When Should You Publicly Call Out a Brand on the Social Networks?

So I bought Mr. Ng a smoker for Christmas. It arrived about two weeks in advance and he used it for the first time on Superbowl Sunday. Except that a couple of hours into some ribs the side box door fell off and couldn’t be repaired. So I contacted the place I ordered it from, explained what happens and asked if I could have a replacement part.

“No,” they told me. I have to report all damage and request returns within a week of receiving the smoker. Sorry. They can’t do anything for me now. Never mind that there was no visible damage when I received the smoker and never mind that the damage happened once the smoker got some heat into it. I didn’t use it right away and thus there weren’t talking to me.

End of discussion.

I posted my experience with this company, without calling them out, on Facebook and Google+. I thought we could get into a discussion about why this was a customer service #fail and what the company should have done to rectify the situation. Instead, just about every comment was asking me to publicly call out the company. My communities said it was my duty to name the product and brand so no one would have this experience again.

I disagree and here’s why:

  1. This may be a one time problem. There’s a good chance our smoker might be the only defective smoker in the batch. I can’t call a product out as shoddy if I’m the only one with an issue.
  2. I’m not done with them yet. I only spoke with one person. She could have been having a bad day. She could have been someone disgruntled or she could have been the cleaning lady, I don’t know. However, I can try again and see if I can have a conversation with someone in a different position or department. You see, the right person can make all the difference and I’d rather have a good relationship with a brand than a bad relationship with a brand.
  3. I don’t want to be that girl. I think some people are social media bullies and use their reach as a “my way or I’ll make your life a public relations nightmare” tool.  I’m not going to publicly call anyone out, and possible risk a company crisis, unless I’m sure there’s no other recourse.
  4. My reputation is on the line. If I start calling people out after one brief, bad customer service experience I get a reputation for being someone who tends to call people out if she doesn’t get her way. It makes people not want to do business with me personally or professionally.

I think there are times when I could use my social media powers to gain more leverage, but I like to choose my battles. I see people complain online about some really dumb, petty things. It’s going to get to the point where brands aren’t going to care about what people are saying about them online because some of them are silly nitpicks having nothing to do with the brand at all.

When will I call out a brand?

  • When all avenues are exhausted and I have no other recourse
  • When they insult or belittle
  • When they’re offensive
  • When they’re bullies

The social networks are powerful tools. A rogue Tweet can go a long way. I don’t want to create a headache for any brand unless I’m sure they’re deserving.

Am I wrong?

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  1. Steve Woodruff says:

    Absolutely correct approach. It’s so easy to pull the trigger on a public tongue-lashing – but not always wise.

  2. Simon Salt says:

    I’d say not only are you not wrong but you have way more restraint than most. Your reasons are definitely a better way to handle this situation. At the end of the day the person who has to deal with the tweet is usually not connected to the bad experience you had with a brand. That said it still surprises me that 70% of brands ignore complaints on Twitter.

    • Deb Ng says:

      I know, Simon. Brands need to make a part of their daily routines to monitor the social  networks, learn what’s being said about them and address the concerns – and say thanks for the nice things.

  3. This is exactly what it should be
    “When all avenues are exhausted and I have no other recourse”

    I see to many people tweeting or updating their status on FB as soon as they don’t get exactly what they want from a brand. 
    Have we all become prima madonas, with hyper inflated egos?

    When I used to work in PR, the editor of the letters to the editor section would always send me the letters which complained about a specific brand first. He gave the brand a  chance, if my client refused to address the issue (which never happened) he would publish the letter.

    Building rapport goes a long way. Screaming and whining doesn’t.

  4. Deb, 

    It drives me absolutely nuts when people call out brands without giving them a chance to resolve the issue privately when you’ve contacted them via proper channels and given them longer than 30 minutes.

    Impatience seems to rule common sense.  The idea that everyone should be available instantly to resolve a problem 24/7, when they have tons of business issues to attend to is ridiculous. I find it highly embarassing for anyone who calls out or TwitterRants on a brand because they aren’t getting a response.

    I don’t know what kind of influence that generates but I certainly don’t want that type of “influence” tied back to my name.

    Thanks for saying *this* outloud for other people to read and understand.

    • Deb Ng says:

      I see this so often lately. It’s like a spoiled person hissy fit. They don’t get instant gratification so they start trashing them online. It’s bullying and I don’t want to be a part of it. I also don’t want to gain a repudiation for being that type of person.

      • If you wanna view spoiled hissy fits, just glance at the World of Warcraft forums sometime. 😛

        But seriously that’s becoming more commonplace and I suspect that it is a boundary problem.

        Not only do we demand 24/7 response time from people who have families and lives other than their work.  We now have direct access to the people who are in control of the changes we seek.  

        Seems it gives some a license to act like a 5 year old.

  5. geechee_girl says:

    Absolutely love this. Reasonable and thorough approach to brand customer service from the customer’s point of view.

  6. I think you’re exactly right. 

  7. Sarah Cook says:

    Absolutely right.  And probably more restrained than me when I’m irritated!

  8. Anna Withrow says:

    You are a true credit to your craft and community. Thanks for the eloquent posting on this subject – Evernoted and Evershared!

  9. Which is the difference between you and almost every single post on The Consumerist.

    Honestly, I like your way better Deb. I just wonder sometimes if brands aren’t also training us to complain on social media – at least it feels that way when I’ve spent a couple of hours on hold and days trying to resolve an issue through normal means and someone says “try Tweeting at them” and it works. Aren’t we learning it to when we hear about brands courting “influencers” rather than actual customers?

    Still, in my heart I know you’re right. Better to exhaust all your options first.

  10. JCMatt says:

    Certainly if you plan to continue talking with the company to resolve the problem, then you shouldn’t call them out publicly. Only time I would disagree with this theory is when dealing with public utilities and cable companies.