Businesses have gotten a big boost from social media. Between Yelp, Facebook and Twitter, businesses have reached millions of customers and generated awareness for their products and services — for free. We all understand the power of social media has over consumers. What few understand is what to do when customers run wild on social media.

The popular review website Yelp is loved by consumers but dreaded by business owners. Google the term “Yelp horror story,” and you’ll come across hundreds of articles detailing businesses that claim they went under due to unfair reviews on Yelp. Whether or not Yelp is truly responsible for the closures of these businesses is difficult to ascertain. What’s clear is that many businesses respond in one of two ways when dealing with customers on social media: inappropriately or not at all.


Yelp isn’t the only website where angry customers lay the groundwork for business closures. Customers take to all social networks to air their grievances. Facebook has more than 30 million active Facebook business pages, making the world’s most active social network (1 billion users) a breeding ground for grievances and complaints. More than 30 percent of Facebook users are mobile-only users. That means the moment your business makes a mistake, your customers can reach right into their pockets to tell their story to the world.


Comcast Screenshot

While all this sounds terrifying, and it is, there are benefits to customer complaints that happen in real-time, in front of an audience of millions. Businesses have long relied on feedback to gauge customer satisfaction. Social media is a live customer feedback system. It’s an opportunity to respond quickly and efficiently to customer complaints, leading to increased customer satisfaction and retention rates. When customer service is done right on social media, millions are watching.


Amy's Baking Co. Screenshot

The infamously deluded owners of Amy’s Baking Co. went on a social media tirade over negative reviews (Huffington Post)

When customers complain directly to businesses on social networks, they expect a quick response. While you may not immediately understand the nature of their complaints, it’s necessary to respond as quickly as possible. Offer an apology. Let your customers know you’re looking into the issue and that you’ll contact them as soon as the issue has been resolved.


The worst thing you can do is act defensive or be dismissive of complaints. Keep in mind that anything you respond to publicly on social media can go viral, as thousands of public tantrums have before. Good news also goes viral, and businesses that respond appropriately to complaints get plenty of positive PR.


Have you ever complained about a business on social media? Did the company respond appropriately? Share your thoughts in the comments section, or tweet me @nataliepetitto.