Conventional wisdom proposes organisations should respond to online complaints swiftly, openly and with empathy. But new research suggests companies that responded publicly to negative tweets experienced a drop in stock price and a reduction in perceived brand image.
The report in Harvard Business Review concluded publicly engaging with unhappy customers can have serious adverse repercussions, especially on social media platforms where content-sorting algorithms are likely to promote complaints more heavily if brands respond to them.
The researchers said that as a result, such engagement can end up excessively amplifying negative voices, encouraging other unhappy customers to chime in and ultimately reducing the brand’s value in the eyes of both customers and investors.
Their large-scale analysis of Twitter traffic for S&P 500 companies showed the negative effects of “complaint publicisation” consistently outweighed any positive impact of signalling care for customers.
While the research may be valid and the findings are likely sound, recent cases show it’s not so easy in real life.
Consider how London North Eastern Railways (LNER) responded last month after a non-binary employee complained online when a conductor welcomed passengers on board with: “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls”. LNER chose to apologise publicly, which resulted in widespread hostile reaction and predictable outrage from some quarters about “woke management”.