It can be tough to respond to customer complaints. That’s as true for the 16-year-old movie theater employee who has to explain that the popcorn machine is broken (I’ve been there) as it is for the social media manager who’s fielding reports from customers thousands of miles away. In the moment you receive a complaint, the first instinct is to just get the issue resolved quickly. But keep in mind that you can do more than just response management. Take the opportunity to do response marketing, too.

Part of the reason why dealing with customer issues is stressful is that these moments signal a disconnect from ideal brand management. A brand is the sum of someone’s interactions with a company. When we think of effective brand management, we think of delivering those interactions as systematically and consistently as possible—the ads you deploy for your product, the way your product looks and feels, the way people use it, and the messages you push on channels like your website, Facebook, and Twitter. The better you can systematize this complexity, the better you become at optimizing those interactions.

But frustrating or confusing a customer is never on-brand. When someone has a problem with your product, it means the system has broken down somewhere, and it can be challenging to put the train back on its rails.

Worse yet, if someone is airing their grievances on social media, those statements have the potential to color the brand for everyone who sees those posts. And there are a lot of posts. People complain 879 million times a year on social media about brands. In addition, more than two-thirds of online consumers have gone to a company’s social media site to have an issue resolved or a question answered.

Moreover, you need to respond to as many of those as you can. Almost nine in 10 (88.3%) people said they would be less likely to buy from a company if their Facebook page has a lot of unanswered questions.

The Upside of Customer Complaints

Still, there are opportunities to capitalize upon when someone does complain. Some studies have found that addressing problems can lead to higher loyalty than if there was no problem at all. And when you have a high response rate on Twitter, customers are a bit more likely to rate you highly on customer service, Business Insider found:

Twitter response rate vs customer satisfaction, april 2015

However you choose to go about fielding these issues, keep in mind the difference between response management and response marketing.

Response management is what we normally think of when it comes to customer service; a client approaches you with an issue, you look into it, and you solve it for them. A simple, hopefully repeatable, transaction.

The best marketers, however, also realize that the response to a complaint is one of the interactions that add up to a company’s brand. Don’t miss the opportunity to make sure your responses over social are as on-brand as your standard messaging.

How Others are Doing Response Marketing

Response marketing should be personal and customized even as it reinforces your brand. This applies even if an issue is ultimately too complex to handle over social media, and you’re limited to quick interactions that direct customers to another place where they can make more progress on their issue.

Below are a few ways companies are consistently going beyond mere response management. That doesn’t necessarily mean such tweets will go viral or that they’ve been able to completely resolve issues over social—just that they’re clearly conscious of their responses as branding opportunities.


In the airline business, you’re likely to get a lot of complaints about delays—and customers won’t be afraid to voice their displeasure online. Rather than ignore tweets on the subject, JetBlue repeatedly addresses these issues by commiserating over the pain of waiting on a flight and then emphasizing their concern for safety. This doesn’t “solve” the issue, but it’s a form of relationship management that ultimately strengthens their brand presence. See below for an example (and note the quick time to respond):

Jimmy John’s

The sandwich shop has oriented its messaging around its quick delivery—so any problem with a delivery is a big hit to one of the brand’s capabilities. The company takes the opportunity to shore up its stores’ performance in this area when it isn’t satisfactory (and does so with its signature casual, down-homey language). Results of this interaction aren’t clear, but a hopeful sign is that the customer gave the reply a like.


Response marketing doesn’t necessarily require that you resolve an issue completely over social; on the other hand, some brands like Nike have accounts dedicated to trying to do that. The example below shows a quick resolution to a simple request—but it puts key elements of the company’s brand identity on display, like a reverence for hard work and a preference for short, authoritative sentences.

Again, customer service responses on social can be stressful to formulate. But these are still interactions that add up to a whole brand—and you can take steps to systematize the way you tackle that specific area of brand management. I’ll cover four must-haves for any marketing team looking to do response marketing the right way in a forthcoming post.