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Grow Your Business Social Media

Beware! Social Media Customer Service a Double-Edged Sword

Beware! Social Media Customer Service a Double-Edged Sword
Credit: RawPixel/Shutterstock

Although using social media to smooth over customer complaints has it advantages, it can also bring more problems than you may have bargained for, new research finds.

Responding to criticisms on social media often has the side effect of triggering new complaints, according to a study recently published in Marketing Science, a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.

The research revealed that using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to handle customer complaints is a double-edge sword. On one side, addressing problems on social media improves customer relationships. On the other side, it also increases customers' expectations to receive help, and makes them more likely to complain again in the future if something goes wrong.

Liye Ma, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, said complaining on social media is not done solely to vent frustrations. [3 Ways Customer Service Has Changed (And How to Adapt ) ]

"They do that also in the hope of getting the company's attention," Ma said in a statement. "Once they know the company is paying attention, they are more ready to complain the next time around."

Despite the additional complaints that using social media to handle customer problems generates, using Facebook and Twitter to address criticisms isn't something businesses should give up on. The study's authors said the improved customer relationship from this strategy outweighs the downside of encouraging more complaints.

They added, however, that if businesses don't recognize that customer complaints are generating more criticism when responded to, they will underestimate how effective their social media support is.

For the study, researchers analyzed the history of compliments and complaints by several hundred consumers of a telecommunications services provider made on Twitter and the company's responses. They used a dynamic statistical model to investigate both how consumers' relationships with the company evolve and how they decide whether to compliment or complain. Accounting for both aspects was critical in discovering the contrasting effects of social media complaint management.

"Social media is a double-edge sword - companies need to watch out and weigh the plus side against the downside for marketing and service interventions," said Sunder Kekre, one of the study's authors and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

The study was also co-authored by Baohong Sun of Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in China.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.