Recent research found that companies have paid out around £65 million in compensation to customers who took to social media to complain about services or products.
When posted on Facebook or Twitter, the effect of a negative review or comment can be magnified if it's shared or retweeted by even a small number of users.
Aware of the risk to their reputation, companies will then try to rectify the situation as soon as possible: offering refunds, compensation or perks is sometimes the easiest and quickest way to defuse customer anger.
This can also work in the company’s favour, if the customer follows up by posting about how pleased they were with the service they received.
Here’s a quick guide on the best way to get your money back using social media, and some examples of people who have done this and been successful.
How to successfully complain on social media
The key to successfully complaining on Twitter is to find the company’s own Twitter account first. Some companies will have a separate account to deal with customer queries, which they'll usually link to in their bio.
According to social analytics firm Simply Measured, more than one third of top brands now have a Twitter handle which can be used directly for support with complaints.
You should include the company's handle including the @ symbol (e.g. @insertcompanynamehere) in your tweet alongside a description of your problem, to ensure that the company's customer service team sees it.
You can also hashtag the company’s name by putting #insertcompanynamehere at the end of your tweet, which should allow your tweet to gain more traction. Even if the company does not have its own Twitter page, it can still check to see what people are writing about it and the hashtag will always show up.
Nearly all companies have their own Facebook page, so you just need to look them up and then write your complaint on their wall.
This is a quick and efficient way of complaining, especially if you’re not getting anywhere via telephone or email.
You can also use hashtags in the same way you would on Twitter in order to gain traction and allow companies to see your complaint.
You could also write the complaint on your own Facebook account and tag the name of the company in this, allowing your friends to comment on and share this post.
More useful tips
• Pick the right platform to complain on. Check to see where the company is most active.
• If you're looking at Twitter, be sure to look at their "tweets & replies" column as well as their standard feed. Are they responding to customers, or is it radio silence?
• Use hashtags effectively and consider including generic ones such as #customerservice and #needhelp.
• Ask friends and family to retweet or share your post in order to gain more traction.
• Offer context to support your complaint by briefly describing what the grievance is and perhaps attach a photo, if appropriate. Remember, Twitter now lets you post 280 characters.
• But don't ramble on: try to express yourself concisely.
• Consider what your sharing. Avoid posting any personal information, especially relating to your online accounts, which could put them at risk of being harvested or hacked.
• Try posting your message outside regular business hours, as you’ll then be competing with fewer customers for attention, which can then help to get your post or tweet noticed.
• This might seem counter-intuitive, but it's best to avoid posting complaints when you're still angry. Even if you feel you've been badly mistreated, take some time to let your temper cool before writing your message. If it's littered with swear words or personally abusive, the company is unlikely to engage, and it won't do your public profile any good.
Why it pays to complain on social media
Tesco’s turkey backlash
Last Christmas hundreds of Tesco customers complained on social media after being sold turkeys which were ‘rotten’ and inedible. After customers took to social media to complain about their disappointing poultry, they were refunded and received a public apology from the supermarket chain.
Faulty in-flight TV
A passenger tweeted the company using the @JetBlue Twitter handle after the TV on his flight wasn’t working properly. After confirming with the company that all of the other screens were working apart from his, JetBlue gave the customer credit for his malfunctioning TV.
A room with a (better) view
After a customer staying the Delta Hotel in Vancouver tweeted that that although his room was nice, his view wasn’t that great, the hotel responded within an hour, offering him a room with a better view. They even put a dish of sweets and a handwritten apology card in the customer’s new room.