Commissioner's Blog: Complaining via social media
With Acting Consumer Protection Commissioner Gary Newcombe
Complaining via social media – think before you tweet
In the past consumers who wanted others to know about their bad experience with a business would usually rely on word of mouth or perhaps a strongly worded letter to a newspaper editor but nowadays it’s commonplace for people to speak out on social media.
With more and more businesses using social media as a way to advertise products and services and connect with customers it’s only natural that consumers will use these channels to complain too. From our perspective if a social media exchange between a customer and business results in an agreed outcome, without Consumer Protection intervention, then that’s a good thing.
If you have a problem with something you have bought, before complaining on social media you should consider whether it’s more appropriate to converse with the seller another way. This might be a phone call or letter to the Manager of a business or sending an email via the company’s official website. Review Consumer Protection’s Complaint Checklist for tips: www.commerce.wa.gov.au/cp.
If there is no clear dispute resolution process available, or you are not getting results by following it, then social media is an option. Firstly, you need to know what you want to achieve from the exchange. Removing emotion from the situation, only stating facts and keeping on message (calmly) will put you in the best position. Chances are if a business has social media channels they want to counteract negativity in that space and generate good public relations. This means that if you ask for help to solve a problem in a reasonable way, they will likely want to assist you because refusing would make them look bad.
Consumer complaints on social media that go viral and receive public support tend to be exceptional scenarios, such as a shop discriminating against a person with a disability and the store Manager refusing to correct the wrongdoing by his member of staff, or a creative attempt to engage with a business, like a song about a guitar being broken by an airline during transit. Anyone on the attack and engaging in personal insults or expletives is unlikely to get the desired outcome from the (often blameless) person managing the social media account for that business. Fellow social media users probably won’t have sympathy for ranting either.
- Tweet directly using the handle so that the conversation is between two parties only
- Write a Facebook review or wall post rather than a status update with a tag
- Use clear language and act in a mature manner
- Be prepared to take it offline if the business offers phone or email communication
- Write things that are attention-seeking, assumed or untrue (we have encountered cases where WA businesses threaten consumers with legal action because comments posted on social media are of a defamatory nature)
- Communicate in an aggressive or potentially offensive way e.g. swearing
- Screen shot comments or conversations and repost them
- Tag multiple organisations or influential people for impact
The good: @businessonTwitter I bought XX product online, it broke during 1st use, no reply to 2 x emails asking for replacement. Can you help?
The bad: Bought XX from @businessonFacebook and it broke first use.They haven’t even responded to my email asking for another one. @rivalcompany @consumergroup
The ugly: Hey @business product XX is a load of cr*p. Check out my photo! No I won’t respond to you on email, I want everyone to know not to buy one.
Businesses wishing to find information about how to respond to negativity online should have a look at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website www.accc.gov.au/business. There is also some really useful information on the WA Small Business Development Corporation’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/smallbusinesswa
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