How to effectively complain about your trip via Twitter

Now that airlines have all jumped onto the social media bandwagon, we constantly hear about miracle stories of lone customers being helped out by a Twitter plea for help. Deep from the soul of the faceless empire, airlines and hotels have been reaching out and virtually hugging stranded travelers, breathing life into the ether and ushering the free radicals back out into their corrected itineraries. It feels great to be loved, doesn’t it?

What a powerful tool this Twitter is. A few well written comments to ten thousand listeners can spread vitriol quite quickly, so even if a customer’s ire is misplaced it’s important for companies to respond. And once they reach out, those 10,000 ears hear the praise. Southwest, for example, reached out directly when a traveler posted a comment complaining about the check-in procedure at the airport. Though they couldn’t disperse the queue, their attention turned a negative situation on its side, comforting the traveler and ultimately winning credibility.

Before you run off criticizing every facet of your trip to @AAirwaves and @MarriottIntl though, think about your approach. While Twitter is a great tool for delivering a concise message to corporate America, if you want results you’re going to need to frame yourself correctly. Here’s how: Follow and hook your audience

If you’re flying on Virgin America this weekend, start the dialogue early. First, follow them, then include the @VirginAmerica mention in a few of your tweets to put yourself on the radar. If the Virgin folks see you building some momentum, they’ll tune in as well. Abjectly showing up and spewing out insults doesn’t carry the same weight as a concerned, engaged consumer.

Generate a narrative

Documenting the development of a problem via a series of tweets not only gives the company insight into the situation but also gives you a patient, objective approach — something that you always want when filing a complaint. It also helps to make suggestions along the way, pointing out problem sources and people.

Pick problems that can be addressed

If you think that you’ve identified an issue that needs to be escalated into the media jungle, pick something that the PR folks can address. For example, if you’re going to complain to @virginamerica or @AAirwaves about no overhead bin space or a smelly passenger next to you, what can you expect them to address? Tight cabins and strange seat mates are a way of air travel life and that’s something that you have to deal with.

Conversely, if you’ve been stuck on the tarmac for four hours or the gate agent wrongly bumps you off a flight, then public relations can sweep in.

Be gracious

Despite the fact that you have 1500 followers, Twitter does not give you permission to be a jerk. Expecting an airline or hotel to respond to your tweet just by virtue of your position is vain and inappropriate. If you’re lucky enough to have corporate America reach out during your travel, consider yourself fortunate — you got your concern addressed at lightning speed compared to what could have happened.