Einwiller, Sabine A.; & Steilen, Sarah (2015). Handling complaints on social network sites – An analysis of complaints and complaint responses on Facebook and Twitter pages of large US companies. Public Relations Review, 41(2), 195-204.


Social media provide numerous possibilities for people to voice complaints about organizations in public. This can damage the reputation of an organization, but effectively handling complaints also bears considerable opportunities. The study analyzed how large companies handle complaints on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Results reveal that organizational responsiveness is only moderate, and companies often try to divert complainants away from the social network site. The most frequently applied response strategy is asking complainants for further information which does not appease complainants. Response strategies that foster complaint satisfaction are used less often. They comprise offering a corrective action, connecting the complainant with someone who can provide a problem solution and thanking the complainant.


Content analysis was employed to analyze Facebook and Twitter accounts of 34 large US companies that allowed users to submit posts independently. The period of analysis was February 18 to March 17, 2013. The final sample consisted of 5,023 threads (starting with a complaint) containing a total of 15,045 complaints and responses by the companies and other users.

Key Findings

  • Complaint reasons were mainly product or service-related (74%). 7% of complaints referred to an employee’s perceived misbehavior, 5% were CSR-related.
  • Nearly half (47%) of the complaints remained unanswered. If the company reacted, the initial response took 8 hours and 24 minutes on average; half of the complaints were answered within 46 minutes.
  • The most frequent form of responding was inquiring further information (60%), followed by thanking the complainant (28%), uttering regret (20%), offering a corrective action (14%), connecting the complainant with a responsible unit/person (9%), and apologizing (5%).
  • In 60% of the complainants’ follow-up responses they expressed their (dis)satisfaction with the complaint handling; about 2/3 were (very) unsatisfied.
  • Correlations between corporate responding and complaint satisfaction showed that responding at all enhanced satisfaction. Responses that tended to enhance satisfaction were offering a corrective action, connecting the complainant, and thanking him/her, while asking for further information tended to enhance dissatisfaction. Response speed did not matter.

Implications for Practice

Responding to complaints can enhance complaint satisfaction. Thus, responsiveness and also knowing how to respond are key. Offering a corrective action, actively connecting the complainant and expressing gratitude can foster positive reactions in the complainant, which may also positively impact observers of the situation. All in all, results suggest that empowering and training the social media team with respect to complaint handling is a valuable investment in reputation management.

Article Location

The full article is available for purchase at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0363811114001842

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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