It’s hard to resist having a good moan on Twitter, especially when something or someone isn’t doing their job and we hope that our moaning, combined with our perceived influence, will get us special attention.
The trouble is that your complaining, whilst seemingly resolving your current short term frustration, might be causing you long term brand damage.
The reason why lies in understanding how people form impressions of you – both at a first glance, and also over time.
Horns and Halos
In First Impressions (aff link), Ann Demararis and Valerie White discuss the “horns and halos effect”, which is a phenomena related to when people first meet you. A first impression is a retained remembrance of a small sample, a tiny percentage of what a person is really like. However it’s the only sample that someone has and they use to to fill in the blanks and the rest of my life to created this remembrance.
Whilst I have 27 years of life, when I meet someone I might only be able to impart 2 minutes and 27 seconds of who I am – say 5% of who I am – and the psychological fact is that this short representation will be used by the person I am meeting to inform their opinion of the other 95% of my life.
If this 5% contains negative traits – such as being angry, distracted, moody, or a complainer – the person will add “horns” to you and consider those traits to be a small sample of a greater amount that is is present in your life and might take you for someone who is far moody than you are, simply because you, for example, had just heard some bad news. Likewise, if someone encounters positive traits such as appreciation, smiling, encouragement, then they will add “halos” to you and imagine you to be an all round nice person – possible even nicer than you actually are!
Complainers and their Horns
The problem with complainers online is that in just 140 characters they create an impression that they are a complaining person. Even the fact that I am calling them “complainers” now shows that they have put themselves in a category of people who predictably moan about a lot, even though they might have only complained once on Twitter or Facebook.
This is particularly important if you represent a brand. I have tried to hold the conviction myself that I will not be a complainer online because if I do, I am representing Like Minds and therefore make it to be a complaining organisation. I am also quick to ask people not to use the #likeminds hashtag to complain on (of course, if they want to, they will), but through my relationship with everyone I encourage them not to in order to keep our hashtag and thus our brand complainer-free.
Complaining also says “I’m not in control”, a brand value that none of us would want to have associated with us. I’ll be honest, when I see people complain, I normally make a decision to step back from them because complainers are not normally the type of people who solve problems, they are the ones who wallow in them.
The Two Times When Complaining is Human
It’s important to not overlook the fact that there is a side to complaining which is human. There are times when a complaint can benefit your brand. In fact, there are two approaches:
The first is when we are frustrated with a situation that it can endear us to our community because it revelas our wounds and shows we aren’t perfect.
What is essential here is that you must acknowledge the complaint in such a way that you safe proof yourself from being labelled as a complainer. So rather than saying, “OMG Vodafone Network down again. When will they learn #FAIL”, one should rather say “I hate to moan, but Vodafone’s network being done is really delaying me today.”
Someone who does this well is Chris Brogan. If you follow Chris on Facebook (not Twitter) you’ll sometimes see him vent off on a particular struggle, but done in a way that endears his community to him and presents him as a non-complainer who is frustrated at this moment in time and needs help.
The second time when complaining is beneficial for your brand is if you polarize people based on your position. Take my friend Olivier Blanchard who regularly calls people out. When he tweets or writes a blog post that complains about a situation, he does so in a polarising nature that means you love him or hate him, and this means those who follow him do so more vehemently.
The safety catch here is that you must offer solutions to what you are complaining about. Olivier is an incredibly intelligent person and his passion overflows in calling people out – but his intelligence always wins because he paints the picture of how things should be instead. This means he is being objective and offering solutions, this demonstrating his expertise. Be warned however this polarising people is tricky business and not always the best long term strategy.
Your Leading Thoughts
- Are you a complainer? Have you ever considered that the digital impression you are leaving is giving your horns rather than halos?
- Do you have a brand strategy on complaining and using it to your advantage?