About you, but not to you: When should companies reply on Twitter?

People like to complain a lot about the goods and services we receive, and in the digital age, a lot of those wahs end up online, in public forums like Twitter.

I’ve always operated on an instinctive basis: If I’m @mentioning a company specifically, I want a resolution, I need help, or I’d like an answer. If I don’t @mention them, I’m having a whinge and I want to be left alone. If they see it, I don’t want to talk to them about it. (Unless they’re giving me a huge freebie, but that’s another story.) Yes, I’m your typical passive-aggressive, find-it-difficult-to-give-negative-feedback kind of person. (As a funny aside, I’d expect a small business or person to call me out because it feels so much more personal!)

This morning was one of those complainy occasions. I tweeted my displeasure at a service I had received from a company I liked. I didn’t @ the company because I didn’t want a reply – more just to warn my mates off this particular service.

Good ole Dan didn’t know this. He replied to my tweet and PUT THE COMPANY HANDLE IN, which essentially was inviting them to TALK TO ME ABOUT IT.

Okay. Um. Okay.

The ensuing debate lead to me sending these tweets out.

I got a lot of replies.

Some agreed with me:
“That’s how I use Twitter – can’t think of a time where the company has responded without me mentioning them, but it sounds creepy.” – Simon
“sometimes you just want to talk shit about a brand and don’t want their ‘i’m sorry to hear that'” – Lena
“it gets me by surprise and I kinda feel caught out” – Akexis
“I know one nz business who clearly searches for their name regularly and replies to people who weren’t after a response. comes across as a bit intense for my liking.” – Kim
“it kinda freaks me out when they do. If I wanted to make a complaint and get their attention, I would.” – Chelle
“general whinging? Leave ppl to it.” – K
“if I don’t @ them, they are welcome to reply if they have an actual solution to my issue… otherwise they’ll just piss me off.” – Alison
“If I don’t @ them, that means I don’t want to engage. If I did want to engage, I’d prob use email or phone.” – Moodle
“sometimes I DO just want to rant uninterrupted lol so I wouldn’t @ ’em, maybe even spell their name a tad diff.” – Mata

Some sat on the fence:
“Depends on why they’re contacting me.” – Miche
“Depends on my mood.” – Eric
“Agree, but feel if they respond they’re actually being proactive which is smart, if a little creepy. Social’s changed feedback” – Darren
“I pretty much agree with this, but sometimes also you don’t @ them because you can’t find their details. So if they then reply that’s quite good. I think the reality is you tweet, it’s public, unless your acc is locked. So you gotta accept they will see it, and they’re entitled to tweet to you if they want to. How they handle it is a different story.” – Ngaire
“I initially don’t tag them because I want to have a rant. But if they fix/resolve from that and respond then I’m pretty happy. That would even impress me more and it builds respect with me.” – Amber

Some disagreed with me:
“isn’t a good thing if they want to try make it right?” – Sharyn
“I think everyone has a right to respond on a public forum, companies included. If I didn’t want them to, I’d avoid naming them. I know big businesses can be mega annoying with insincere “We’re sorry to hear that” messages, but as a small biz I think many are looking to genuinely rectify a situation” – Evie
“if you are going to talk shit about a company on a public forum surely they have the right to defend themselves.” – Ian
“I think people who get all “How Dare You Address Me” on twitter are the funniest. Unless you’re locked, t’s a public space.” – Cara
“I’ve actually had a few times where I couldn’t find a co’s Twitter, named them, they found it and responded. Happy customer after!” – Dan
“Everybody should get a right of reply if you’re going to criticise them in a public forum. Whether it be a person or a company” – Karl
“Farmers did this to me and I was pleasantly surprised, was very quick to respond & offered to call store in question :)” – Kerie

Someone provided a company perspective:
“lots of people don’t realise we’re not just here to push links in your face. We have a social care manager. Her job is to help. most of the time people appreciate it if we reach out on search. If they don’t, they ignore us. I’m not letting bad experiences slip through the cracks. We are first & foremost about social care & community. that’s my rule. No cool stuff, no Vines, no blogs unless we’re responding within our time frames 7 days a week.” – Anna

Aaaaaand there was this
“Recently I’ve had staff members like their employers’ replies to my questions/criticism, which is kinda creepy” – Dan

So the common points here are that if companies are going to reply to a remark, rather than an @, proceed with caution. If you decide to engage, offer real value to the consumer, with a non-robotic response.

And if you’re sending non-@ tweets about a company, be prepared for that company to talk to you about it anyway. Or for Dan to come along and tag them in anyway.

2 Replies to “About you, but not to you: When should companies reply on Twitter?”

  1. Cate, I take a similar philosophy to your approach, at least in my intent. Although if the company in question does find my tweet, and uses that to turn it into a positive customer service outcome, I think thats a win for all involved.

    As an example of this, I used to be the treasurer for our local athletics club. This involved going to a local bank each week to deposit takings from that weeks athletics meet. This bank differed from the one we use for my other banking needs, and I used to get frustrated when they’d do the whole upset thing every time I went in there.

    One day I must’ve been feeling particularly grumpy about this, and I came home and vented on Twitter. The bank reached out to me (even though I didn’t @ them directly), and the next day I had a call from the branch manager to discuss my concerns. She was very apologetic, and ended up retraining her staff as a result of my feedback.

    So while I didn’t intend them to reply to my rant, it ended up being an win/win situation for us all.

  2. Mixed feelings on this – at the previous employer, if someone ranted or complained, it was hard not to jump in and explain / offer help etc. Yes, I had a search set up to look at mentions that weren’t @’s, but like I say, rarely I responded as they weren’t directly addressing us. This was sometimes a hard dynamic to explain to other folk at the organisation(s) who wanted to know why we weren’t replying.

    It would annoy me though, if it was someone we’d talked to / helped / had a relationship with in the past. Some ‘high profile’ folk can play this stuff a bit too cutely IMHO – I would have quite liked the right of reply.

    I guess if a company did come back to an unaddressed tweet you could always reply “No, I’m good thanks,” but yeah, companies are entering creepy / stalky territory there. Tread carefully etc.

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