Using Social Media to Complain

May 9, 2018 | Technical & How-To

Oh, the power of social media! Where once we might have been limited to telling 15 of our closest friends about our negative experience with BrandX, we now have the bully-pulpit of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other channels by which to trash our least-favorite brand of the moment. Using social media to complain can be very effective, or it can just trash a brand’s reputation to no good end.

Admittedly, sometimes, it feels like they deserve it.

On the other hand, saying “You SUCK, BrandX! You are the WORST people on the planet!” is kind of a waste of everybody’s time. You know – be very specific. “You suck” is hardly an actionable complaint. Maybe you think you don’t care, and you’re vengefully hoping they never figure out how to make it better, because there’s a sucking black hole for companies like BrandX and you’d be delighted to see them buried in it, under 16 tons of elephant poop. You’re righteously angry, and you have the faceless Internet Horde on your side. You’ve got Brands A, B, and C  gleefully courting your business now and offering you competitive discounts. BrandX made you feel like a nobody, but its competitors know just how important and valuable you are. They’ll treat you right.

Did you bully the other kids on the school playground? Did that get you “in” with the popular kids?

I’m willing to bet money that somewhere down the line, BrandA, BrandB, and BrandC all suck – for someone. Maybe even for you, once they’ve courted you and won your business. How disappointing is that? And if all you do is shout, “YOU SUCK!!” in all caps, they still won’t know what they can do to make your life any happier. Sure, they’d all like for you to like them (believe it or not, no company has on its annual goals, “Get 70% of our customers pissed off at us, for one reason or another”), but if you bully them and don’t say anything but “You suck! Everybody go tell BrandX how bad they suck!” and start swearing at and about them, they’ll give up trying and focus on the nice people. Because, really, you’ve just told them that there’s no reasonable thing they can do to make you a happy customer. They’re not going to chain you up and make you keep buying BrandX when you’ve just announced to 5 billion people that you will never do that again.

On the other hand, if you go through the proper, normal channels to get redress for your grievances with BrandX, and still get no satisfaction, you’re not wrong to vent, or to use social media to communicate with the brand. In fact, if you tweet out, “Hey, @BrandXSocialMedia, I got put on hold for 16 hours, fell asleep, and came back to find my support ticket was closed without a fix!” you may get help from higher up and maybe they can prevent the problem from happening to other customers. Everyone’s happy. The larger brands probably have millions – if not billions – of products out there. Honestly, if only .01% of a million customers are unhappy, that’s still 100 unhappy people. It’s not like they’re trying to screw you over, personally.

Now imagine there are only 100 customer service reps trying to respond to everything from “How do I turn this thing on?” to “I’m getting an error code 666666 – does that mean my digital display toaster’s now possessed by the devil? Why the frig didn’t I just stick with the old one where I just pushed the damned bread down with my jam knife?” You can imagine how a generalized “You suck” just sinks right to the bottom of the to-do list, even as it demoralizes real human beings who probably don’t suck and had nothing to do with whatever pissed you off in the first place.

I’m not here to judge. I’ve been guilty of ineffective bitching and moaning on social media, too.  I’m just here to offer some tips on more effectively using social media to communicate what you want and need from brands. They’re usually quite sincere when they say they want to “engage” with you, but you have to help by meeting them halfway. A few things they will always need from you: contact info (and a way to get that privately, unless you want it blasted all over the ever-lovin’ Internet), specifics of the problem or suggestions, and assurance from you that it really is worth their time to make it right. That’s “assurance,” not “threats.”

Complain to the Right Person!

Try to make sure you’re complaining to the right social care account, first. How do you know? Does it have a little “Verified” checkmark in a blue circle? Does it contain some variant of the word “Support” or “Service” or “Help” in the handle or bio? Is it active? Look at the Tweet stream, news feed, or recent posts to see if anyone’s minding the store. If it hasn’t Tweeted at all in 473 days, is it fair of you to complain that it didn’t respond to you in two?

Spelling and Grammar DO Matter!

Make sure that you spell BrandX and its products’ names correctly – just like what you see on the packaging for their thing you bought. You’d be amazed at how much this helps those folks searching through the haystack. Odds are, Coca-Cola™ won’t find an obscure reference to “koca koola.”

When a thing has a billion mentions in social media, odds are pretty good that the folks reaching down into the haystacks to find your sharp-tongued barbs are using software to search through large amounts of aggregated data (think “ginormous, machine-baled haystacks – like, all the haystacks on Google”) for what it is the brand is doing well, and what it is they’re doing poorly. Your use of simple, declarative sentences will get faster attention and action than using clever metaphors and sarcasm.


Look, Twitter may be great for getting a brand’s attention, but it’s hard to provide a really good description of the problem, let alone a resolution, in 140 characters. First of all, if you’re going to approach a brand’s customer service Twitter account, it’s a good idea to Follow that account first, so that they can Follow you and send you a private, direct message to get more information. Unless you just want to blast your phone number and/or email to them in a public tweet: “Hey, @BrandXSupport, call me at 555-555-5555 so I can tell you you suck to your face!”

Seriously, whoever’s manning that account probably doesn’t suck and really doesn’t want to lose you as a customer. They may or may not be able to resolve your issue in a couple of Tweets, but if they can, it’s a win-win. Help them to help you. Try a pleasant Tweet, first.

If that doesn’t do the trick, maybe write a simple blog post about exactly what’s going on – make it very clear, so that anyone can understand exactly what the problem is and what you’d like to see BrandX do about it. Then Tweet something like: “Hey, @BrandX, you suck and here’s why: ” You get to vent, and BrandX has another chance to make it right for you.

Facebook & Google+

It really helps to make sure, when venting to BrandX, that you’re actually on a real BrandX page, and not one of numerous fake BrandX pages. Because the fake ones are probably run by FlyByNight. FlyByNight probably isn’t a competitor of BrandX – they’re working all sides of the street and trying to sell whatever they can sell – or, worse yet, trying to build up an email marketing list or contact database they can sell or exploit. Or maybe they were set up by another disgruntled customer who got there, first, and now you’re just commiserating – but BrandX may not even realize it. Make sure that when you say “BrandX you suck,” your complaints aren’t falling on deaf ears.

If you want BrandX to lower its prices, don’t go yelling at it in some far-flung, remote, nobody-ever-goes-here site. They may eventually find your complaint, but it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack and that means they have to hire more hands to reach into the haystack – raising costs for everybody. Serious complaints left on BrandX’s doorstep will likely be reviewed before the “Hah! Tag, you’re it! Betcha can’t find me!” complaints.

Review Sites

Obviously, a verified purchaser’s review will be taken more seriously than someone who may or may not own anything by BrandX. With so many paid reviewers out there, it’s only fair to the actual customers. And speaking of fair, my Grandfather used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Okay, so who the hell wants to attract a bunch of flies? No one. But if you write a fair and balanced review, including whatever positive points you can sincerely say about BrandX without gagging or feeling the flames of eternal damnation licking at your feet for lying, your opinions and experiences will be taken much more seriously than if you appear to be a shill for Brand Y, or someone who holds a personal grudge against BrandX.

The existence of paid reviews also makes photos (preferably of you, holding your BrandX lemon) and video (wherein you get on your webcam and show off your BrandX lemon or talk about your personal experiences with BrandX) much more valuable than mere text and pretty pictures pulled from BrandX’s own site. Pictures and video are great for showing exactly what the problem looks like, sounds like, and where it is.

Fake reviews may fool the search engines, sometimes, but they rarely fool a brand or a savvy customer.

Blogs & The Open Letter

All of the tips above apply to blogs, as well. The nice thing about blogs is that it gives BrandX a chance to compose a thoughtful reply and engage with you. That is, if they can find your post. You know the whole argument about which is king: content or marketing? If BrandX can’t find your blog, let alone your post, drowning in the sea of 450 billion other blogs out there, you’re going to get mad at them for ignoring you, aren’t you? Play fair – see the Twitter section of this post, above. Go directly to BrandX and say, “Hey, I’ve got a problem. I describe it here – – can you share this with someone at BrandX who can fix this for me?” At this point, you may consider including other active BrandX Twitter accounts, assuming the support account hasn’t helped, yet.

I had two great experiences with 24 Hour Fitness and their social media customer service. One involved empowering employees to make the customer experience better, and the other involved a weird experience with billing. To be fair, after complaining about them, I made sure to give them well-deserved kudos for how they handled my grievances. I’d like to encourage them, and other brands, to keep up the good work. Aren’t you more motivated by praise than by being bashed over the head with a virtual 2×4?

I once had a horrendous experience on a particular airline that’s based in Philadelphia (and now owned by a larger airline). I mean, seriously – if they were the last airline on the planet and I had to get from Maine to southern California, I’d seriously consider walking. It would probably take me five years, but I’m pretty sure the whole experience would be much more pleasant.  I tried complaining to the desk agent. I filled out a comment card and left it with a flight attendant. I filled out a second comment card and mailed it. I wrote a lovely snail mail letter to the head of Customer Service. I wrote a not-so-nice snail mail letter to the head of Customer Service. And finally, I posted that same letter as an open letter on the Internet. I mean, I was angry and they didn’t respond to me at all. But some of their pilots and flight crews did. They logged in and created accounts on the platform I was using for blogging at the time, just so they could leave comments on my post. They wanted me to know they shared my pain. They expressed their frustration with customers’ attitudes, and I agreed they had some legitimate gripes. They wanted me to understand that the things that went wrong that trip were way beyond their control. And I assured them that I knew all these things – that the pilots and flight crews had been the only saving grace for this airline. But I never got any official response at all from the airline about my specific complaints.

When a customer goes to this much effort to reach a brand, odds are, they don’t want to hate the brand. They want restitution, not retribution. When the employees start commiserating with the unhappy customers, there’s an even bigger problem. Sadly, I’d still want to walk, if this were the last airline on the planet.

But to be fair, they are (amazingly) still in business (albeit owned by a much better airline, now), and my daughter recently had a much more positive experience with the same airline and for that, I’m glad. It has not been a good month for air safety, and I will admit that I held my breath and said a special prayer for her and this airline till she was safely home. Yes, I still hold a grudge, years later – but getting my child safely from here to there is how you start to chip away at it.

Originally published on It’s All a Matter of Perspective

Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.


  1. Anklebuster

    The web has made us all judges, juries and executioners. Tech companies usually get the brunt of customers’ ire because, even in this day and age, people are still in awe of the digital priesthood. Case in point, Evernote is falling on hard times and it is evident in the for a that customers feel abandoned, ignored and/or taken for granted.

    For years, I have enjoyed this note-taking, web-clipping idea stashing software. But, after many stumbles and wrong turns, it is slowly melting into a green blob of errors, swirling around the stumps of unwanted gee-whiz features.

    Complaining by others has led me to the conclusion that it is futile to add my voice to the noise. I simply use Microsoft OneNote more and more.

    I realize this is not the tactic most customers will take; especially if considerable sums of time, money and mental effort has been invested in a purchase. But, unless satisfaction is a guarantee, we should be prepared for the occasional possessed toaster. (I did read that somewhere; did you write about it, before? LOL)



    • Holly Jahangiri

      We’ve all got expectations, and over time, those tend to rot into a sense of entitlement that may or may not be justifiable. I’ve been irritated with my home network provide due to the erratic performance of the service, but moreso due to the difficulty in reaching a KNOWLEDGEABLE support rep who will take action without (a) sending me down a several hours’ long rathole of pointless troubleshooting steps; or (b) giving me the run-around (recently, a fiber optic cable got cut in Houston – the downdetector map for ALL providers was suspiciously similar, but only one was being forthcoming about it and communicating proactively with customers). I think one of the biggest issues people have with brands is their support agents wasting their time and/or lying outright to them (remember when I recently switched web hosting companies – to pay more for more a package that was not “unlimited” like my previous deal? That was why. Never, ever, EVER lie to me or tell me the problem is my fault, when it isn’t.)

      That said, I was laughing at others who seemed to be totally losing it in the comments on Twitter and downdetector – I mean, my god, a 5 hour outage and customers were LIVID – demanding a month’s free service? Threatening to switch providers? To WHAT? (Cut cables happen. It’s unfortunate. It’s good they got it back up in 5 hours. How about $5 or $10 off your next bill? Or maybe a free chill pill? But I only say that because they DID openly acknowledge a problem and proactively communicated regular status updates online.)

      It really is NOT futile to “add your voice to the noise” if you can add information about the problem or help to get the attention of the RIGHT person (e.g., actual customer support person who knows how to escalate a case when there’s a growing number of real data points to work with). I’ve used Evernote, liked it, but never felt that they had a really competitive offering at a competitive price point. OneNote just blows them away – IN MY OPINION. But Evernote has heavily invested, die-hard FANS. We all want fans, until the day they turn on us, forget we’re a business, and it turns into a scene from Stephen King’s novel Misery. We don’t own EACH OTHER. We trade products and money, services and money, and this is a great argument in favor of anti-trust laws and better enforcement – so that the threat of “I’ll take my business elsewhere” is a real thing, with real consequences, and not just an angry, impotent threat.

      I don’t know if the possessed toaster ever featured in one of my short stories or not, but this post was on my older blog, too. 🙂 I just thought of it again after that recent mobile outage. It bears repeating, I think, from time to time.

      • Anklebuster

        Hmm, I will want to compare notes with you — your One to my Ever. Right now, I’m just giddy with OneNote’s FUNCTIONING web clipper. I will miss the tagging of notes, but there is way too much wrong with Evernote for me to stick around.

        The futility is pre-ordained. Those rabid fans? They’re the one feeling the burn of abandonment. I’m just reading the tea leaves and getting out of the way of the pending crash.



  2. rummuser

    I prefer direct communications with the organisation concerned and, inevitably find that they respond well and usually solve problems. If something ridiculous does happen, I may write about it my blog but that is for limited readership and the organisation concerned may never even come to know about the post. For instance this –

    • Holly Jahangiri

      More and more companies are trying to provide the bulk of their support through social media. For simple issues, it can cost a lot less than phone support, and it’s faster than snail mail. So this may BE a direct route.

      And you’re absolutely right – in most cases, problems are resolved quickly, and best, by taking the direct route and being very clear about what the problem IS in the first place. But see my story about the airline. I tried the “direct route” numerous times. When customer complaints turn from irritation to frustration to righteous anger, you’ve not only lost a customer, they’re going to help you lose a few more, on purpose.

      I read your post just now. I’m not sure – is this an Indian company or a US-based company? If sounds like their support is contracted to a third party, either way, and that either they are having to spend more on materials, time, and labor than a new chair is worth, or that perhaps the contractor is charging a, um, premium that the parent company knows nothing about? In any case, if it’s US-based, they’ll want to know how their “support partners” are treating their customers, so if that is the case, try contacting their main offices here. Email me if I can help you to find contact info. (If that’s a photo of your chair, it looks very similar to mine – same color, even, though the style’s slightly different!)

      This does happen – there often comes a point where a thing simply costs more to repair than it does to replace. It think that’s unfortunate, when the original is very reparable and you would prefer just to fix and keep it.

      • rummuser

        It is an Indian company. I don’t think that they have a clue about after sales service. There was also the problem of the chair being an obsolete model. I found a local upholsterer who did it for me at a quarter of the estimate given by the manufacturer and in the bargain, also threw in servicing the movement mechanism. I got a brand new recliner back when it was returned.

        • Holly Jahangiri

          Good! Seems like one thing you can find in abundance, there, is competition! Glad you found someone with skills and integrity, too!

  3. Mitch Mitchell

    First, it’s easier in 280 characters. lol

    Second, I’ve gone this route most of the time and it’s worked effectively for me. I try not to be too vitriolic initially, but there are times when a company’s gotten on my last nerve. I’m glad most of them are responsive; the last thing I want to do it get madder while waiting for someone to find my gripe (or ignore me) and make me escalate… which I’ve also done.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      AT&T has gotten on my last nerve, lately. I’m down to “You suck” at this point.

  4. Fin

    Yeah, i have to say – there comes a point where you just go past ‘reasonable discussion’ time. Usually happens with big companies with those phone systems designed to never put you through to an actual human being, and even if you are privileged enough to talk to someone, they usually have no power to do anything and only there to attempt to pacify you.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Exactly. Also, God forbid anyone should publish those “recorded for training purposes” phone logs – I feel NO obligation to be pleasant or polite to an IVR system (or people who program them badly and without humanity) ; I also know some of them are programmed to respond to words and tone indicating frustration by getting you to a person FASTER. These two things turn me into a bit of a monster. 😉


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