a mobile phone with social media icons with the title of 'social'.
By Steph Jones

Dealing with complaints over social media

January 12th, 2023
2 min read

It’s a fact of modern life; people use social media to complain and leave negative comments. This represents a challenging time for businesses because such complaints are made in the public domain and could be brand damaging.

For some businesses, these issues can be too much to deal with and they end up deleting their accounts. However, social media represents a great marketing and lead-generation platform and, in itself, can be the perfect customer service tool. 

Dealing with complaints on social media is incredibly important for all businesses and it needs to be done correctly. Here’s what you need to know…

Before we start, here’s the good news:

The fact that you’re on social media gives you a chance to respond, make amends and turn things around – you can do something about it! If you’re not there; the comments will still happen and it’ll just be their side of the story. It’s also not necessarily true that customers are more likely to use social networks to complain than share their positive experience so do not fear!

Why people complain

People can complain anywhere they like and usually where they think they’ll have the most impact. They can complain to you, in your store or over the phone or they can just complain about you to their friends and family. Increasingly, people are using social media platforms to vent their feeling and this is, naturally, concerning for marketers and business owners.  What is important to understand is why people complain on social media and it’s usually one or a combination of these three reasons:

  1. They genuinely want to share their experience with others

    If customers of a restaurant, bank, energy provider or consumer product have received a poor service, some are likely to want to share this experience with others. This isn’t because they want to bring down your business empire or because they have taken a personal dislike to you, they want to help others make an informed decision or even convince you to improve your products and service. This process is incredibly important in this day and age. Remember, if you have a product that is better than your competitors’ – wouldn’t you want them to be weeded out?

  2. They want to damage your brand

    This is actually very rare. This is usually the result of very bad customer service which has led someone to feel victimised or treated without due respect, care and attention. This frustration and anger typically results in bad reviews on several platforms using emotional language. They’ll often leave comments on random posts in order to get their point across as widely as possible.

  3. They want a response

    If a consumer has mentioned your brand in a tweet, for example, or written on your Facebook wall; they want to hear what you have to say for yourself. This is very important and it’s your chance to shine, whether the complainer is amicable or not.

Here are eleven rules brands should adhere to when it comes to dealing with the complainers.

Dealing with social media complaints: some rules

  1. Respond quickly

    No one likes being left waiting and the reason a disgruntled customer has turned to social media is probably that they don’t fancy spending 30 minutes listening to hold music on the phone. Studies show that consumers have come to expect a fast response on social, with 42% expecting a response within the hour. Platforms like Facebook also give you a rating on your response rate and how fast you respond to queries.

    Catching things early is also important if they’re in the public domain and could be harming your reputation. However, don’t rush your responses – better to spend a few extra minutes re-reading and maybe getting a second opinion on your response that say something that could backfire!

  2. Apologise. Visibly.

    Whatever has happened, whether it is technically your fault or not; a customer of yours is unhappy. Ultimately, this is your responsibility. So apologise – for something. Are you sorry that your customer was inconvenienced? That they felt pressured, under-valued, ill, etc? Are you sorry that your product was faulty, out of stock, unsatisfactory? Decide what you as a company are sorry for: state it and mean it.

    REMEMBER: apologising effectively admits blame. This is very important when there could be a legal issue so don’t apologise for something that you will be held liable for. Use your discretion and common sense!

  3. Don’t offer free things over social media

    Picture this: Customer A goes into restaurant X and has a meal. The next day restaurant X is tweeted by customer A about the poor quality of the food and the slowness of the service. Restaurant X panics and doesn’t want their other followers to see that they have upset someone. They use Twitter to publicly apologise and offer customer A his next meal at half price. Soon after, customers B, C, D, and E see that complaints = discounts and the complaints keep happening. Don’t set a precedent.

    The best way to deal with things:

  4. Take communication offline

    The best way to respond to social media complaints is to take them offline. Ask for the customer’s telephone number so the manager can call or give them your number so they can call at their convenience. Here you can offer discounts or whatever you need to do to put things right without committing it to writing in the public domain.

    Note: if they do not give you their phone number or email address online (which can all be done privately in messages) then they will appear to be being unreasonable and this instantly discredits their complaint.

  5. Keep in touch

    Complaints and complainers should be used to improve your business. If you only ever get praise, how do you know where to improve? Some brands pay thousands of pounds to research companies in order to obtain honest opinions on their products and services. Social media complaints represent a straight-talking critique of your business.

    The person who raised the issue has brought to your attention something about your business which may impair other people’s experiences too. Openly thank them for this.  Make sure that their next meal/purchase/etc. from you is up to their standards. If so, you can turn complainers into long-term online ambassadors. Great.

    The most important thing:

  6. Don’t delete complaints

    Everyone and every business makes mistakes. By offering a visible apology to customers, you’re demonstrating that you’re confident in your business. Trying to cover them up creates suspicion and can spell disaster. There are hundreds of well-publicised examples of companies deleting complaints only to have hundreds more pop up because they’ve deleted them! The point of social media is that customers and companies can be transparent and talk openly. There will always be people who choose to abuse this, but retaliating by deleting will just cause people to come back harder and stronger.

    But there is one trick that we recommend you use: 

  7. Hide negative comments on Facebook

    Facebook has a very neat little feature that enables companies to hide comments without deleting them. What makes this so neat? The complainer and their friends will still be able to see the comment (so they don’t think you’ve deleted it!) but, more importantly, no one else will see it. This is important because you may have posted something on Facebook and attracted positive comments but one person has said something negative for all to see – don’t just delete the whole thing, especially if you’ve boosted it. 

    Lots of people don’t do this very well: 

  8. Stay cool

    These things happen. It’s not the end of the world. Hide the comment, if possible, and think about a strong response. Never post emotionally, use swear words or get personal. There is seriously nothing worse than a social media manager or business owner losing the plot in an argument over social media – very unprofessional and terrible for brand perception.

  9. Report comments and reviews

    In some cases, if comments are abusive, they can be reported to the relevant platform. This is actually more useful for TripAdvisor but it can be done for Google reviews too. Negative reviews are very damaging on TripAdvisor and Google and you can have them removed if the person has been abusive, personal or untruthful. If someone has simply made up parts of the review or exaggerated things, this can be reported to TripAdvisor and the review can be removed or edited.

  10. Get positive reviews

    Encourage your satisfied customers to leave reviews on Facebook, Google and TripAdvisor. Not only is this good for business, it will drown out any negative reviews made. Think about it; if there’s one bad review amongst 20 five-star reviews, who are people going to believe? Don’t make up reviews, however, as this is often very obvious and will look bad if anyone realises or the platform themselves realise what’s going on (they use sophisticated algorithms for this).

    This is really important:

  11. Set up a customer service Twitter account

    For some companies, having a completely separate account for customer service issues is a very smart move. Large companies who receive high volumes of complaints and/or requests for help, such as energy or communication suppliers, are strongly advised to set up a customer service account. This has a number of benefits:

    Playing to employees’ strengths – have more technical people who can solve issues on the customer service account; the creatives and marketers can stick to the main one.

    Ignoring complaints made to the main account – if you clearly signal (probably in the bio) that your @BrandXservice account deals with customer service issues, it is more acceptable to ignore complaints on the main account or simply direct them to the service account.

    You can keep the service account manned 24 hours a day – there’s no need to keep outward-facing, PR-aware marketers available all night since the main account doesn’t need to deal with out of hours issues. This also helps with point number 1 – repsonding to complaints swiftly and in a professional manner.

    Keeping the main account fun – without the need to respond to complaints or offer technical advice, your main account can stick to the fun and value-adding stuff, having positive conversations with prospects or current happy customers.

Summing up

Complaints and angry customers venting over Facebook and Twitter doesn’t have to mean the demise of your company. By putting these tips and tricks into place you will be much better equipped to turn some of your unhappiest customers into some of your best and most valued ones. Ultimately, if you’re a brand in the public eye to any degree, you need strong social media management for your brand’s reputation and success and managing complaints is just one element of it.

Steph Jones.
Steph Jones

Head of Social

A hands-on Head of Social, with extensive experience across Charity, Retail and eCommerce, both agency side and client side, with brands such as WWF, Virgin Pure and Purity Brewing. Steph considers all facets of the customer journey through social and paid media, as well as creating engaging content in line with the business goals to capture attention and convert audiences.