How to Gripe Online: Call First, Tweet Later

When a company fails to deliver the goods or services you've paid for, social networking sites and tools amplify your complaint to a much larger audience. Here's a look at what's effective and what's not -- plus some advice for businesses on responding to unhappy campers on Twitter and Facebook.

By Bill Snyder
Mon, March 01, 2010

CIO — I expend a lot of words in this and other venues beating on companies that fail to deliver the high-quality goods and services that customers expect and deserve. The bad news, of course, is that there's still plenty of reason to be angry and dissatisfied with some tech vendors.

Fortunately, there is good news as well. Social networking sites and tools amplify your angry voice thousands of times over, and give you a reasonable chance of knocking Goliath on his butt. "Consumers are empowered by social networking in a way we've never seen before," says, Jeremiah Owyang, a Web strategist and a partner in the Altimeter Group.

But be warned. Getting attention is not the same as getting results. "It's easier to call attention to a broad social issue than it is for an individual consumer to resolve a grievance," says Joe Ridout, manager of consumer services for San Francisco Consumer Action.

And while you may be angry, it's smart to temper your rage, not only because it's never wrong to be polite, but also because a wildly over the top blog post or even a tweet could result in a libel suit.

[What are people saying about you online? See's recent articles with advice and tools for managing your personal reputation in the age of Facebook and Twitter. ]

You're Not Kevin Smith

By now, you've surely heard the tale of Kevin Smith, the plus-sized director booted off a Southwest Airlines (LUV) flight for being too, well, big. Smith, of course, tweeted his head off and rightly embarrassed the folks running the airline into offering "heartfelt apologies" in addition to the $100 voucher he had already received.

That's a great story, but you're not Kevin Smith. And if you're not a newsworthy name, you simply won't get the attention lavished on him by the media. Social networking is not some magic bullet that always disintegrates the target. Here are some tips on how to use it effectively.

To being with, don't start by Tweeting or Facebooking or blogging, consumer advocates say. Believe it or not, a lot of complaints are resolved by going through the front door. If the first person doesn't help you, escalate to the next and the next and the next, all the while keeping a careful record of whom you talked with and what they said, suggests Ridout. And try not to scream at anyone; it probably won't help and it's bad karma to beat on low-paid folks at a call center.

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