Twitter's status as a complaint engine needs to change - and quick

Anyone familiar with the space knows it's not uncommon to see negative comments outweigh positive ones.

This morning, I read a Facebook post by longtime Internet pal Eric Rice mentioning the courtroom sketch of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady currently making the rounds. In case you haven’t heard about it, it’s spawned a pretty popular meme that even made NBC’s Today show last week.

The humor behind it isn’t what’s important here, however, it’s the potential for what happens next that’s key. Eric – who I’m quoting with permission here – noted that, "This is the kind of thing that increasingly will desensitize people to the Internet/social media."

He went a bit further, saying Twitter could become more of a "complaint engine" and that the way we all jump on things that are, for the most part, not necessarily relevant except for being funny for a few minutes, could take away from Twitter’s ability as a channel to disseminate information or help spur action where it was most needed, such as activism or real-world issues.

As someone who helps his client partners tap into social media spaces as a means of performing customer service activities, I can definitely say that Twitter (and other channels) are definitely seeming to be more and more full of comments and complaints from customers (and prospective ones) than a year or two ago, let alone more than five years ago.

Anyone familiar with the space knows it’s not uncommon to see negative comments outweigh positive ones, as we are a lot less likely to go out of our way to compliment a brand, restaurant or other organization as we would be to call them out on Yelp or the myriad other platforms that exist, sometimes for that very purpose.

The reason this struck me as interesting is a lot of the discourse I’ve seen of late regarding Twitter "dying" or at least becoming less relevant. I’m in the "Twitter’s not dying" camp myself, but I do think it’s seeing a dramatic change, as any online platform or community does over time.

With regard to the desensitization, however, I could see that as being the case. If we are all continually using the Twitters of the world simply as a venting spot, it becomes far more noise and a lot less signal. Well, unless you’re a comedy writer for nightly talk shows, and then Twitter is a free Vegas-style buffet for your work.

As PR professionals, we are responsible for helping our clients manage our presences online, and in many cases, make choices about which platforms or tools we will pay more or less attention to. Are we running the risk of spending too much time in "echo chamber" spaces by focusing on Twitter, where customers and others don’t necessarily want help, and are simply there to pile on and create chaos? Only time will tell.

For now, however, it’s likely in all of our best interests to be aware of sentiments such as Eric’s on the value of a space such as Twitter in the grand scheme of things, especially if it’s a channel we’re being proactive and trying to generate and engage with a community.

Tom Biro is SVP of Allison+Partners' Seattle office. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at or on Twitter @tombiro.

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