How Social Media Customer Complaints can ruin your Brand: How Companies and Marketers should use CRM on Social Media to Positively Influence Customers and Create Brand Advocates


Written by: Brittany Purkis


Picture: Many Customers today use Social Media to complain directly to companies

In 2009, Dave Carroll was on a United Airlines flight when his precious guitar was broken by the baggage handlers. What did he do about it? Wrote a song about the experience and posted it on YouTube of course.  Today the video has over 15 million views and has led to Dave writing a book titled “United Breaks Guitars – The Power of One Voice in The Age of Social Media”. This is any companies’ worst nightmare. To be cast in such a negative light for all the world to see and no way to control it being shared or people talking about it. Long gone are the days when companies could control what was being said about their brand. In today’s world, customers are able to share their thoughts, opinions and ideas about a brand or company any way they see fit; both positively and negatively.  

The Shift from Marketers Power to Customer Power

Marketing used to be a very one way track. Companies would produce an advertisements and send it out into the world with little or no opportunity for customers to comment or question them. Today however, people are able to interact with companies on a direct level in real time. As stated by Kietzmann et al. (2011) “the power has been taken from those in marketing and public relations by the individuals and communities that create, share, and consume blogs, tweets, Facebook entries, movies, pictures, and so forth. Communication about brands happens, with or without permission of the firms in question” (p.242) and this is a frightening world for any brand. According to Labrecque et al. (2013), to have power, someone needs relevant content and sufficient reach. With the increases in technology and access to information consumers now have this power, which has caused the power shift. Moreover, with the increase of online information and the presence of consumers online, people will shift their browsing behaviours and adjust their consumption decisions if they feel their online habits or information would give companies to much power over them (Labrecque et al., 2013). 

This shift in power has forced marketers to change their strategy and practices, whether they like it or not. They have been forced to shift from broadcasting their message, to one of interactivity where marketers need to be more sincere and actively participate in the conversation (Deighton and Kornfeld, 2009). Today people are the media and companies have to find a way to work within the current social media system.  Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker and Bloching (2013) refer to this as marketing the pinball way. Marketing used to be a bowling alley, but today it is a pinball machine. Marketing today is chaotic, interactive and requires constant attention. Companies have to monitor the plethora of online platforms and constantly pay attention to what is happening in the social media world (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker and Bloching, 2013). 

So why is this so important? 

Because as seen in the United Breaks Guitars example, one person can drastically change how others see your brand. Your image can be ruined overnight by one angry consumer. “These days one witty Tweet, one clever blog post, one devastating video - forwarded to hundreds of friends at the click of a mouse - can snowball and kill a product or damage a company's share price” (Weber, 2010). Marketers and companies are now scared of the new social media because like nothing before it, it can be used against them without their control; furthermore, as evidence shows, there is no sign of social media use slowing down. One study showed that there has been an eight-fold increase in customer complaints on social media. Customer complaints on social media continue to rise and marketers are now forced to get connected, or risk having their brand dragged through the mud.  

Companies as Cautious Beginners on Social Media

One study of 60 international corporate brands revealed that many companies are still figuring out how to behave online. In the study, openness and interactivity were studied to find out how comfortable companies are online. 36.7% of companies were cautious beginners, which was the largest percentage out of the 4 groups: cautious beginners, rising stars, selective strategists and confident communicators (Vernuccio, 2014). 


Picture: A study showed that 36.7% of companies on social media are cautious beginners (Vernuccio,2014)

Many companies and marketers struggle to come up with a way of handling social media. Moreover, they experience difficulties when building new strategies that include the importance of consumers on social media. Even if a manager understands the importance of social media, they struggle to move from the old ways of high control over company to Stakeholder communications (Vernuccio, 2014). Today many companies are unsure how to align themselves or how to properly integrate social media into their strategy.  

Becoming a Social Media Pro

So now that companies and marketers realize how important social media is for their brand, what can they do to manage it? And what are the best practices to handle customers online? First of all, marketers need to truly understand social media. Understanding the different platforms, why people use them and what they use them for is crucial in knowing how to get involved. Firms needs to first recognize and understand their social media landscape (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Secondly, marketers need to understand their role online and know how they want to be perceived by the online community. Being pushy and controlling does not work. Deighton and Kornfeld (2009) explain that if companies want to thrive they need to be seen as an ally, a company that is welcomed into the conversation and has valuable input. In many cases, listening will get a company farther than by being to overly involved or controlling. The balance is tricky and not easily mastered by many. There is no clear cut way of determining how much or how little to be involved, but being involved in today’s online world is a must for any brand. Take the example of Jetstar Australia. After reviewing their Facebook page it is unclear as to why they are even on Facebook. The amount of customer’s unhappy comments that go completely ignored and unaddressed is alarming. They continue to post content and new information but do not address any of their customer’s issues or anger. On the other hand, if you look at the Mango Bay Resort’s page on TripAdvisor you will see that they are very interactive with their customers. And not only do they respond to the negative comments, but they also respond to positive ones.  A study from eMarketers found that 46% of customers want to solve a problem when they are engaging with a brand on social media, and 39% are looking to give feedback about a product or service. This shows that a lot of the time, a customer will interact with your brand when they are wanting to give feedback in one form or another. This is a huge opportunity for brands to leave a positive impression, but on the flip side, ignoring customers is a good way to turn them against your brand. 

The Positive Side of Good Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

On the positive side of things, there is still lots of room for companies to grow. One study found that 70% of Twitter complaints are still ignored. With this potential for growth comes great opportunity to increase your CRM and increase how consumers perceive your brand. The same study also found that when companies do respond to their tweets, customers love it. “83% of the complainants that received a reply liked or loved the fact that the company responded” (Baer, J. n.d.). A lot of the time, consumers just want to be heard and want to feel valued by the company.


Picture: Study shows that many companies still ignore customer’s complaints, but when a company does respond to a customer’s complaint they love it and are very satisfied with the response

 Kietzmann et al. (2011) also acknowledge the importance of good CRM on social media stating that “any social media strategy should also focus on increasing customer happiness (e.g., how well customer issues are resolved) and customer input (e.g., suggestions for improving a product or service) (p.249). Many companies do this well and understand that good CRM is crucial to the success of their brand image on social media. Doing this well means having staff dedicated to searching and solving customer complaints in real time. Companies must give staff access so they are able to solve problems and respond to customers quickly. According to Forbes, slow reaction time can lead to a major disaster. The way to squish any issue or complaint is to get on it quickly and solve it before it blows up and gets spread around by others. Based on charts published on Search Engine Watch, 70% of surveyed Twitter users expect a response from brands they reach out to on Twitter and of those users and 53% want that response in under an hour. What this means for marketers is they have to be able to respond quickly to customer complaints. Waiting for approval from a manager or not paying constant attention is not an option for most. Waiting can damage your brand and make you more vulnerable to shares, more people seeing the complaint and more comments.

Example of Good CRM on Social Media – Building Brand Advocates

 A great example of good and bad management on Twitter would be Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines. One study looked at the airline industry to discover who was the most responsive and who was the most hated on social media. In the study, Southwest Airlines was ranked number 2 on positive sentiment chart and Delta Airlines is ranked number 3 on negative sentiment chart. It isn’t that Southwest never has anything bad happen, because they do, but when negative situations or customer complaints do happen, they handle them in a quick, real time and sincere way. Being authentic is extremely important in successful CRM.  “Perceived authenticity and a positive reputation go hand in hand” (Greyser, 2009, p.596).  Southwest Airlines have learned how to treat customers right and know that social media is a great CRM tool. For instance a passenger was delayed on a Delta flight and angrily tweeted at Delta hoping for a response, but instead of getting a response from Delta, he got a response from Southwest Airlines.


Picture: Example of good CRM on social media: Customer tweets complaint to Delta Airlines and gets a response from Southwest Airlines (Duffy, 2016)

An experience like this one has the capability to hugely influence a customer. Not only has Southwest now confirmed they are better in the customers mind, but he is sure to go out and spread this story to all of his friends and family. Stories like these have major traction. The best customer, is a customer who is a fan of your brand and who is willing to spread your message for you. Proper social media complaint management is actually a great way to build advocates for your brand. On the other side of things, Delta Airlines has not learned how to effectively use Twitter and have gotten a little beaten up by some angry customers.  One example is Mr. Azula who had a Delta flight delay of 13 hours, which caused him to miss meetings and family gatherings. Delta offered no compensation, and even after Mr. Azula’s Tweet was retweeted and commented on by others, Delta offered no response. Delta has put themselves out there but by not being actively involved and ignoring customers complaints, they have created the wrong kind of brand advocates. 









Amey, K. (2015). Formal Language, poor customer service and slow responses: The most hated airlines on social media revealed. [online] MailOnline. Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Baer, J. (n.d.). 70% of Companies Ignore Customer Complaints on Twitter. [online] Convince and Convert. Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Bush, M. (2009). How Twitter Can Help or Hurt an Airline. [online] AdvertisingAge. Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Carroll, D. (2016). United Breaks Guitars - The power of one voice in the age of social media. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Causon, J. (2015). Customer complaints made via social media on the rise. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Deighton, J. and Kornfeld, L. (2009). Interactivity's Unanticipated Consequences for Marketers and Marketing. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 23(1), pp.4-10.

Duffy, S. (2016) Lecture 2.2 Adapting to the connected consumer, BUSN32, Powerpoint presentation, LUSEM Lund, 28 January 2016

Gottsman, D. (2016). Social Media Manners: Responding to Online Customer Complaints. [image] Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2016].

Greyser, S. (2009). Corporate brand reputation and brand crisis management. Management Decision, 47(4), pp.590-602.

Hennig-Thurau, T., Hofacker, C. and Bloching, B. (2013). Marketing the Pinball Way: Understanding How Social Media Change the Generation of Value for Consumers and Companies. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 27(4), pp.237-241.

JetstarAustralia. (2016) Jetstar Australia [Facebook] Available from: [Accessed 19 February 2016]   

Kietzmann, J., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. and Silvestre, B. (2011). Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Business Horizons, 54(3), pp.241-251.

Labrecque, L., vor dem Esche, J., Mathwick, C., Novak, T. and Hofacker, C. (2013). Consumer Power: Evolution in the Digital Age. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 27(4), pp.257-269.

Lee, J. (2013). Brands Expected to Respond Within an Hour on Twitter [Study]. [online] Search Engine Watch. Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2016].

Sonsofmaxwell, (2009). United Breaks Guitars. [video] Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Tripadvisor, (2016). Mango Bay Resort - Resort Reviews - TripAdvisor. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Vernuccio, M. (2014). Communicating Corporate Brands Through Social Media: An Exploratory Study. International Journal of Business Communication, 51(3), pp.211-233.

Wainwright, C. (2012). How to Tackle Real-Life Social Media Customer Service Obstacles. [Blog] Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Weber, T. (2010). Why companies watch your every Facebook, YouTube, Twitter move - BBC News. [online] BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].