Twitter Me This: Positive or Negative Rules?

Of those many tweets floating around regarding business products or customer service, do more fall in the positive or negative column? According to recent research, it depends on who you ask. The customers say they are offering more praise, while the companies are measuring more criticism.

Many companies are under the impression that opinion about brands on Twitter is mostly negative, but a new survey conducted by Econsultancy and supported by Toluna shows evidence to the contrary. The firm’s Twitter for Business Guide, published this week, includes findings from consumer research — which indicates that a higher proportion of consumers have conveyed positive, rather than negative feedback on the social platform. The survey found that 26% of consumers say they have complained about a brand on Twitter compared to over half (58%) who have praised a brand on the site.

The findings contrast with research from Brandwatch’s Customer Service Index, which indicates that the majority of tweets about brands are negative. Brandwatch surveyed brands that are using Twitter for customer service, and used reputation-monitoring software to look at how customers were expressing their views and how brands responded. The contrast in results is explained by a difference in the approach to the research and user perception about how they tweet. While the Brandwatch study analyzed the volume of existing tweets using reputation monitoring software, Econsultancy’s research looks at how consumers observe their experiences of giving feedback.

For now, tweets are king in the social media world. As for tomorrow (or a little further down the road), who knows? 

Dealing with Social Media Whiners

Whining. It’s becoming an American pastime, especially with (here we go) my generation of 20-30 somethings. Although, to be fair, it can be downright infuriating when your "flirtini" is not mixed properly. Life is hard sometimes.

But now, it seems every move of a business is under a microscope, with a disgruntled Tweeter just hoping to be irked, thumbs at the ready. And granted, some Twitter rage is often warranted (I’m looking at you, commercial airline industry), but sometimes people could stand to take a timeout before posting. Kyle Elyse Niederpruem of Kyle Communications has a nice column in today’s Inside INdiana Business e-newsletter about how businesses should deal with this type of thing:

Explosive growth in social media also means explosive growth in professional complainers—the people who target major corporations with every niggling complaint known to human kind; from lousy tableside service at a restaurant to late check-in with airlines. In the wake of even one Tweet with many followers, how do you cope?

Media outlets, too, have been the target of anon attacks. Those are the people who falsify identities (or try to do so) and make pointed and scurrilous claims against others.

Lobbyists use the same tactics by employing online posters in special interest campaigns to “flood” a site with phony posters laying low into their opponents and filing below the belt accusations.

What’s the muddle and why the worry? Online is the new forever. And one bad Tweet can potentially ruin more than the day. But before it does, you can do some quick checks to decide if you need to jump into the mea culpa pool.

Find out first:

Is the source a connected and credible one? Numbers aren’t always an indicator, but it is a factor that seems to petrify the most eloquent of complaint handlers. Doing a quick online search can save you plenty of grief in the long run. If you don’t understand the relationship map, you’re in for a world of hurt.

Is the complaint an isolated complaint with either a customer or employee having a one-off bad day, or has the needle been moving toward a downright consumer revolt? What you’re hearing could be the early warning sign – like the canary in the coal mine to check deadly gas levels.

Can you mollify the complainer? If a simple apology will do, that’s what many want to hear. Or as one very savvy CEO once told me, just tell the person with the complaint: “You may be right.” Oftentimes, that’s all someone wants—a simple acknowledgement of a messed up experience.

We found a good bit of advice from Pete Blackshaw with Nielson Online who founded PlanetFeedback.com in 1999. Blackshaw told Ad Age recently: “There’s no secret sauce to managing the outspoken consumer. And the risk of over-responding is setting the bar too high or maybe even over-dignifying an unreasonable voice.”

So the next time your social media team, marketing crew or public relations experts dive into a tizzy about the latest complaint online, do what everyone does—take a breath, count to 3 (or maybe 10), and consider the response that could be cached for a good long time to come.

And remember, some people just like to complain—online and everywhere.

Can Businesses Sue People Who Trash Them Online?

We’ve all had experiences as customers that have certainly led to some epic rants. And some of us have even taken those frustrations online, likely in an effort to either notify company executives or just connect with others who felt the same. But that has spawned an interesting question: Can companies take action against spurned customers who embellish their negative experiences. A New York Times article examines one case in Michigan:

After a towing company hauled Justin Kurtz’s car from his apartment complex parking lot, despite his permit to park there, Mr. Kurtz, 21, a college student in Kalamazoo, Mich., went to the Internet for revenge.

Outraged at having to pay $118 to get his car back, Mr. Kurtz created a Facebook page called “Kalamazoo Residents against T&J Towing.” Within two days, 800 people had joined the group, some posting comments about their own maddening experiences with the company.

T&J filed a defamation suit against Mr. Kurtz, claiming the site was hurting business and seeking $750,000 in damages.

Web sites like Facebook, Twitter and Yelp have given individuals a global platform on which to air their grievances with companies. But legal experts say the soaring popularity of such sites has also given rise to more cases like Mr. Kurtz’s, in which a business sues an individual for posting critical comments online.

The towing company’s lawyer said that it was justified in removing Mr. Kurtz’s car because the permit was not visible, and that the Facebook page was costing it business and had unfairly damaged its reputation.

Some First Amendment lawyers see the case differently. They consider the lawsuit an example of the latest incarnation of a decades-old legal maneuver known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or Slapp.

The label has traditionally referred to meritless defamation suits filed by businesses or government officials against citizens who speak out against them. The plaintiffs are not necessarily expecting to succeed — most do not — but rather to intimidate critics who are inclined to back down when faced with the prospect of a long, expensive court battle.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Mr. Kurtz, who recently finished his junior year at Western Michigan University. “The only thing I posted is what happened to me.”

Many states have anti-Slapp laws, and Congress is considering legislation to make it harder to file such a suit. The bill, sponsored by Representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Charlie Gonzalez of Texas, both Democrats, would create a federal anti-Slapp law, modeled largely on California’s statute.

Because state laws vary in scope, many suits are still filed every year, according to legal experts. Now, with people musing publicly online and businesses feeling defenseless against these critics, the debate over the suits is shifting to the Web.