Being the squeaky wheel on social media

PORTLAND, Ore. - Forget hours on the phone with customer service, the best way to get businesses to listen to you is with 140 characters (or fewer).

Social media websites like Twitter and Facebook are fast becoming the outlet of choice for consumers with complaints.

Janet Johnson, Vice President of Marketing Communications for Puppet Labs in Portland, has been a social media consultant since before Twitter existed.

"The power has completely shifted into the hands of the consumer," Johnson said. "[Social media] gives folks who normally may not have a voice the ability to capture the attention of businesses who may not have always paid attention to them."

Johnson adds: Businesses have every reason to respond to you as quickly as possible.

"If that question is unanswered, on Twitter for example, people will go see that question and not see an answer from the company - and what kind of impression does that leave?" Johnson said.

On Twitter, we found several big-name merchants like Best Buy and General Motors engaging dissatisfied consumers within minutes of the complaint being posted.

Johnson said consumers on social media should expect that kind of speedy service.

"It is becoming mainstream and cannot be ignored anymore," Johnson said.

The redirect

Businesses responding to complaints on social media will sometimes point the consumer to their customer service phone line or email, rather than solve the problem on the site.

That's not good enough anymore, Johnson said.

"The majority of the people who are asked to call a number or send an email don't take further action," Johnson said.

The airline industry in particular has embraced the idea of solving customer problems in the same social media thread where they are posed.

American Airlines has become especially good at this, and has earned a reputation for taking good care of customers who complain on Twitter.

"Once you do [help customers on Twitter], often times people will turn into brand advocates for you," Johnson said. "So when you get that response on Twitter, it's likely you're going to make a public response back saying hey thanks, I appreciate this and everyone will see that issue resolved very publicly."