Use Your Social Presence to Embrace Unhappy Customers

by Paul Gillin
June 24, 2015

Social Media has armed businesses and teams with an efficient and effective tool for engaging with customers and spotting business opportunities, but at the same time it has also armed customers with a megaphone for voicing complaints. Online customer attacks take several forms and are driven by different motivations. Compensation is actually rarely the main issue (although for a few attackers it is the only issue). The vast majority of incidents are driven by the victim’s perception that a wrong has been done, the wrongdoer doesn’t care about its constituents and the victim speaks for an aggrieved group that can’t or won’t speak for itself.

Let’s look at the four most common profiles of online attackers.

Casual Complainers

They’re the background noise of any crowd, the people customer service organizations were created to handle. They’ve usually had isolated bad experiences that caused irritation but didn’t prompt dramatic action. In many cases, they either have little brand loyalty or are captive customers with limited alternatives (think utilities). They grumble but usually don’t leave. They deserve to be listened and responded to, but investing significant time and money in satisfying them won’t return big rewards.


Extortionists are motivated by personal gain, which makes them the most irritating breed of attacker. They also present some unique management challenges. We don’t categorize your run-of-the-mill refund-seekers as Extortionists. These people are after bigger rewards, whether it be free stuff, damages or excessive compensation. Extortionists need to be evaluated individually because their campaigns are often rooted in reasonable complaints, but greed has escalated their demands to unreasonable levels. Never go outside your comfort zone in satisfying them because they are likely to tell others what they got from you.

Committed Crusaders

These are the most persistent breed of attacker and often the most successful. They’re motivated by a higher calling, such as the environment, human or animal rights, public health or consumer advoacy, and their causes are frequently noble, if not always realistic. Committed Crusaders can be tireless in their pursuit of what they believe, and they’re good at building armies of followers. They run the gamut from individuals to global organizations. Committed Crusaders are usually smart, determined and savvy about how to apply the many tools available to them. They know their cause and their enemies. They look for every opportunity to press their case or to catch their foe in a lie or inconsistency. When momentum is on their side, they can be very effective.

Indignant Influencers

When an attack explodes out of nowhere, there’s usually an Indignant Influencer at the center. This group includes actors, athletes politicians, columnists and even notable bloggers. They’re basically people who have a built-in following, which means their run-in with your customer service rep or frustration with a defective product can generate large awareness quickly. Indignant Influencers can be devastatingly effective if their cause has merit, but their impact is usually short-term.

There are actionable response strategies to prevent, prepare and respond to each of these types of online attackers. To learn more, you can join our discussion in Profitecture’s LinkedIn Group, The Profitecture Connection, or join (or review) our CrowdChat on the same topic at 1pm ET on June 25, 2015.

About Paul Gillin

Paul Gillin is a writer, speaker, online marketing consultant and social media coach with Profitecture. Since 2005, he has helped business-to-business marketers at companies of all sizes and in many industries use social media and quality content to reach and engage with customers. He is also a prolific writer who has published more than 200 articles on the subject of new media. His books include: "The New Influencers" (2007), "Secrets of Social Media Marketing" (2008), "The Joy of Geocaching" (2010) and "Social Marketing to the Business Customer" (2011) and "Attack of the Customers" (2013). He has written the monthly New Channels column for BtoB magazine since 2006. Paul is a veteran technology journalist with more than 25 years of editorial leadership experience. His website is and he blogs at and Newspaper Death Watch.