Social Media Complaints and Dysfunctional Consumers

By Dr. Todd Bacile | July 17, 2013

Social Media ComplaintsSynopsis: consumers who are choosing to use social media to complain to brands about legitimate issues are being met in some instances by fellow consumers exhibiting dysfunctional behavior, such as casting insults to a complainant while defending a brand. This is creating new challenges for brands from a customer service perspective.

Social Media Complaints

Social media are conduits for consumers to share complaints and seek resolution with brands. Even a brand’s most desired customers may post a complaint to a brand’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or Google+ page. This is positive for firms attempting to resolve complaints, as research shows consumers who receive a complaint resolution have a higher probability of repeat business versus consumers who do not receive a resolution. For the brands that ignore or delete  social media complaints, watch out for the fall out!

Social media complaint resolution is an extension of traditional service support now entering virtual social media pages owned by brands. A company’s social media page is a virtual service setting, where consumers have expectations of a brand’s attentiveness to comments and complaints. Companies are realizing social media complaints must be addressed. Timeliness is a factor, too, as many consumers believe a firm should respond to social media complaints within an hour.

However, the presence of dysfunctional consumers is creating new challenges for firms in social media complaint resolution.

Dysfunctional Consumers

Dysfunctional consumers are individuals who exhibit some form of misbehavior that negatively affects other consumers, employees, or a brand. Examples include people in a service setting acting rudely, using vulgar or abusive language, making unreasonable demands, or even illegal acts such as theft or physical assault. Basically, any violation of acceptable norms of behavior in a business setting. Why should brands care? Dysfunctional consumers negatively affect other consumers’ satisfaction with a brand, future purchase intent, and brand loyalty.

Dysfunctional consumers are entering social media complaint and resolution scenarios. Occasionally, a dysfunctional consumer may interject in another consumer’s complaint posted to a brand. A typical example is a response from a dysfunctional consumer that defends a brand while insulting or degrading the complainant. Below is an actual screenshot (redacted for anonymity) from my research:

Social media complaint with dysfunctional consumer response

I interviewed a social media marketing company’s executive manager. He was asked how he deals with situations where “Consumer A” complains to the brand and “Consumer B” insults “Consumer A” in the thread. “We represent the brand and only reply to the complainant. We don’t do anything with other people who comment or respond, even when they border on insults. Unless it’s extremely offensive, we let consumer interactions work itself out.”

Stimulated by his response, I proceeded to collect data from several brands’ Facebook wall posts over several weeks. Thousands of consumer posted wall posts were content analyzed. Hundreds of posts were categorized as complaints. Several complaints had dysfunctional consumer responses that insulted the complainant, while defending the brand. Guess how many times a brand addressed a dysfunctional consumer insulting the complaining consumer? Zero!

Dysfunction and Complaints: A New Challenge

Findings from my research suggest brands are mishandling these complaining interactions. Brands are adapting traditional in-person complaint resolution tactics as if a dyadic conversation is occurring. Within the traditional complaint dyad there is a brand communicating with a single complainant, while all other consumers are uninvolved. However, social media complaints are one-to-many (or many-to-many) conversations instead of the one-to-one dyad brands are familiar with.

When dysfunctional consumer responses enter a complaint thread, companies should not only respond to the complaint in a favorable manner, but also address the dysfunctional response (i.e. ‘We appreciate your comments, but please maintain a polite atmosphere on our Facebook page’). This is how traditional in-person service settings operate. Service managers in in-person settings have a responsibility to maintain a peaceful atmosphere by attending to consumer misbehavior. Social media should be no different as consumers consider these interactions to be virtual service encounters in a brand’s environment.

Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. The content posted here is a small portion of larger social media complaint studies he is currently conducting. Questions or comments regarding social media complaints are welcome.

Three examples of consumer generated YouTube video for brands

By Todd Bacile | December 6, 2012

YouTube - Broadcast Yoursel

YouTube content is not limited to music videos or classic scenes from movies. Consumers can – and do – create videos about brands and products that they like or dislike. Many people think about consumer review sites or Facebook status updates in the age of online word-of-mouth referral. However, YouTube videos are a visually rich method for consumers to discuss brands.

One of the assignments in my undergraduate Electronic Marketing course at Florida State University is for my students to create a YouTube video about a product they like or dislike. For many students this is their first experience of creating and uploading a video. Below are two of the more interesting submissions from the current semester.

Positive Video: Red Bull

Positive Video: Frank’s Red Hot / Coors Light

Negative Video: United Airlines

While each of the above videos highlights consumers discussing brands they adore (i.e. brand advocates), the power of YouTube is also used against brands. One of the best examples is the case of United Airlines and passenger Dave Carroll. United damaged Dave’s guitar and then refused to repair or replace it. The full story can be read here. Alternatively, Dave created the video below where he discusses the details in the format of a song. It is a real ditty. It has also been viewed over 12,000,000 times.

The Future

The future is video. Consumer opinions and referrals will be a big part of that future. Brands should expect to see more consumer generated videos as time goes on. Mobile devices are becoming more powerful with better cameras. Image and video editing tools with enhanced features are becoming less expensive. Plus, network bandwidth speeds continue to increase making it easier to download and watch streaming video.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile