Venting versus Complaining on Twitter

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A new survey found the number of people voicing customer service complaints to companies via Twitter and other social media platforms is continuing to grow. According to the survey, consumers under the age of 34 are significantly more likely to use social media to voice customer service dissatisfactions. Roughly 20% of these younger participants stated they use social media to voice complaints compared to only 10% of 35-45 year-olds and less than 5% of people over the age of 55.

The consequences of these shifts in our complaint platforms and venues have huge implications for businesses. When complaints are voiced on social media they can potentially be viewed by hundreds of a customer’s Facebook friends or thousands of their Twitter followers. The bad word-of-mouth can therefore be orders of magnitude larger and more damaging to companies than the one-on-one interactions of traditional customer service channels (albeit customers are likely to verbally convey those complaints to a dozen people or more as well—still, far below the triple and quadruple digit exposure of social media).

I have written about the positive impact these new complaining options is having on consumer psychology as a whole, yet the picture is not as rosy as it could be. The defeatist mindset that tends to characterize our complaining psychology continues to lead us astray even where social media is concerned. Despite more and more companies joining the ranks of those who monitor social media for complaints, customers still prefer to use these platforms to vent their frustrations unproductively rather than complain effectively by seeking actual assistance.

A quick and utterly unscientific survey of my own found that searching for the term “Delta Airlines Suck” on yielded five times as many results as the search term “Delta Airlines Help”. I found even worse ‘suck’ versus ‘help’ ratios for Verizon (8:1), Comcast (20:1) and AT&T (20:1), all heavily weighted toward venting anger rather than asking for assistance.

I chose these companies because they actually do monitor Twitter and respond to customers who voice complaints (albeit I have no way of knowing how comprehensive their coverage is).

When we tweet a request for help, we can and should expect certain companies to respond. But how are they to respond to missives such as “You suck!”?

Perhaps we consumers need to keep in mind that companies are in the business of providing customer service, not psychotherapy. Expressing your distress by Tweeting about how much a company sucks is unlikely to elicit a response such as, “I’m sorry you’re feeling so upset, would you like to talk about what’s bothering you?”

Social media platforms provide customers with wonderful and convenient venues with which to communicate with companies directly. But they can only provide us with customer service and assistance if we let them.

Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

Follow me on Twitter @Guy Winch

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2 Comments for Venting versus Complaining on Twitter

Guy Letts

Interesting post, thanks.

It seems to me that a lot of people resort to Twitter to complain either when they’ve tried going direct to the company and found it hard to contact the right person, or when they’ve got absolutely the right person but repeatedly been thwarted at getting a reasonable outcome. Then the Tweet is more of an expression of frustration or an attempt to shame the company publicly.

It might be my age, but in view of its 140 char limit and its unstructured and de-coupled interactions, I find it rather odd that Twitter would be viewed as an effective medium for help or complaints.

I think the lesson for companies is to make it easy to get to the right person, to make sure that person can use their best judgement, and if for some reason that fails, to have a catch-all help channel…which could be Twitter, but that’s not what I’d choose.


    Thanks for the comment, Guy
    I agree that most people currently resort to complaining via Twitter once they’ve been frustrated by the more traditional channels. However, since many companies and our even certain branches of the government now monitor Twitter for complaints and respond to customers who voice them, it is likely the trend will continue to grow. Whether customers take advantage of the options social media provide as complaining venues, is something I for one, am eager to see.
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, one Guy to another