Report 2019 Social Media Insights about the increase in customer complaints on social media caught my attention.

Growth in complaints on social media outpace growth on social media use.

The numbers are striking:

  • In 2019 54% of social media users used the platform to complain, up from 37% in 2016. That is a huge rise in a short amount of time.
  • Restaurants, telecommunications, and e-commerce were the top three industries people complained about on social media. Of note for my own marketing strategy is the growth from 9% to 14% between 2016 and 2019 in e-commerce.
  • Generation X and baby boomers were the most likely to complain, and these are my target market for my product.
  • 24% of complainers expect a response and a resolution to their complaint, 15% hope for a response to a complaint, 13% are venting with no expectations and 48% want people to know they did a bad job. These expectations were roughly the same for Millenials, Generation X and Baby Boomers.

My experience using social media as a platform to complain about a business seems to indicate that there is still room for growth in terms of how businesses handle customer complaints on social media. Research conducted by Insights West would seem to support this as well:

Only 9% of companies reported always/almost always responding to complaints.

34% of companies said they never respond to complaints on social media.

Based on my own personal experience, and these statistics I think it is important that any business develop a plan for how to deal with customer complaints on the various platforms they use. Things to think about are including a disclaimer for the wait time for responses to complaints, making sure to monitor all channels to avoid missing complaints, as well as developing an over all strategy for how to speak with unhappy customers.

Have you ever used social media to complain about a business? Were you happy with their response? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Dawson, C. (2019). 2019 Social Media Insights. Insights West: Simplified Understanding. Retrieved