Complaints Handling, Social Media in PR

One of the first things you may notice about any given retailer’s Facebook page is the sheer volume of complaints they get on a daily basis. Over the past few years almost every retailer in the world has started to hash together a Facebook following to complement their website. It is not uncommon to see in-store signs saying ‘Like us on Facebook’ or in the instance of Pancake Parlour ‘upload a photograph of your meal and win a free meal’.

On a daily basis we are bombarded with these images and demands, yet it is interesting that the Public Relations aspect to social media seemed to come as somewhat of an afterthought.

During the early days of my second year of University (you know the ones, when the bright eyed Animal House mentality has died down a little and instead of sitting there at four am in a drunken stupor after a huge night out you are just, well, sitting there in a drunken stupor) I tried out an experiment on Social Media, just to see the reaction. You can do this at home, simply join a Retail Facebook page at random and type up a ridiculous complaint.

At first you feel a sort of anticlimax, you have complained and there is nothing… Then, after a maximum of fifteen minutes you will receive a response:

Dear X, we are sorry at your disappointment about Y, please contact our complaints department at Z to discuss the matter further

Try this at any time of the day and you will find the company PR department hard at work to resolve the issue before it becomes a front liner on

This is because recently companies have become all too aware that a sudden swing in public opinion can arise from a (mostly humorous) complaint. Here is an example of a standard response from the Kmart team:


This can be found HERE

A key issue with social media is the audience that a complaint can get, not to mention the ‘snowball effect’ of one slightly annoyed customer writing up a complaint that can be suddenly joined by a hundred other customers voicing their anger as well.

Overall, whilst Social Media can be a massive ally for any retailer or small business, it can also be a substantial risk factor if it is not continuously and diligently managed. In the past is was generally Call Centre workers who had to deal with complaints from angry consumers, and they were generally handled quickly and quietly. In the modern era is is much faster and easier for a disgruntled consumer to jump online and complain via Facebook or Twitter, with a much larger audience.


Kaplan, A., Haenlein, M. (2009) Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media, Kelly School of Business, Indiana University.


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